AODA Compliance in 2015: Are You Up to Date?

Are you up to date with your compliance obligations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act? If you answer no, do you know what the AODA is, what you are required to do and when?

For those who don’t know what the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is, let me explain. The Act sets out a series of standards with the aim of achieving accessibility for persons with disabilities with respect to goods, services, information, accommodation, facilities, employment, buildings, structures and premises throughout Ontario by 2025.

The Accessible Customer Service Standards took effect on January 1, 2012 for all organizations in the private and non-profit sector that provide goods and services in Ontario, with at least one employee. As of that date, obligated organizations were supposed to have implemented the following requirements:

  1. Establish policies, practices and procedures on providing goods or services to persons with disabilities.
  2. Use reasonable efforts to ensure that policies, practices and procedures are consistent with the core principles of independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity.
  3. Establish a policy on allowing individuals to use their own personal assistive devices to access your goods and use your services and on any assistive devices your organization offers to enable persons with disabilities to access your goods and use your services.
  4. Establish methods and ensure your employees communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his or her disability.
  5. Allow persons with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animal on your premises that are open to the public, unless the animal is excluded by another law. If a service animal is excluded by law, use other measures to provide services to the person with a disability.
  6. Permit persons with disabilities who use a support person to bring that person with them while accessing goods or services . Where admission fees are charged, provide notice ahead of time on what admission, if any, would be charged for a support person of a person with a disability.
  7. Provide notice when facilities or services that persons with disabilities rely on to access or use your goods or services are temporarily disrupted.
  8. Train staff, volunteers, contractors and any other individual who interact with the public or other third parties on your behalf on your customer service standard policies and requirements as outlined in the customer service standard.
  9. Train staff, volunteers, contractors and any other individual who are involved in developing your policies, practices and procedures on the provision of goods or services on the requirements as as outlined in the customer service standard.
  10. Establish a process for individuals to provide feedback on how you provide goods or services to persons with disabilities and how you will respond to any feedback and take action on any complaints. Make the information about your feedback process readily available to the public.

If an organization prepares emergency procedures, plans or public safety information and makes the information available to the public, the organization is required to provide this information in an accessible format upon request. In addition, all employers must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability, if the disability makes such information necessary and the employer is aware of the need for such accommodation.

Additional requirements for organizations with 20 or more employees include:

  • Documenting in writing all your policies, practices and procedures for providing accessible customer service, and meeting other document requirements set out in the standard.
  • Notifying customers that documents required under the Customer Service Standard are available upon request.
  • Providing required information in a format that takes into account a person’s disability.

Once all of the above was complete, organizations with 20 or more employees were required to file compliance reports in relation to the Customer Service Standards by December 31, 2012.

If you have not yet complied—for example, because you think your organization is exempt from the AODA since you do not receive customers on your premises—don’t fool yourself; there is no such exemption. The definition of “customer” is very broad and includes your vendors, suppliers, consultants, among others.

The second round of requirements were due by January 1, 2014—this time under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (Ontario Regulation 191/11), which includes standards relating to employment, information and communications, transportation and the design of public spaces (the first Accessibility Standard for the Built Environment). The Integrated Standards also contain certain general obligations regarding accessibility policies and plans and further employee training. Small private-sector organizations’ compliance obligations under the Integrated Standards begin in 2015.

By January 1, 2014, large organizations were required to:

  • Develop and implement accessibility policies and a multi-year accessibility plan describing how the organization will achieve accessibility and compliance with the Integrated Standards. The document must include a statement of commitment, and be posted on the organization’s website.
  • Incorporate accessibility issues into designing, procuring or acquiring self-service kiosks.
  • Develop websites that generally meet the specifications of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A, but only if the website was created or underwent a significant refresh after January 1, 2012.

On or before December 31, 2014, obligated organizations with 20 or more employees must file a second report informing the ADO that they are still complying and achieving accessibility under the Customer Service Standard.

By December 31, 2014, organizations with fifty or more employees must in addition report that they have Accessibility Policies in place and that a Multi-Year Accessibility Plan has been developed to help meet the requirements under the Integrated Standards.

Subsequently, large organizations will be required to file an accessibility report under the Integrated Regulation for all three standards, information and communication, employment and transportation, every three years.

January 1, 2015, Requirements

Adding to those AODA requirements under the Customer Service and general requirements under Integrated Accessibility Standards that are already in force, a number of additional requirements take effect January 1, 2015:

  • All employees and others providing services on behalf of a large organization must receive training on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities and the Integrated Standards.
  • Large organizations must ensure that their feedback processes can be administered in accessible formats and with communication supports, upon request.
  • Small organizations must have developed and implemented accessibility policies describing how the organization will achieve accessibility and compliance with the Integrated Standards. These policies do not have to be in writing, but how are you going to communicate these policies to the public or employees if they are not in writing? Something to think about!
  • Small organizations must consider accessibility issues when designing, procuring or acquiring self-service kiosks.
  • Large and small producers (publishers) and educational libraries must make conversion-ready educational textbooks (with some exceptions)

The government has divided the Accessible Built Environment Standards into two parts, public spaces and buildings. The public spaces standards were added to the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation in 2012. The buildings standards are part of Ontario’s Building Code and will come into force in January 2015. The amended requirements will substantially enhance accessibility in newly constructed buildings and existing buildings that are to be extensively renovated. Changes to the Building Code are being phased in to allow building owners, the building design industry and contractors, architectural, and ergonomic/accessible design consultants to plan for and adjust to new requirements.

Organizations including law firms are cautioned to comply with AODA and its regulations as significant penalties can be imposed for non-compliance.

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