The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (“AODA”) has imposed a series of obligations on businesses providing goods and services in Ontario. To date, the focus has primarily been on ensuring that customers with accessibility issues are provided with goods and services in a manner that is responsive to and respectful of their needs. As of December 31, 2012, most businesses in Ontario were required to file compliance reports with the Ministry of Community and Social Services affirming that they had implemented accessible customer service policies, provided training to their employees on how to provide service to individuals with accessibility issues, created a feedback process for customers who experienced accessibility issues and that steps had been taken to make these policies available to members of the public.
We understand that businesses are now being contacted by the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment to follow up on outstanding compliance reports. Employers in Ontario need to know that new obligations and deadlines are coming. As of January 1, 2014, Ontario private sector businesses that have 50 or more employees (referred to in the AODA as “large organizations”) and Ontario public sector organizations with less than 50 employees will be required to demonstrate that they have taken further steps to ensure that they meet the needs of both their customers and their employees.
By January 1, 2014, large private sector organizations and small public sector organizations must have implemented the following measures to ensure compliance with the AODA:
Although these requirements do not currently apply to small private sector organizations, we recommend initiating steps to achieve compliance now rather than waiting for the January 1, 2015 deadline. Not only will this ensure small organizations are in a good position for the approaching AODA deadlines, it will also assist meeting their existing obligations to both customers and employees under the Human Rights Code.
We draw particular attention to the requirement to develop accessibility policies and plans because these documents will serve as the foundation of your organization’s compliance with the AODA and will provide your management and human resources team with a roadmap for future compliance and accommodation measures. We strongly recommend considering how these documents will intersect with your company’s human resources practices because more changes are coming. Beginning in January 2016, large private section organizations will need to ensure that all of their existing human resources practices have been revamped to explicitly consider and respond to accessibility issues in the workplace. Small private sector organizations must do so by January 2017.