Complying with Ontario’s Accessibility Standards
The Ontario government continues to be a leader in the development of accessibility standards to improve the lives of Ontarians with disabilities. The government enacted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005 (“Act”). The Act is a framework for the development of mandatory standards of accessibility that businesses and organizations will have to comply with to adequately identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility.
Accessibility standards will relate to:
- Customer Service
- Information and Communications
- The Built Environment
Customer Service Standard
The Customer Service standard came into effect on January 1, 2012 and applies to all organizations (public, private and non-profit) that provide goods and services either directly to the public or to other organizations in Ontario that have one or more employees in Ontario. This includes businesses, consultants and professional services.
The compliance requirements include: establishment of policies, practices and procedures to adequately communicate with and provide accessible customer service to persons with disabilities; allowing assistive devices and the use of service animals; the need to provide adequate training; and the ability to receive feedback from customers regarding the organization’s accessible customer service practices.
Integrated Accessibility Standards
The Integrated Accessibility Standards (“IAS”) came into force on July 1, 2011. The IAS intends to require public and private sector employers to identify, remove and prevent barriers to the access of employment, information and communications and transportation. The regulation applies to “obligated organizations” including every “person or organization that provides goods, services or facilities to the public or other third parties that has at least one employee in Ontario”. The extent of the requirements varies depending on the type of organization (public v. private) and the size (at least 1 but fewer than 50 employees v. 50 or more employees).
Compliance with the IAS will be phased in over the next several years. Most of the employment and information and communications requirements that will affect private-sector organizations will come into force between 2014 and 2016, though organizations should consider the pending requirements well in advance to ensure compliance with the various deadlines.
The IAS contains obligations for employers with respect to recruitment, accessible information, return to work, career development and advancement, and individualized workplace emergency response information for employees with disabilities. Of particular note, the requirements related to workplace emergency response information have a compliance deadline of January 1, 2012.
Information and Communication Standard
Generally, the IAS requires that the information and communications of all obligated organizations be available in accessible formats. In addition, the IAS outlines obligations regarding feedback, emergency procedures and accessible websites and web content.
Additional requirements are imposed on obligated organizations which are transportation service providers.
Organizations that fail to comply with the Act and the accessibility standards imposed by the regulations may be subject to a number of enforcement mechanisms, including orders, monetary penalties and fines.
Generally, Ontario employers with more than 20 employees in Ontario are required to report their compliance with the Act and the related accessibility standards. Ontario employers can now complete their Accessibility Compliance Report by visiting the ServiceOntario reporting portal. To file a report, the organization will need to create a ServiceOntario One-Source for Business account. Once created, select the Accessibility Compliance Reporting (ACR) tab and follow the instructions.
Click here to view the list of questions the organization will have to answer.
The Ontario government continues to work on its goal of making Ontario completely accessible for individuals with disabilities by 2025. The government continues to work on developing the fifth and final standard, referred to as the Built Environment. This standard will be intended to help remove barriers in buildings and outdoor spaces for people with disabilities. The standard will only apply to new construction and extensive renovation.
While ambitious, the Ontario government’s goal of an accessible province is necessary to promote equality of both opportunity and quality of life for individuals with disabilities. We will continue to monitor any developments that arise.