Large and small organizations in the private and non-profit sectors have a new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) compliance deadline coming up on January 1, 2017.
1) Large organizations (50+ employees)
Starting January 1, 2016, provincially regulated organizations with 50 or more employees in Ontario must work to comply with the design for public spaces standards under the built-environment to address barriers impeding access to outdoor public spaces by persons with disabilities, but not those barriers inside buildings. This task must be completed by January 1, 2017.
This standard covers a variety of public spaces such as exterior sidewalks and walkways, entrances to buildings, outdoor public eating areas and play spaces, accessible parking, waiting areas and service counters. The built environment standard for public spaces only applies to new construction and planned redevelopments.
The standard states that the organization that must comply with the requirements is the one that has authority or approval to build on or make planned significant alterations to the public space, but not necessarily an organization that may have approved the construction or otherwise have an interest in the property.
This may not necessarily be the owner of the land, but could be the leaseholder or operator. Here are some examples:
- A municipality may decide to build a public parking garage on land that it owns and a private construction company carries out this work on its behalf. The organization responsible for compliance with the requirements for accessible parking would be the municipality.
- An organization may lease an unused parcel of land to another organization that then decides to build and maintain a recreational trail on it. The organization responsible for compliance with the requirements for trails on the land would be the leaseholder and not the landowner.
While “public space” is not defined, the regulation sets out requirements for the following areas:
Recreational trails and beach access routes
When an affected organization plans to build or redevelop a recreational trail, it must consult the public, including persons with disabilities regarding:
- The trail’s slope
- The need for and location of ramps on the trail
- The need for, location of and design of rest areas, passing areas, viewing areas, amenities and other pertinent features of the trail
- Where the obligated organization is a municipality, it must also consult with its municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee.
- Organizations must also follow the new requirements, including minimum width and height guidelines and maximum slope requirements.
Outdoor public eating areas like rest stops or picnic areas
When planning to build or redevelop an outdoor public eating area, organizations must ensure:
- At least 20 percent, and no fewer than one, of the tables are accessible to people using mobility aids, such as wheelchairs
- The ground leading to and under the accessible tables is level, firm and stable
- Enough space is clear around the accessible tables so people using a mobility aid can approach the tables
Outdoor play spaces, like playgrounds in provincial parks and local communities
Before building or redeveloping play spaces, organizations must consult with the public, including persons with disabilities. Organizations must specifically seek input on the needs of children and caregivers. Where the obligated organization is a municipality, it must also consult with its municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee.
- Incorporate accessibility features into the design for children and caregivers with various disabilities, such as sensory and active play components
- Make sure there is enough room for children and caregivers with various disabilities to move through, in and around the play spaces
- Make sure the ground surface is firm, stable and designed to reduce impact to help prevent injuries
Outdoor paths of travel, like sidewalks, ramps, stairs, curb ramps, rest areas and accessible pedestrian signals
When building or redeveloping exterior travel paths, organizations must follow certain new requirements, including:
- Minimum width and height requirements
- Slopes of sidewalks, walkways and ramps cannot exceed certain ratios
- Surfaces of ramps and stairs must be firm, stable and slip resistant.
The standard requires organizations to include two types of accessible parking spaces when building or redeveloping off-street parking:
- Wider spaces for people who use mobility aids, such as wheelchairs
- Standard-width spaces for people who use mobility assistive devices, such as canes, crutches and walkers
- Off-street parking facilities must include a minimum number of each type of accessible parking space, depending on the total number of parking spaces.
- Accessible parking spaces must have access aisles (a space between parking spaces) that allow people with disabilities to get in and out of their vehicles.
- Public sector organizations that wish to add or modify on-street parking must consult with the public, including persons with disabilities, on the design and location of such parking spots. Municipalities must also consult with any municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee.
Service-related elements like service counters, fixed queuing lines and waiting areas
Organizations that operate service counters must include at least one accessible counter when they add or modify facilities. An accessible service counter:
- Is low enough for someone sitting in a mobility aid
- Has enough clear space in front for a person in a mobility aid to approach the counter, including space for the person’s knees
- If your organization has one queuing line for several service counters, such as a coffee shop, each service counter must be accessible
- .If your organization offers different types of services counters, each with its own queuing line, such as a large grocery store with regular, express and self-serve checkouts, you must make sure at least one of each type of service counter is accessible.
