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Ontario's New Accessibility Standards: What Small Businesses Need to Know

By Julie King |

All people, businesses and organizations in Ontario that provide goods or services and have one or more employees must take note of new accessibility legislation that is being phased in as of January 1, 2012.

While on the surface things appear quite simple – organizations will have to comply with new accessibility “standards” that apply to five key areas – when you try to unravel exactly what is required and what deadlines you must meet, the situation can become quite confusing.

That is because the standards vary based on the size and type of organization and what’s more, the details for four of the five standards are located in two regulations, while the fifth standard is still under development.

What is important to know is this: having accessible locations, goods and services is going to be a legislated right of all Ontarians, with the definition of accessibility going well beyond traditional concepts, like providing wheelchair access washrooms.

The new legislation will affect how every business operates and will include things like the size of fonts designers use in marketing materials to creating scent-free stores and workplaces.

Here is an overview of some of the key things small businesses need to do to comply with these laws as they come into effect.

Complying with the Customer Service Standard

What organizations will need to do to comply with the new Customer Service Standards depends on the size of the organization.

Companies with fewer than 20 employees are required to create a plan for how they will comply with the Customer Service Standard and then train their employees. Companies with 20 or more employees must also put their plans in writing and report to the government on how the company is doing.

Here is a breakdown of the obligations businesses have for each component.

Create a plan (applies to all businesses)

You need to address seven essential components in your plan. Here is an outline of what the government requires businesses to include in their customer service accessibility plans:

  1. Identify how you currently provide customer service and identify potential barriers in your business for persons with disabilities. Your next step is to begin to look for new ways of doing business that will eliminate these barriers.
  2. Consider how you communicate with your customers and how this could affect persons with disabilities. Look for ways to make your communication more accessible. You can be innovative. For example, while you may not have a Braille version of a flyer available, you could refer someone to a copy of that flyer on your website where it could be read to them by a screen reader.
  3. Consider assistive devices persons with disabilities might use and ways that you can ensure they can safely access your facilities with an assistive device. Examples of this could include not having an open flame that could be dangerous to someone with an oxygen tank or having clear walkways for someone who is vision impaired.
  4. Accept service animals in your business. You may need to make adjustments in order to serve someone with service animals. In cases where service animals are not allowed, what other options do you have to provide services to these clients?
  5. Make your business open to support persons. If there will be an extra fee for the support person, for example at a concert or theatre performance, you must decide what you will charge the support person and state this in advance. Decide what areas of your business are open to the public and decide how you will deal with special circumstances.
  6. Communicate when accessible services are not available. Should accessible services that you normally provide go out of service temporarily, for example if a washroom needs to be repaired, you will need to provide notice that includes the reason for the disruption, the length of time the service will be unavailable and alternative facilities or services that are available during the disruption. You should have a template prepared in advance to use for service disruptions and the notice must be posted in a high-traffic area where people are most likely to find it.
  7. Ask for feedback. Customers are the best people to tell you what is working and what is not. There are many ways to invite feedback, with some of the most popular being comment cards and online surveys. Phone, in-person and mail surveys are other options. You will need to let customers know how they can give feedback and decide how you will respond to feedback that is received.

Train employees (applies to all businesses)

Everyone associated with your organization that interacts with customers or create customer service plans must be trained under the Customer Service Standard.

The government expects that training will be tailored to meet the needs of each individual business. However, there are a number of things that each business must include in its training:

Create context by providing an overview of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and what is required under the Customer Service Standard.

  • Explain the plan you created.
  • Help employees understand how you expect them to accommodate and interact with persons with disabilities. This should include dealing with persons with assistive devices, a support person or service animal. The Ontario government has a training tips guide that has suggestions for how to prepare for and manage with different situations that can be downloaded online.
  • If specialized equipment or accommodations are required at your workplace to provide services to persons with disabilities, teach your staff what they need to do to use the equipment or make an accommodation. For example, staff might believe that they cannot leave the premises, which might be true under normal circumstances, but could have an exception that would include delivering a package to someone outside the store if it is not wheelchair accessible.
  • Show your staff how to help if a person with a disability is having difficulty accessing the good or services of your business.
  • While it is not currently required for all businesses, you might want to address with your staff how to handle an emergency situation like a fire evacuation when there is someone with a disability on your premises.

Put your Plan in writing (businesses with 20 or more employees only)

Under the Customer Service Standard if you are a company with 20 or more employees you are required to document the plans you created in step one and keep records of training you provide to employees.

You will need to let customers know how to access your plan by posting a notice in a high-traffic area and be prepared to provide the plan in accessible formats, if requested.

By keeping this information in writing, your plan and training log are designed to ensure that employers are accountable. Remember that if you change your plan, you will need to ensure that everyone in contact with customers is trained on the new procedures.

Tip: In creating your training log, it can be helpful to have employees complete a simple test to confirm that they understood the training. Having the employees sign their test will be further validation that your company met its legal requirements under AODA.

Report your progress (businesses with 20 or more employees only)

Once you have met your requirements under the above three steps, you have until December 31, 2012 to report your compliance to the Ontario government.

Reporting is done in a two-stage process where you first create a ‘One-Source’ account. Once your account is created you must login to complete, certify and submit your accessibility report.

Detailed instructions are available on the Ontario government website at:
http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/customerService/report_online.aspxcszuwuszwa

Final Compliance checklist

Here is a summary of the key steps you will need to take to ensure compliance with the new law.

Action: Our company has created an Accessible Customer Service Plan.
Required for: all companies
Action: Our company has taken steps to make changes and/or prepare materials (like feedback cards) so it can implement the Plan.
Required for: all companies
Action: Our company has identified all people, including staff, volunteers and external service providers, who will need to be trained in Plan.
Required for: all companies
Action: Our company has documented its Plan in writing.
Required for: 20+ employees
Action: Our company has posted its Plan in a high-traffic area.
Required for: 20+ employees
Action: Our company is prepared to provide the plan in accessible formats, if requested.
Required for: 20+ employees
Action: Our company has created a training log that documents each person -- including volunteers, staff member and other stakeholders -- that received our Customer Service Accessibility training.
Required for: 20+ employees
Action: Our company has created on online account and reported our compliance to the Ontario government before the deadline of December 31, 2012.
Required for: 20+ employees

 

Further resources:

Template plan
http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/accessibility/Tools/TemplatePlan_en.pdf
This simple template lets you enter short answers about your business to generate a customer service plan.

What’s Next

Tune in to our March issue for the next installment in this series: Ontario’s New Accessibility Standards: Key Dates for Being Compliant as all Five Standards Come into Effect

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