Get ready for expanded disabilities act
As of Jan. 1, 2012 all Ontario regulated businesses providing goods or services to the public with at least one employee are required to be in compliance with accessibility standards for customer service under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.
Alan Shanoff, Special to QMI Agency
It will cover every business from Costco to Starbucks, including doctors, dentists, accountants, coffee shops, restaurants and department stores.
On a physical level it may cover the need for such things as magnifiers for menus, ramps and accessible bathrooms with facilities amenable for use by any one, however disabled. The list is only limited by your imagination; pick a disability and then try to imagine the difficulties encountered by a person with the disability.
Businesses face the possibility of inspections, compliance orders and potential fines up to $100,000.
The first step in compliance is to identify potential barriers that might interfere with a person’s ability to fully participate or interact with the business due to a disability.
The legislation takes a broad view of what constitutes a disability, covering not only physical disabilities but also mental impairments, developmental disabilities, speech impediments, learning disabilities and mental disorders.
The legislation also takes a broad view of what constitutes a barrier, making it potentially difficult to identify all barriers. A barrier includes physical, communication or technological barriers, policies or practices.
Each business must then create and implement policies, practices and procedures to identify and remove the barriers. Employees, including contractors and volunteers, must be properly trained in accordance with the policies, practices and procedures. Training may prove to be onerous as it must include training on subjects such as "how to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability," and “what to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider’s goods or services.”
Each business must provide a feedback process “for receiving and responding to feedback about the manner in which it provides goods or services to persons with disabilities and shall make information about the process readily available to the public.”
The process must allow feedback “in person, by telephone, in writing, or by delivering an electronic text by e-mail or on diskette”.
Accessibility reports must be filed with the government and will be made available to the public. The government has broad inspection powers and the ability to obtain search warrants, issue orders and assess fines for non compliance.
It should be apparent that this is serious legislation and businesses must move quickly to become compliant. Larger businesses will no doubt hire various legal and HR experts to assist them. Smaller businesses may want to start by checking the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Service site to download a guide, template, checklist and toolkit.
— Alan Shanoff was counsel to Sun Media for 16 years and is currently a freelance writer and teaches media law.