On June 3, 2011, the Ontario government released the final Integrated Accessibility Standards regulation (the “Final Regulation”) under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “AODA” or the “Act“). The Final Regulation combines accessibility standards in three areas – information and communication, employment, and transportation – and came into force July 1, 2011.
This Final Regulation represents a significant shift in human rights and accessibility law affecting nearly all organizations in Ontario with respect to their human resources practices and in the way they do business. We strongly encourage our clients and readers of our Blog to pay close attention to these developments.
In the Final Regulation, the Ontario government preserved nearly all of the contents of the draft regulation released earlier in the year with a major change being the new requirement that organizations provide training on the Human Rights Code as it relates to persons with disabilities.
Our Blog highlights the Final Regulation along with OPC’s feedback on important changes from the draft regulation.
APPLICABILITY OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS CODE
The Final Regulation makes it clear that its requirements do not replace or substitute for, the requirements established under the Human Rights Code (the “Code“). Interestingly the Final Regulation nor the AODA provides any guidance as to how the standards should be interpreted in light of the Code or other sources of obligations for employer organizations.
BUSINESSES AND ORGANIZATIONS AFFECTED BY THE FINAL REGULATION
The Final Regulation applies to any public, private and non-profit organization that “provides goods, services or facilities to the public or other third parties” and has at least one employee in Ontario. These organizations are referred to as “obligated organizations”. Specific requirements and compliance deadlines vary depending on whether the obligated organization is:
- the government of Ontario and Legislative Assembly;
- a large designated public sector organization (50+ employees);
- a small designated public sector organization (less than 50 employees);
- a large private or not-for-profit sector organization (50+ employees); or
- a small private or not-for-profit sector organization (less than 50 employees).
PART I: GENERAL STANDARDS
The following general standards are applicable to most obligated organizations;
1. ESTABLISHMENT OF ACCESSIBILITY POLICIES
All obligated organizations will be required to develop, implement and maintain policies on how they achieve or will achieve accessibility in accordance with the Final Regulation. Most organizations will be required to include a statement of commitment, prepare written documents describing their policies and to have those documents publicly available and provided in an accessible format upon request.
Compliance timelines range from January 1, 2013 for large designated public sector organizations to January 1, 2015 for small private and not-for-profit organizations.
2. ACCESSIBILITY PLANS
Most organizations (except small private and not-for-profit organizations) will be required to prepare, document and post on their website, if any, and provide in accessible format upon request, a multi-year accessibility plan on how they intend to prevent and remove barriers to accessibility. The plan must be reviewed and updated at least once every five years.
Designated organizations will be required to consult with persons with disabilities or with members of their accessibility advisory committee, when updating the plan. They will also be required to prepare an annual status report on their progress on their plan and post the status report on their website.
3. PROCURING OR ACQUIRING GOODS, SERVICES OR FACILITIES
When procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities, designated public sector organizations will be required to incorporate “accessibility criteria and features”, unless it is not practicable to do so, in which case the affected organization must explain why it did not do so (if requested).
4. SELF-SERVE KIOSKS
Designated public sector organizations shall “incorporate” accessibility features – whereas private and not-for-profit organizations shall “have regard to” accessibility – when designing, procuring or acquiring self-serve kiosks.
There was a clarification in the Final Regulation that “kiosk” includes point-of-sale devices.
The most significant change in the Final Regulation from the draft is the new requirement that all obligated organizations must provide training “on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities”. This human rights training is to be provided in addition to the training on the requirements of the accessibility standards set out in the Final Regulation. (see OPC’s E Learning Content, Delivery and Licence fees)
The Final Regulation does not provide guidance on the scope of the required training which may leave this open to interpretation. It is also unclear at this time if the government will provide resources to obligated organizations.
The required training is to be provided to an obligated organization’s employees, volunteers, persons who participate in developing the organization’s policies, and “all other persons” who provide goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization in accordance with the following schedule:
- January 1, 2014 – large designated public sector organizations;
- January 1, 2015 – small designated public sector organizations;
- January 1, 2015 – large private or not-for-profit sector organizations; and
- January 1, 2016 – small private or not-for-profit sector organizations.
