Under the Customer Service Standards of the AODA, service providers must make their goods, services, and facilities accessible to customers with disabilities. Our last article outlined accessible information in offices. In this article, we cover best practices for accessible service in offices. In particular, we look at how staff can find ways to make their premises welcoming to clients who need accessible features that an office does not have yet.
Providing Accessible Service in Offices
Service Animals and Assistive Devices
Offices must welcome all clients who enter with assistive devices, service animals, or support persons. Service animals are legally permitted in all areas open to the public, with a few exceptions related to food production. Some clients might bring a support person to help them move through a building, communicate with staff, fill in forms, or attend to medical or daily living needs. However, offices should not require that a client has a support person with them.
If office buildings have any accessible structural features, staff should know what and where they are. For example, staff should know where clients can find elevators and accessible washrooms. Moreover, if buildings lack the features a client needs, staff should be prepared to find ways to meet the client’s needs. For instance, staff could:
- Assist a client to enter and move through the building
- Serve a client away from high counters
- Make a house call
Furthermore, offices must train their staff to interact with clients who have disabilities. Staff should understand how to communicate with clients, both in person and remotely.
In addition, staff members should be available to greet clients and ask if they need any assistance. In this way, they can make clients aware that they are willing to provide services if their offices lack certain materials. For instance, when offices do not have signs or forms in the formats a client needs, a staff member can offer to guide a client through the office or read and fill in forms.
Accessible Format Awareness
When offices offer accessible versions of hard-copy print, such as forms, pamphlets, or other documents, staff need to be aware of:
- What information is available in what format(s)
- Where hard copies are kept
- Whether hard-copy Braille or large print versions can be created upon request
- How clients can find web versions
- Whether alternate-format versions are up-to-date
Staff should know the differences between a current printed version of a document and the version a client can read. For example, staff can keep a printed list of the differences clipped to the Braille version of a document. They can then let the client know what the differences are.
If a document is not available in any of the formats a client can use, staff should read the document to the client. If it is a form, staff should fill it in according to the client’s directions.
Accessible Communication Support Awareness
Similarly, when offices offer communication supports for appointments or other interactions, staff should know:
- What supports are available for what kinds of interaction
- Where on-site communication devices are stored, and best practices for serving clients using them
- Whether plain-language versions of documents are available and how to access them
- How to arrange Sign language interpretation
- How far in advance arrangements should be made
Accessible service in offices ensures that all clients have the opportunity to benefit from services available in their communities.