The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (“AODA”) has been around since 2005, but the specific obligations for employers do not start to kick in until 2012.  This is the first of a series of blog posts I will be writing to discuss the requirements of AODA for employers.

AODA lays out the general framework for ensuring Ontario businesses and workplaces are accessible to people with a disability.  The Regulations made under AODA lay out the details of specific requirements to comply with AODA.  So far, there are three Regulations:

  1. Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, Reg. 249/07
  2. Exemption from Reporting Requirements, Reg. 430/07
  3. Integrated Accessibility Standards, Reg 191/11

The main requirements are in the first and third Regulations, with the Employment Standards set out in detail in the third Regulation, the Integrated Accessibility Standards.  This post will discuss the first Regulation, the Customer Services Standards.

Customer Service Standards

The first regulation outlines the requirements for businesses to ensure customers can access their goods and services.  The public sector had to comply by 2010 and the private sector must comply by January 1, 2012.

The specific requirements include:

  • establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of goods or services to persons with a disability;
  • permitting the use of service animals and support persons;
  • notifying the public if there is a temporary disruption of goods or service;
  • ensuring your staff are trained about the provision of goods and services to persons with a disability;
  • establishing a process for receiving and responding to feedback about the manner in which you provide goods and services; and
  • ensure the format of documents that you are required to provide to a person with a disability is in a format accessible to that person.

Several of these requirements are common sense items that most business probably already meet, such as allowing a service animal into your store.  Others, such as training and establishing a feedback process may require more pro-active steps.

Because the public sector has already had to comply for a year and a half, there are plenty of helpful resources out there, including detailed guides on the Ontario government website.

Tricky Areas for Employers

While most employers are happy to get behind the concepts of the Customer Service Standards, I’ve had some clients raise concerns about both the cost and the logistics of compliance.  For example, the cost of providing a large amount of materials in Braille can be prohibitive for a small business or even a large business that runs at a low profit.

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure the parties involved discuss accessibility, that those requiring accessibility are included in that dialogue, and that alternative formats and approaches are considered.  Nowhere, for example, does the legislation require that all businesses must always produce a Braille version of their materials, a prohibitively expensive proposition for some businesses.

Rather, if a customer requests an accessible format, the provider of goods and services “shall give the person the document, or the information contained in the document, in a format that takes into account the person’s disability”.  In a restaurant, for example, the “format” could include simply reading the menu out to the customer.  Braille documents are expensive to produce, and frankly, many people who are blind or have low vision either don’t read Braille or prefer other formats.

The point of the legislation is to not assume and to ask the person affected.  Having said this, employers should expect to shoulder the cost of accessibility when required to do so.

Take Away for Employers

The Customer Service Standard focuses on your company’s obligations to customers and members of the public, not on your obligations as an employer to your employees.  The main obligation that impacts the employment relationship will be the training requirements.  Staff must “receive training about the provision of its goods or services to persons with disabilities”.

A good example of where this amounted to litigation and a $10,000 award against the employer is in the case of Palangio v Cochrane (Town) 2011 HRTO 1491, issued by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario last month.  In that case, the applicant was elected as a member of the Town Council who made a request for certain tools, such as permission to record meetings, to enable him to better hear the debate in council meetings.

He was initially denied the request because other members of Council believed he was in fact attempting to surreptitiously record the meetings for ulterior purposes.  The Tribunal held that the ability to replay meetings was directly related to his disability of low hearing.  One of the findings of the tribunal was that the employer should have trained its staff (i.e. the other members of council) on how to deal with requests for accessibility.

While AODA does not provide a direct complaint system for individuals (more on this in a future post on AODA’s teeth), individuals can take their concerns directly to the Human Rights Tribunal.  It is at the Tribunal where we will continue to see AODA act as a minimum floor above which employers must comply.

Has your workplace run into any particular challenges with preparing for AODA compliance?  Any unique obstacles you are facing at this point?

Stay tuned for my next posts on the AODA Employment Standards and whether AODA has any teeth…

Disclaimer: This material is being kept online for historical purposes. Though accurate at the time of publication, it is no longer being updated. The page may contain broken links or outdated information.