♫ Gonna be your man in motion, all I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where my future’s lyin’, St. Elmo’s Fire…♫
The Law Society of Upper Canada, pursuant to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”) has released their Guide to Developing a Customer Service Accessibility Policy.
This guide is to assist law firms in Ontario in developing the resources to comply with the Customer Service Standards [The Accessibility Standards for Customer Service Regulation (the Customer Service Standards) was adopted in 2007 under the AODA, and are effective on January 1, 2012 for providers of goods and services.] The goal is to make Ontario accessible by 2025 for everyone, including persons with disabilities.
Provider of legal services [including paralegal firms, legal clinics, legal departments and legal non‐profit organization] must establish accessibility policies and plans, in addition to incorporating accessibility criteria. Private sector organizations, including law firms, must comply with the relevant requirements under the Integrated Accessibility Standards at the latest on January 1, 2014, except for a few sections that are effective January 1, 2012.
The Customer Service Standards apply to law firms with one or more employees in Ontario that provide goods or services either directly to the public or to other third parties (they do not apply to services provided internally within a law firm). There are additional requirements for law firms with 20 or more employees that are not imposed on smaller firms.
The range of services to members of the public that fall within these standards include:
• meeting with clients;
• providing corporate legal services to clients;
• representing clients before courts and tribunals;
• maintaining professional relationships with other lawyers and paralegals;
• delivering education programs;
• holding business development and social events.
The policies, practices and procedures to be adopted by the law firms must be consistent with the following principles:
•The goods or services must be provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of persons with disabilities;
• The provision of goods and services to persons with disabilities must be integrated, unless an alternate measure is necessary to enable a person with disabilities to obtain the goods or services;
• Persons with disabilities must be given an opportunity equal to that given to others to obtain the goods or services.
There is a great deal of information in the Guide including the requirements for training programs, feedback processes, documentation and the like. Fortunately there is a Sample Policy precedent included which should provide guidance to law firms in adopting and tailoring the requirements to their own law firm culture to take them where their future is lying.