In 2005, the Ontario government passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) with the objective of breaking down all barriers that prevent or limit people with disabilities from participating in a variety of activities in Ontario, including receipt of goods and services, employment, transportation, communication and information and the built environment.
In order to fully achieve this goal by 2025, the government is developing accessibility standards with which virtually every organization in the public and private sectors will have to comply. The standards, which will encourage and enforce accessibility in most areas of an organization's operations, will roll out intermittently over the next few years. The first, relating to the provision of goods and services by organizations in Ontario, is already in force.
What is a "disability"?
The AODA uses the Ontario Human Rights Code's definition of "disability." This definition includes physical, mental health, developmental and learning disabilities. A disability may be visible or not visible.
What is a barrier?
A barrier is anything that keeps someone with a disability from participating fully in society because of his or her disability. A barrier can be visible or invisible. An example of a visible barrier is a building with steps but no ramp. An example of a barrier that is invisible is a policy that sets a time limit for completing a test for employment or for training or promotion opportunities.
When Do You Have to Be Compliant?
Organizations in the public sector (including municipalities, provincial government offices, school boards, universities, public transit organizations etc.) had to be compliant by on January 1, 2010.
The private and not-for-profit sectors must be compliant by January 1, 2012. to Persons with What Do You Have to Do to Get Compliant?
1. Establish policies, procedures, and practices for delivery of goods and services to persons with disabilities
All organizations must have established policies, procedures, and practices with respect to services to the public, by themselves or their agents, to ensure that their services are consistent with the core principles of independence, dignity, integration, and equality of opportunity.
2. Permit Support Persons and Service Animals
Organizations must permit the use of service animals or support persons, or provide alternatives where the use of service animals is prohibited by law.
3. Provide clear Notice of Disruptions
Organizations must have a system in place to provide clear notice when temporary or planned disruptions occur to services or facilities usually used by persons with disabilities.
Organizations with over 20 employees must prepare a document that sets out the steps to be taken in connection with a disruption.
4. Provide Training to Staff and Volunteers
Organizations must ensure that all employees, agents, and volunteers who act on their behalf and all persons who participate in the development of the organizations policies, practices, and procedures receive training about the provision of its goods or services to persons with disabilities. This training must be provided on an ongoing basis.
Organizations with 20 or more employees must prepare a document describing its training policy and a summary of the contents of the training and when it is to be provided and must keep a record of the training provided.
5. Create a Process for Receiving and Responding to Feedback
Organizations must establish a process for receiving and responding to feedback about the manner in which it provides goods or services to persons with disabilities and make the information about how to access that process readily available to the public.
Organizations with 20 or more employees must prepare a document describing the feedback process.
6. Notice that Documents are Available
Once the compliance deadline has passed, organizations with 20 or more employees are required to make any documents required by this Act available to any person upon request and to post a notice confirming their availability physically, where appropriate, electronically and, in any event, in a manner that takes into account a person's disability.
Organizations with more than 20 employees will be required to send a report annually, or pursuant to a request from the director, to the government describing and confirming its compliance with the standard. These reports must be available to the public.
What Other Regulations and Standards Are Coming?
Further standards will cover transportation, information and communications, employment and the built environment. The first three of these are being combined into one harmonized standard that is expected to be released in the near future. We expect that the compliance dates in respect of the three areas covered by the harmonized standard will be staggered, the earliest in 2012 and the latest in 2025. Steps will also be taken at some point in the next couple of years to make the current customer service standard more consistent with the new standard, as there are currently some expected variations that may cause confusion.
Enforcement and Penalties for Non-Compliance
The AODA authorizes reviews to check the accuracy of the reports filed by an organization and to check if the organization is complying with the standards. Organizations that do not comply could face orders for compliance or small fines. Failure to comply with an order, or to do anything else defined as an "offence" under the Act, can result in fines of up to $100,000 for corporations, and $50,000 for individuals, for each day or part day upon which an offence occurs.
Business Case for Getting Compliant
In 2006, Statistics Canada data indicated that about 15% of the population of Ontario experiences some form of disability. That is more than 1.5 million people. That percentage is will increase as the population ages. By complying with the standards you could make it easier for millions of people to interact with your organization.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.