January 1, 2011by Israel Foulon LLP
Beginning on January 1, 2012, businesses in Ontario employing at least one employee and providing goods or services directly to the public or to another business or organization, must offer accessible customer services. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (“AODA”) requires that businesses find the best way to help customers with disabilities access the goods and services offered.
Employers of more than twenty (20) employees must prepare written policies to address each of the standards set out below. We have attached a copy of a Customer Service Policy Statement template to help you get started. As a reference, the City of Toronto has published its completed statement at http://www.toronto.ca/diversity/pdf/customer-service-commitment.pdf which may be used for guidance. Employers with less than twenty (20) employees must comply with the standards but do not have an obligation to prepare written materials.
1. Develop customer service policies and procedures consistent with the principles of independence, dignity, integration and equal opportunity, for serving people with disabilities.
Example: A business might develop a policy which states that employees will read the bill or invoice to a customer who is blind or has low-vision and make a small notepad and pen available for a customer who is deaf.
Dignity – service is provided in a way that allows the person with a disability to maintain self-respect and the respect of other people.
Independence – when a person with a disability is allowed to do things on his/her own without unnecessary help.
Integration – service is provided in a way that allows the person with a disability to benefit from the same services, in the same place, and in the same or similar way as other customers, unless an alternate measure is necessary to enable a person with a disability to access goods or services.
Equal opportunity – service is provided to a person with a disability in such a way that he/she has an opportunity to access your goods or services equal to that given to others.
2. The use of assistive devices (e.g., cane, wheelchair, oxygen tank, etc.) by a person with a disability to access your goods or services should be addressed along with alternative measures available to provide access to your goods or services when assistive devices cannot be accommodated.
Example: If your goods or services are not accessible to persons who require the use of a wheelchair, an alternate measure would be to make the good or service available by placing an order over the telephone or through a website.
The Policy can simply state “It is our policy to allow people to use their personal assistive devices to access our services.”
3. Communication policies and practices must ensure that a person’s disability will be taken into account when communicating with him/her.
Adapted Forms of Communication
Large print for people who have low vision;
Audio format such as cassettes or digital audio format;
Braille used by some people who are blind or deaf-blind;
Videos that may be helpful to people with certain learning disabilities; and
Easy-read, simplified summaries of materials for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities.
4. Permitting the use of service animals by persons with a disability in areas of the business open to the public must be a respected practice, unless they are excluded by law. If service animals are excluded by law from the premises, the policy should address alternate measures available to ensure that the person with a disability is able to access your goods or services.
5. Permit a support person to attend with and assist a person with a disability in order for him/her to access your goods or services. When the service provided involves the transfer of confidential information, the policy should inform the employee that consent from the person with a disability should first be obtained before confidential information is discussed with the support person present.
6. Where admission fees are charged, policies should address what fee, if any, would be charged for a support person accompanying a person with a disability. This policy should be posted at a location such as the main entrance and should be available on the organization’s website, if there is one.
7. Facilities or services provided to accommodate persons with disabilities (such as an elevator or accessible washroom) will need to post notices of service disruption in a conspicuous place when the facilities or services are out of order (planned or unexpected). The policies, procedures and practices should direct employees to post notices which explain the reason for the disruption, the expected duration of the disruption and identify an alternate facility or service, if available.
8. Training is required for all persons who participate in developing the organization’s policies, practices and procedures on providing goods or services. A written training program is required for all staff, volunteers, contractors or other third parties who deliver a good or service on behalf of your organization.
Training is to include:
the purposes of the AODA and requirements of the customer service standard;
instruction on how to interact and communicate with people with various types of disabilities;
instruction on how to interact with a person with a disability who uses assistive devices or requires the assistance of a service animal or a support person;
instruction on how to use equipment or devices available at your premises or that you provide otherwise that may help people with disabilities access your services, such as TTY telephones, elevators, lifts, accessible interactive kiosks or other technology; and
instruction on what to do if a person with a disability is having difficulty accessing your services.
The Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services website provides the necessary information to educate employees and meet the training requirements. http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/ComplyingStandards/customerService/trainingResourcesAODA/summary.aspx
9. The ability to receive feedback from customers with disabilities on how the business met their needs and responding to the feedback is a necessary component of the standards. The process developed to receive and respond to feedback must take into account the person’s disability.
10. Documentation supporting the Customer Service Standard must be available upon request. Post a notice at a conspicuous place on the premises or on the organization’s website, or other reasonable place, indicating that the documents will be made available in the appropriate format upon request. Those documents should be provided in a format that takes into account a person’s disability.
Employers with 20 or more employees must also complete an online accessibility report by the reporting deadline in 2012 (a date has not yet been specified). We have attached a copy of the current report used for designated public sector employers for reference.
Who must sign accessibility reports?
The accessibility report must be signed by a director, a senior officer or other responsible person with authority to bind the organization. The person signing the report will be certifying that all the required information has been provided and that it is accurate. It is an offence under the AODA to provide false or misleading information in an accessibility report.
Every director and officer of a corporation has a duty to take reasonable care to prevent the corporation from committing an offence, failing which, on conviction, the directors and officers are liable for a fine of not more than $50,000 for each day or part of a day during which the offence continues to occur.
The corporation on conviction is subject to a fine of not more than $100,000 for each day or part of a day during which the offence continues.
Third Parties Delivering Goods/Services
When an organization contracts to another organization it must ensure that the second organization fulfills its obligations under the standard. The primary organization needs to ensure, for example, that an organization providing delivery and installation services meets its obligations under the standard. If the goods or services are provided in Ontario, this applies even if the second organization has no staff in Ontario.
Future Requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005
In addition to the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, which will be in effect for private sector employers on January 1, 2012, the Ministry of Community and Social Services is in the process of finalizing the “Integrated Accessibility Standards” Regulation, which will impose further requirements for employers related to: (1) Information and Communication Standards; (2) Employment Standards; and (3) Transportation Standards. The draft Regulation was released for public review and comment for 45 days, ending March 18, 2011. The Regulation in its draft form has fewer requirements for employers of less than 50 employees. These additional Regulations are not expected to become effective for private sector organizations before January 1, 2014.
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