When the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council/Standards Development Committee was formed in 2013, one of its first orders of business was to review the Customer Service Standard as required under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). The AODA requires that each accessibility standard be reviewed five years after it becomes law to determine whether the standard is working as intended and to allow for adjustments to be made as required.
The council has proposed several changes to the Customer Service Standard and is asking interested stakeholders for feedback. Proposed revisions include using different terminology to make requirements clearer, matching the requirements of the Customer Service Standard with similar requirements in other accessibility standards, adding wording to clarify the intent of requirements and correcting inconsistencies across the standards. Public feedback on the proposed revisions will be accepted from March 3 to April 16, 2014.
Application and definitions
The Customer Service Standard applies to all organizations (public, private and non-profit) that provide goods or services either directly to the public or to other organizations in Ontario and that have one or more employees in Ontario.
The council’s proposed changes would align the application requirements of the Customer Service Standard with the other accessibility standards. This means replacing the definitions of “designated public sector organization” and “provider of goods and services” with the seven class structures and their associated definitions under the other accessibility standards:
- Designated public sector organization
- Government of Ontario
- Large designated public sector organization (50+ employees)
- Large organization (50+ employees)
- Legislative Assembly
- Small designated public sector organization (1–49 employees)
- Small organization (1–49 employees)
Also, the term “provider of goods and services” would be replaced with “obligated organization” to match the other accessibility standards.
These changes would mean that requirements under the Customer Service Standard that currently apply to organizations with 20 or more employees (e.g., reporting, written documentation) would now apply to organizations with 50 or more employees. Organizations with 20 to 49 employees would continue to be required to establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to people with disabilities. However, these organizations would no longer be required to prepare documents describing their policies, practices and procedures or to provide these documents (if they exist) upon request.
Besides replacing the definitions of “designated public sector organization” and “provider of goods and services,” the council also proposes adding a general provision regarding the application of “reasonability” and “practicability” in the context of meeting the requirements of the standard. This change is “intended to clarify to obligated organizations and people with disabilities that both parties need to work together to take into account an individual’s needs, and the organization’s capacity to meet those needs.”
Policies, practices and procedures
The council recommends changing references to “policies, practices and procedures” throughout the Customer Service Standard to “policies” to match the other accessibility standards.
The council proposes to expand and modify the definition of service animal for a person with a disability so that an animal qualifies if:
- It has been trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability that relates to that person’s disability; and
- It is “readily identifiable” that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or
- The person provides a letter from a regulated health professional confirming that that person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability.
Additional language is proposed to clarify when an organization may require a support person to accompany a person with a disability for reasons of health and safety as follows:
- This would only occur where, after consultation with the person with a disability, requiring a support person is the only means to allow the person to be on the premises and at the same time fulfil the provider’s obligation to protect the health and safety of the person with a disability and that of others (i.e., the health and safety risk cannot be eliminated or reduced by other means); and
- Any considerations on protecting health and safety must be based on specific evidence and not on assumptions
The council would replace the Customer Service Standard requirements on who must be trained and when training must be provided with the following simplified language:
Training must be provided to:
- All employees and volunteers;
- All people who participate in developing the organization’s policies; and
- All other people who provide goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization
Every person must be trained as soon as practicable.
Organizations must provide training on any changes to its accessibility policies on an ongoing basis.
The council recommends three changes to section 7, “Feedback process for providers of goods or services,” of the Customer Service Standard.
First, to clarify that obligated organizations must adopt a process to accept and respond to feedback on the way they provide goods and services rather than the accessibility of their goods and services themselves, the heading of section 7 would be changed to “Feedback Process on the Accessibility to Provision of Goods or Services.”
Second, to align the language in the Customer Service Standard with the Information and Communication Standard, the section would specify that obligated organizations must ensure their feedback process is accessible to persons with disabilities by providing or arranging for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports, upon request.
Third, the council proposes specifying that when communicating with a person with a disability, an obligated organization do so in a manner that takes into account the person’s disability. (Currently, the Customer Service Standard covers this in section 3, “Establishment of policies, practices and procedures.”)
Notice of availability and format of documents
The council proposes three changes to the language of the Customer Service Standard to make it consistent with the Information and Communications Standard with respect to the availability, provision and formats of documents.
- The scope of section 8, “Notice of availability of documents,” would be expanded to include any information and communication that an organization provides to the public
- Obligated organizations would have to provide accessible formats and communication supports upon request in a timely manner and at a cost that is no more than the regular cost charged
- Rather than simply permitting the obligated organization and the person requesting the information to agree on the format for the information, organizations would have to consult with the person making the request to determine the suitability of an accessible format or communication supports
What this all means
Since the Customer Service Standard was the first of the AODA standards to be completed and enacted, it is not surprising that there are inconsistencies between it and the newer standards. The drafters of the Employment, Information and Communication, Transportation, and Built Environment Standards had much more input from stakeholders to rely on, besides having the opportunity to learn from the process that led to the Customer Service Standard. Making the standards consistent should help organizations understand the requirements.
However, it’s possible that many organizations won’t notice any difference at all if these revisions come to pass, since relatively few have begun the process of complying with the Customer Service Standard anyway, despite the deadline to file accessibility plans long since passing. Obligated organizations were to report to the government by the end of 2012 how they were meeting the requirements of the Customer Service Standard, but according to the Toronto Star, as of November 2013, only 30 percent of organizations had done so.
No doubt the government will prefer to nudge rather than push organizations into compliance, so it may seem that there is still little rush if you are one of the 34,000 organizations that hasn’t filed a report. But the obligation remains, and in the wake of the compliance figures, the government has reasserted its intention to enforce the AODA. The government plans to conduct 1,700 compliance audits in 2014.
If the revisions are accepted, organizations with 20–49 employees can rest a little easier as they will no longer have to prepare or provide written documentation as a matter of rule. However, they could still be ordered to do so. Other than that, the changes are mainly housekeeping. They may appear to expand the requirements of the Customer Service Standard, but more likely they will simply make explicit some provisions that were previously unclear.
Feedback will be collected by the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment and provided to the Advisory Council. The council will then review the public comments before finalizing its proposed revisions and submit its proposed revised Customer Service Standard for the Government of Ontario’s consideration. Public feedback will be reviewed but may not be adopted into regulatory amendments.
Comments can be provided using this feedback form (PDF). The form can then be submitted to the ministry by:
- Email: CSStandardFeedback@ontario.ca
Customer Service Standard Review Feedback
Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
777 Bay Street, 6th Floor, Suite 601A
- Fax: 416-327-4080
- Alternate format: If you require an alternate format or communication supports to provide your feedback, call 1-877-300-4024 or TTY: 1-888-335-6611