- You must clearly identify all your accessible service counters with signage.
- Fixed queuing areas (e.g., with fences or railings) must be wide enough for people using mobility aids and mobility assistive devices, such as canes, crutches and walkers, to move through the line, including when the line changes direction.
- People who are blind or who have vision loss should be able to detect fixed queuing areas with a cane, for example, by using tactile flooring.
- When building or redeveloping waiting areas with fixed seating, organizations must ensure that at least three percent of the new seating and no less than one seating space is accessible.
Maintenance and restoration of public spaces
The new requirements for maintaining and restoring accessible public spaces apply only to public sector organizations of any size and private organizations with 50 or more employees. Organizations must include in their accessibility plans:
- Preventative and emergency maintenance procedures for the accessible parts of your public spaces, such as planning when regular maintenance will occur
- Procedures for handling temporary disruptions in service when an accessible part of your public spaces stops working, such as putting up a sign explaining the disruption and outlining an alternative
2) Small organizations (1 to 49 employees)
Small organizations starting January 1, 2016, must work to comply with the AODA employment standards. This task involves revamping existing human resources practices and policies to explicitly consider and respond to accessibility issues in the workplace relating to, for example, recruitment, accommodation, performance management, career development and return-to-work processes.
In addition, small organizations must provide information and communications in accessible formats with communication support to individuals with disabilities (in a timely manner and at a cost equal to the regular cost charged to others) upon request.
These tasks must be completed by January 1, 2017.
2.1) Employment standards
The employment standard augments the pre-existing obligation under the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate employees with disabilities. It creates specific obligations for employers with respect to establishing an accessible work environment. It provides accessibility requirements for employees and potential employees in all phases of the employment cycle, and may obligate employers to make significant changes in their human resources practices and processes.
This standard requires an organization that is an employer to engage in the proactive identification, removal and prevention of barriers hindering the full participation in employment of persons with disabilities. It also requires that an organization have policies and procedures for establishing individual accommodation plans where barriers cannot be removed proactively, shifting the onus from the individual who needs the accommodation to the person who provides it.
The employment standard consists of several specific parts:
- Recruitment — Employers must notify their employees and the public about the availability of accommodation for job applicants with disabilities in the recruitment process. Further, during the recruitment process, employers must notify job applicants when they are individually selected in the assessment or selection process that accommodations are available upon request. If an applicant requests accommodation, an employer must consult with the applicant and arrange for a suitable accommodation that takes into account the applicant’s accessibility needs. When making an offer of employment, an employer must notify the successful applicant of its policies for accommodating employees with disabilities.
- Employee notifications — Employers must inform employees about their policies relating to the support of employees with disabilities, including policies on job accommodations that take into account an employee’s accessibility needs due to disability. This information must be provided to employees as soon as practicable after they begin their employment and updated information must be provided whenever there is a change to existing policies on the provision of accommodation.
- Individual accommodation plans — Government, public sector organizations and large organizations must have a written process in place for the development of documented individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities. The written process must include a number of detailed prescribed elements. Employers must also develop and use individual accommodation plans that, among other things, identify any information regarding accessible formats and communication supports provided and any other accommodation that is to be provided.
- Return-to-work process — Large organizations must develop and have in place return-to-work processes for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability and require disability-related accommodation in order to return to work. Such processes must be documented and must outline the steps the employer will take to facilitate the return to work and include an individual accommodation plan.
- Performance management, career development, advancement, and redeployment — Employers who provide performance management, career development, advancement and/or redeployment to their employees must do so in a manner that takes into account the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities as well as individual accommodation plans.
- Accessible formats and communication supports — Upon request by an employee with a disability, and following consultation with the employee making the request, employers must provide or arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for information that is needed in order for the employee to perform his or her job and for information that is generally available to employees in the workplace.