Training is also to be provided as soon as practicable, and anytime after any changes are made to the accessibility policies. The training “shall be appropriate to the duties” of these individuals. Organizations will be required to keep a record of training, including the dates the training was provided and the number of individuals to whom it was provided. These records will need to be reported to the Directorate at the appropriately assigned timeline as outlined above.
6. FILING ACCESSIBILITY REPORTS
To the extent that the Final Regulation requires accessibility reports to be filed by obligated organizations, this will not apply to any small organizations.
PART II: INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS STANDARDS
All obligated organizations will be required to adhere to the first four requirements discussed under this portion of the Final Regulation.
1. FEEDBACK PROCESSES
Organizations with feedback processes already in place will have to ensure that the processes are accessible by providing accessible formats and communications support upon request. The Final Regulation now requires that such organizations notify the public about the availability of accessible formats and communication supports.
2. ACCESSIBLE FORMATS AND COMMUNICATION SUPPORTS
Obligated organizations must, upon request, provide or arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communications supports: (1) in a timely manner that takes into account the disabled person’s accessibility needs; and (2) at a cost not exceeding the regular cost charged to other persons. Organizations must consult with the person making the request on the suitability of an accessible format or communication support.
The requirements must be completed in accordance with the following schedule:
- January 1, 2015 – large designated public sector organizations;
- January 1, 2016 – small designated public sector organization;
- January 1, 2016 – large private or not-for-profit sector organization; and
- January 1, 2017 – small private or not-for-profit sector organization.
3. EMERGENCY PROCEDURE, PLANS OR PUBLIC SAFETY INFORMATION
Organizations that have and prepare emergency procedures, plans or public safety information that is available to the public must make such information available in an accessible format or with appropriate communication supports, as soon as practicable and upon request.
4. ACCESSIBLE WEBSITES AND WEB CONTENT
Most organizations will be required to make their internet websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.0, initially at Level A, and increasing to Level AA. New websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A by January 1, 2014. All websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA by January 1, 2021.
7. PRODUCERS OF EDUCATIONAL OR TRAINING MATERIAL
Producers of training or education textbooks and of print-based educational or training supplementary learning resources for educational or training institutions will be required to make accessible or “conversion ready” versions of their textbooks and other materials available upon request.
8. LIBRARIES OF EDUCATIONAL AND TRAINING INSTITUTIONS
Such libraries will be required to provide, procure or otherwise acquire an accessible or “conversion ready” format of print, digital or multimedia resources or materials, upon request.
PART III: EMPLOYMENT ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS
The employment accessibility standards apply only with respect to the employment of individuals. They do not apply to the engagement of volunteers and other “non-paid” individuals. “Employee” is not a defined term in the Final Regulation, so it remains to be seen how broadly it will be interpreted, and whether it will apply to dependent or independent contractors, or to employee-like relationships (e.g. office holders).
The compliance time frames for the employment accessibility standards are:
- January 1, 2014 – large designated public sector organizations;
- January 1, 2015 – small designated public sector organizations;
- January 1, 2016 – large private and not-for-profit organizations; and
- January 1, 2017 – small private and not-for-profit organizations.
All employers will be required to notify their employees and the public about the availability of accommodation for applicants with disabilities in their recruitment process.
2. RECRUITMENT, ASSESSMENT OR SELECTION PROCESS
All employers must notify job applicants when they are selected to participate further in the selection process that accommodation is available upon request in relation to the materials or processes to be used. Employers must consult with an applicant who is selected and who requests an accommodation and must provide or arrange for the provision of “suitable” accommodation.
The draft regulation expressly stated that employers have the final determination as to which accommodation is to be provided. This provision has been removed from the Final Regulation. As noted previously, while the removal of the provision creates some ambiguity regarding the government’s intent, the final decision should remain with the organization as the Final Regulation does not establish a collaborative decision-making process, but only a consultation obligation.
3. NOTICE TO SUCCESSFUL APPLICANTS
When making offers of employment, all employers must notify the successful applicant of their policies for accommodating persons with disabilities.
4. INFORMING EMPLOYEES OF SUPPORTS
Employers will be required to inform all their employees of their policies (and any updates to those policies) used to support employees with disabilities, including information on accommodation. New employees are to receive this information as soon as practicable after they start employment.
5. ACCESSIBLE FORMATS AND COMMUNICATION SUPPORTS
Where a disabled employee requests it, every employer will be required to consult with the employee to provide or arrange to provide accessible formats and communication supports for information needed to perform his or her job and information that is generally available to other employees. In determining the suitability of an accessible format or communication support, an employer shall consult with the employee making the request.
