By: Leanne Standryk
This summer, Ontario organizations will see changes coming into effect with respect to our province’s laws on accessibility for people with disabilities. In 2005, the Ontario government passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which called for organizations, including employers and trade unions, to work towards providing accessible services and environments in five (5) key areas of our day-to-day life. The goal of this legislation is ultimately to remove barriers to accessibility by the year 2025.
The AODA and its associated regulations requires affected organizations to make significant efforts to train its staff and prepare policies, to deliver goods, employment and services in new ways to allow people of all ability levels to access them. Since the legislation was passed, we have seen a staggered, phased in approach to compliance, allowing organizations time within which to meet the standards imposed.
Several minor changes to the AODA will come into effect as of July 1, 2016. Organizations should take note of these changes to understand how they impact their approach to accessibility. The pending changes effective July 1, 2016 are summarized as follows:
Consolidation of the accessibility standards into one
Currently, the requirements of the AODA “standards” are found within two (2) Regulations: the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, which speaks customer services accessibility and the Integrated Accessibility Standards, which deals with areas of information and communication, employment, transportation and the design of public spaces.
The July 1st amendments will combine and consolidate all the compliance standards into one regulation, thereby streamlining language used and the requirements for organizations.
Currently, compliance requires that organizations provide training under the customer service standard to those employees and volunteers who interface with third parties, i.e. with clients, as well as any representatives who prepare the organization’s policies. The amendments will require that AODA customer service training be provided to all employees and volunteers, regardless of whether they interact with clients or customers, plus any other person who provides goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization.
Therefore, it is conceivable that an organization will be required to provide customer service training to independent contractors, dependent contractors, consultants, property managers or suppliers should those individuals fall into the category of those who operate on behalf of the organization to provide goods, services or facilities.
Organizations will be required to provide training to the additional group of individuals as soon as practicable, however, individuals who have already received the required training will not be required to take it again unless the organization makes changes to its policies and procedures such that re-training is required.
Documenting policies, practices and procedures
Under the current legislation, an organization’s compliance requirements can differ depending on whether it has twenty (20) or more employees, which categorizes it as a ‘large employer’. Under the amended AODA, a ‘large employer’ will be one with fifty (50) or more employees.
The practical side of this definition change relates to the requirements regarding documenting accessibility policies, practices and procedures. This amendment has no impact on large organization’s requirements regarding documentation, however, those organizations with less than fifty (50) employees will now need not comply with this obligation. Large organizations will need to further prepare a document that summarizes the content of its customer service training provided to staff and confirm when that training is being provided. The organization must inform those it serves that such documents are in fact available.
While this change affects which organizations must document their policies and procedures, those organizations with less than fifty (50) employees must continue to abide by its usual reporting and compliance requirements.
Support persons and Support animals
Not only will ‘support person’, ‘guide dog’ and ‘service animal’ be defined under the amended AODA, but an individual’s use of such supports will be altered under the amendments as well.
Currently, an organization may require a person with a disability to be accompanied by a support person while on its property/grounds for reasons that are tied to health and safety. The July 1st amendments will require organizations to take a closer look prior to deciding that such help is necessary. With a mind to protecting the dignity of those with disabilities, the amended AODA requires that organizations first 1) consult with the individual with the disability to discuss their individual needs; 2) consider the health and safety reasons for a support person based on the evidence available; 3) and then determine whether there are other options available besides the requirement of a support person in order to protect the health and safety of that individual.
Currently, an organization may request that the individual with the service animals provide a note from a physician or nurse confirming that the service animal is necessary for this individual. The amendments broaden the scope of individuals who will be permitted to make use of their service animals. The note may now come from any regulated health professional and not just a physician or nurse.
Feedback from individuals with disabilities
While the AODA currently requires organizations to provide a way for those with disabilities to provide feedback on the level of access they were able to enjoy with an organization, the amendments will require organizations to provide a feedback process that is itself accessible, i.e., in accessible formats such as in large print or available compatible with communication supports.
These changes come into effect on July 1, 2016. Those organizations with twenty (20) or more employees must continue to submit compliance reports annually each year by December 31. December 31, 2017 will mark the first year that questions regarding an organization’s compliance with the above amendments will need to be answered on the report. As a result, organizations will have ample time to consider these changes, seek the assistance of their advisors and legal counsel to understand the amendments that affect them and to adjust their approach to accessibility accordingly.
The foregoing information is provided to you for information purposes only. We caution you to obtain legal advice specific to your situation in all circumstances.
Lancaster Brooks & Welch Labour and Employment Department may be reached for consult on any Labour or Employment issue at 905-641-1551. Visit our website at lbwlawyers.com