- Workplace emergency response information — Employers must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability, if the disability is such that the information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for such accommodation. If an employee who receives individualized workplace emergency response information requires assistance and the employee consents, the employer must provide the workplace emergency response information to a person designated to provide assistance to the employee. Required information must be provided as soon as practicable after the employer becomes aware of the need for accommodation, and must be reviewed if the employee moves to a different location, his or her accommodation needs are reviewed or the employer reviews its general emergency response policies.
Employees must be informed about the organization’s policies, practices and procedures for supporting employees with disabilities in the above areas.
What should employers do to comply?
To meet the above requirements, employers should, among other things:
- Develop an employment standards multi-year plan and a statement of organizational commitment and accessibility achievement policy.
- Review existing practices, written policies and other employment documents, including template job postings, applications and job offers, to ensure they comply with the employment standards under the AODA.
- Assess and consider accessibility needs of applicants in the recruitment, selection and hiring process. Indicate in job postings and career pages of websites that applicants selected for an interview may ask for accommodation if they have a disability.
- Assess and consider accessibility needs of employees in the return-to-work process.
- Take the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities into account in the performance management process.
- Consider accessibility needs of employees in the career development and advancement process.
- Consider accessibility needs of employees in the redeployment process.
- Provide information to employees in an accessible format and with communication supports.
- Understand how to support employees with disabilities and develop a process to document individual accommodation plans.
- Understand how to develop and communicate workplace emergency response information to employees with disabilities.
- Advise employees of policies that support employees with disabilities.
It is important for employers to remember that an organization’s compliance with the employment standard under the AODA does not necessarily mean it has met its obligations under the Human Rights Code or the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA). The government has made this clear by stating: “The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act does not diminish existing legal duties under the Code and other laws with respect to accommodation of persons with disabilities.”
Organizations will still be required to accommodate employees with disabilities to the point of undue hardship or meet their return-to-work and re-employment obligations under the WSIA.
Make sure your employees, managers, supervisors and recruitment managers are aware and trained on their legal obligations under the AODA employment standard.
In addition, make sure safeguards are put in place to ensure the integrity of an employee’s personal health information disclosed during any accommodation process.
2.2) Information and communications in accessible formats with communication support
Small organizations must let the public and employees know that they can obtain any written information and other communications produced by your organization in an accessible format, upon request. For example, your organization could provide a notice on its website advising individuals whom to contact to request accessible information/communications. Organizations should establish an internal process for managing requests and working with individuals to provide information/communication in a manner that is timely and is responsive to individual accessibility needs.
You need to assess all the methods used by your organization to provide information and communicate with the public. But before that, you need to identify barriers persons with disabilities will encounter based on their particular disabilities to find out what is the best way to communicate with them. A good way to do this is to consult with persons with disabilities and listen to their concerns.
Alternatives to standard print are often referred to as accessible formats, and ways to help communication between people are referred to as communication supports.
Examples of alternative formats and communication supports include:
- Reading written information to a person directly
- Large print
- Text transcripts of audio or visual information
- Handwritten notes instead of spoken word
- Information written in plain language
- An electronic document formatted to be accessible for use with a screen reader
You have the flexibility to determine the most appropriate accessible format or communication support depending on the accessibility needs of the person and the capability of your organization to deliver.
Note that the requirement does not apply to the following:
- Products and product labels. For example, a store that sells DVDs does not have to make its products or product labels accessible, but the store must still take into account a person’s disability when communicating with them about their products, such as verbally informing a customer with vision loss about their DVD selection.
- Information that you do not control directly or indirectly through a contract, unless your organization is involved in education or training as defined in the regulation.
- Information or communications that cannot be converted.
These are significant new requirements. While they do not come into effect until January 2017, they will require substantial planning and updating of processes and policies, which may take several months to complete. Organizations may want professional assistance to manage some or all of the requirements. Those that are not already meeting their current obligations (including the new January 2016 requirements) are especially likely to need help.
Whether you seek help or not, don’t wait until the last minute. Create a plan to apply the standards piece by piece in your workplace throughout the year and stick to it.
It remains to be seen what type of enforcement we’ll see from the government, but regardless, once the new requirements are in force, your customers, employees, job candidates and the general public will be able to make complaints based on them, which could expose your organization to unnecessary liability.