Is Your Business Accessible to People With Disabilities?
If you own a commercial building or operate a business in Ontario, you should make yourself well aware of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
Chris recently attended a seminar on the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service Regulation 2009, which is one of five parts of the being implemented between now and 2025 and, here is her report.
According to the workshop’s facilitator, the purpose of the AODA is as follows:
“Recognizing the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities in Ontario, the purpose of this Act is to benefit all Ontarians by,
a) Developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025
b) Providing for the involvement of persons with disabilities, of the Government of Ontario and of representatives of industries and of various sectors of the economy in the development of accessibility standards.”
She told us that the AODA Vision is:
“An accessible Ontario by 2025:
? Fundamental, comprehensive change to ensure accessible buildings, communications, services and employment for people with disabilities
? Facilitate full participation of all Ontarians in Ontario’s community and economic life
? Inform and change attitudes, values and behaviour towards accessibility
? Essential to quality of life and strong economy for all Ontarians
? An investment that makes good economic sense”
Specifically, this regulation deals with Customer Service.
The speaker made it clear that we can have the best team of customer servers in the business, but if someone with an accessibility issue can’t get in, there’s a problem. What this act aims to do over the next several years, is put all community members on a level playing field. Fundamentally, the act will ensure access to buildings, communications, services and employment for people with disabilities.
The accessibility standard has five parts:
? Customer Service
? Information and Communications
? The Built Environment
As of January 1, 2008, if a business has one or more employee, it must comply. If the organization is designated in the standard as ‘public sector,’ then they must comply by January 1, 2010. If it is a private business, not-for-profit, or other service provider, with at least one employee in Ontario, compliance is required by January 1, 2012.
This will affect everyone!
The act requires ‘reasonable accommodation’ which doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who owns a business will have to go out and completely retrofit their place of business.
There are 11 requirements for the customer service regulation:
1. Establish policies, practices and procedures to provide goods and services to people with disabilities. If a business already has policy and procedures, insert proper language with no exclusions.)
2. Use reasonable efforts to ensure policies, practices and procedures are consistent with the core principals of independence, dignity, integrity and equality of opportunity (ie. look at your mission statement: is it inclusionary?)
3. Set policy so that people can use their own assistive devices to access your goods and use your services; and set policy about any other measures your company or organization may offer (ie. services, assistive devices or other methods to enable the disabled person to access your goods and/or services.)
4. Communicate with the disabled person in a manner that takes into account his/her disability. (This may well require training!)
5. Allow people with disabilities to use guide dogs/service animals in those areas of the premises you own or operate open to the public, unless the animal is excluded by law; or use other measures to provide services to the person with disabilities.
6. Permit people with disabilities who use a support person to bring that person with them while accessing goods or services in premises open to the public (ie. interpreter.)
7. Where admission fees are charged, provide notice ahead of time of what admission, if any, will be charged for a support person (ie. discount? free?)
8. Provide notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on to access or use when goods or services are temporarily disrupted (ie. YMCA Collingwood is under construction.)
9. Train staff, volunteers and contractors and any other people who interact with the public or other third parties who act of your behalf on a number of topics outlined in the customer service standard.
10. Train staff, volunteers, and contractors, etc. who are involved in developing your policies, practices and procedures on the provision of goods and services on a number of topics as outlined in customer service standard.
11. Establish a process for people to provide feedback on how to provide great services to people with disabilities and how you will respond to feedback and take action on complaints. Make info about your feedback process readily available to the public. (Put it on your website!!)
Finally, if you have 20 employees or more, you must:
1. Document all your policies, practices and procedures for providing accessible customer service. Meet other document requirements set out in the standard.
2. Notify clientele/customers that documents required under the customer service standard are available upon request.
3. If you are giving the customer service standard documents to a person with a disability, provide the information in a format that takes into account the person’s disability.