The draft regulation expressly stated that employers have the final determination as to the choice of the accessible format or communication support to be used. This provision has been removed from the Final Regulation.
6. WORKPLACE EMERGENCY RESPONSE INFORMATION
All employers must provide “individualized” workplace emergency response information to disabled employees if individualized information is necessary based on the type of disability and if the employer is aware of the need for accommodation. Employers must provide this information as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the need for such accommodation.
This workplace response information may be shared with a person designated by the employer to provide assistance to the disabled employee if the disabled employee consents. Individualized workplace emergency response information must be reviewed if the disabled employee moves to a different work location in the organization, when his or her overall accommodation needs or plans are reviewed, and when the employer reviews its general emergency response policies.
Every obligated organization must meet the requirements in this section by January 1, 2012.
7. DOCUMENTED INDIVIDUAL ACCOMMODATION PLANS
Employers must develop a written process to develop documented individual accommodation plans for disabled employees. The written process must address a number of required elements set out in the Final Regulation, including, the manner in which the disabled employee requesting accommodation can participate in the development of the plan, the means by which the employee is assessed on an individual basis, and the manner by which an employer can request an evaluation by an outside medical or other expert, at the employer’s expense, to assist in its determination on whether accommodation can be achieved.
8. RETURN TO WORK PROCESS
Most organizations will need to develop, implement and document a return to work process for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability and who require disability-related accommodations in order to return to work. The return to work process shall outline the steps the employer will take to facilitate the return to work and must include an individual documented accommodation plan. This return to work process does not replace or override any other return to work process created by or under any other statute (e.g. the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997).
9. PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT, CAREER DEVELOPMENT AND ADVANCEMENT, AND REDEPLOYMENT
- conduct performance management,
- provide career development and advancement to employees, or
- engage in employee redeployment,
must take into account the accessibility needs of disabled employees, as well as individual accommodation plans.
PART IV: TRANSPORTATION STANDARDS
There are a number of changes in the Final Regulation from its draft form on standards relating to transportation. For example, there are new requirements on:
- keeping training records;
- availability of emergency preparedness and response policies;
- developing steps to reduce waiting times; and
- ensuring on-board announcements of destination points or available route stops are audible.
There are also specific standards for organizations that provide transportation services, but without being primarily engaged in the transportation industry.
We encourage you to contact Optimal Performance Consultants Accessibility Experts for detailed advice regarding these new standards.
PART V: COMPLIANCE PROVISIONS
The Final Regulation sets out a series of compliance provisions that apply not only to the standards contained in the Final Regulation itself, but also to the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the initial accessibility standard passed under the AODA).
The Final Regulation will enable a government official – a “director” – to assess an administrative penalty based on a consideration of the severity of the impact of the contravention (e.g. administrative oversight vs. health and safety risk), the contravention history of the person or organization in question, and the nature of the organization (corporation, unincorporated association or individual).
For example, penalties for individuals and unincorporated associations would generally range from $200 (for a contravention of minor impact and a minor contravention history) to $2,000 (for a contravention of major impact and a major contravention history). The range for corporations would generally go from $500 to $15,000. However, in the case of contraventions of major impact coupled with a major contravention history, the administrative penalties can be assessed on a daily basis to a maximum of $100,000 for a corporation, and $50,000 for an individual or unincorporated association.
The government has designated the Licence Appeal Tribunal as the tribunal responsible for hearing matters arising under the AODA.
Accessibility law in Ontario is changing. The government is moving forward with the implementation of these new Integrated Accessibility Standards under the AODA at almost the same time when private employers are still addressing the requirements of the AODA’s customer service standards (CSS).
The draft Built Environment Standards, were released early September 2012 were open for public feedback until the end of October 2012.
Developments in other areas, such as the new Work Re-integration Program of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, means OPC’s clients and organizations are well advised to take the time to understand and assess the impact of these new developments in accessibility law.
Optimal Performance has been actively following AODA developments since they were released as the ODA in 1995. OPC is a leader in this area. We will continue to monitor and report on developments of this and other proposed AODA standards. For further information, please contact AODA@OptimalPerformance.ca & J. Sleeth@Optimalperformance.ca