The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) establishes a comprehensive regime of accessibility standards which apply to every person or organization that provides goods, services or facilities to the public or third parties, and that has at least one employee in Ontario. The accessibility standards are broken down into five categories (information, communication, employment, transportation and the design of public spaces) and will be phased in over time in accordance with pre-determined compliance deadlines.
Whether and when employers must comply with a certain AODA requirement depends on the size of an organization. “Large organizations” are those with 50 or more employees in Ontario and “small organizations” are those having at least one, but less than 50, employees in Ontario. Generally, large organizations are required to comply with a greater number of AODA requirements and their compliance deadlines are earlier.
Since coming into force, a number of compliance deadlines under AODA have already passed, triggering employer obligations. You may wish to ensure your current policies comply with AODA accessibility standards. By now, large organizations (those with 50 or more employees) must have:
- Developed, implemented and maintained accessibility policies which meet AODA requirement
- Established, implemented, maintained and documented a multi-year accessibility plan (reviewed at least once every 5 years) which is posted to the organization’s website, if any, and available in an accessible format;
- Incorporated accessibility design, criteria and features when procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities (unless impracticable);
- Given regard to accessibility for persons with disabilities when designing, procuring or acquiring self-service kiosks;
- Provided training on AODA accessibility requirements and on the Human Rights Code (as it relates to persons with disabilities) to all employees, volunteers or persons participating in developing the organization’s policies, and all other persons providing goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization;
- Ensured feedback processes, if any, are accessible to persons with disabilities (and notid the public of such);
- Ensured internet and intranet websites, and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG); and
- Provided individualized emergency resp information to employees with disabilities, if necessary, which are based on such disabilities, as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the employee’s disability (and reviewed such information at prescribed times).
Small organizations (those with 1 - 49 employees) must have:
- Developed, implemented and maintained accessibility policies which meet AODA requirements; and
- Given regard to accessibility for persons with disabilities when designing, procuring or acquiring self-service kiosks.
Additionally, both large and small organizations should already be operating in compliance with Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, a regulation made pursuant to AODA.
New obligations under AODA are coming into effect on January 1, 2016, for both large and small organizations. As this deadline is fast-approaching, employers should familiarize themselves with the new requirements and prepare for their implementation.
As of January 1, 2016, large organizations will be required to comply with the following:
- Upon request, provide accessible formats and communication supports to persons with disabilities in a timely manner, at a cost no greater than the regular cost charged to others, and in consultation with the person making the request (and notify the public of such);
- Notify employees and the public that accommodation for applicants with disabilities is available in the recruitment process;
- During the recruitment process, notify applicants that accommodations for materials or processes used are available upon request, and arrange for the provision of suitable accommodation, taking the applicant’s needs into account;
- Notify successful applicants of accommodation policies when making offers of employment;
- Inform employees of policies used to support persons with disabilities, including providing job accommodations which take employees’ accessibility needs into account, as soon as practicable after employment;
- Upon request by an employee with a disability, consult with the employee to provide accessible formats and communication supports for information necessary for job performance and information which is generally available to employees in the workplace;
- Have in place a written process for the development of documented individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities, including:
o The manner in which an employee requesting accommodation can participate in the development of the individual accommodation plan;
o The means by which the employee is assessed on an individual basis;
o The manner in which the employer can request an evaluation by an outside medical or other expert, at the employer’s expense, to assist the employer in determining if accommodation can be achieved and, if so, how accommodation can be achieved;
o The manner in which the employee can request the participation of a representative from their bargaining agent, if applicable, or other representative from the workplace, in the development of the accommodation plan;
o The steps taken to protect the privacy of the employee’s personal information;
o The frequency with which the individual accommodation plan will be reviewed and updated, and the manner in which it will be done;
o If an individual accommodation plan is denied, the manner in which the reasons for the denial will be provided to the employee; and
o The means of providing the individual accommodation plan in a format that takes into account the employee’s accessibility needs;
- Have in place and document a return to work process for employees who have been absent due to a disability and who require accommodation in order to return;
- Take into account the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities when using performance management processes;
- Take into account accessibility needs of employees with disabilities when providing career development and advancement to such employees; and
- Take into account accessibility needs of employees with disabilities when redeploying (e.g. reassignment to other departments or jobs within the organization as an alternative to layoff) such employees.
As of January 1, 2016, small organizations shall:
- Provide training on AODA accessibility requirements and on the Human Rights Code (as it relates to persons with disabilities) to all employees, volunteers or persons participating in developing the organization’s policies, and all other persons providing goods, services or facilities on behalf of the organization; and
- Ensure feedback processes, if any, are accessible to persons with disabilities (and notify the public of such).
Enforcement of the AODA
While enforcement of AODA requirements has been minimal thus far, the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure has announced that it will be conducting audit blitzes in the coming months, which will target large retail companies. In ramping up enforcement, the Ministry aims to achieve an accessible Ontario by 2025. Penalties range from $500 to $2,000 per day for individuals and from $500 to $15,000 per day for corporations, depending on whether the contravention history is minor, moderate or major.
How Momentum Can Help
Obviously, it is in every employer's best interests to ensure that their organization's policies are in line with AODA requirements on or before, January 1, 2016, and any subsequent compliance deadline. Momentum Law can assist you by reviewing your current accessibility policies, assessing compliance and preparing for upcoming deadlines.