Ontario’s accessibility legislation: the next steps

Because the IAR is more complex, it is a good idea to involve all departments in your oganization when assigning responsibility for compliance, as this will affect human resources, I.T., marketing and sales, communications, website and software design, and diversity planning at the higher level of your organization.

The first deadline for CSS for private employers passed January 1st, 2012. Many employers who worked on compliance with Customer Service Standard did not include emergency access information.

Emergency situations present greater hazards for people with disabilities. People who use mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers and canes, and who rely on elevators and escalators, or even stairs, to exit buildings are more vulnerable in emergency situations. People with cognitive or mental disabilities, on the other hand, may not be aware that an emergency situation exists.

As a result, the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation — specifically within the Employment Standard for January 1st 2012 — states emergency procedures and plans have to be available in accessible formats upon request. 

All employers are now obligated to provide individualized workplace emergency response plans for employees with a disability in a format that can be read and understood by them. For employers reading this, this does not require you to ask employees to disclose the nature of their disability. Rather, it requires you to ask employees to review the current emergency response plan and ask if they understand it and if it meets their requirements. For new employees and those returning to work following an acquired disability, this same process will apply in each case.  

The Information and Communications Standard dictates that any organization that produces emergency information for the public must ensure it is provided in an accessible format if and when requested.

Other obligations under the Employment Standard, Information and Communication Standard and Transportation Standard will become binding for private sector organizations with 50 or more employees in 2016. Private sector organizations with fewer than 50 employees will need to be compliant by 2017.

By 2014, however, all employers are required to create written policies outlining how the obligations in each of these standards will be complied with. Some of the documentation and planning required includes the following:

Accessibility policies and plans
As per the AODA laws, organizations must develop, implement and maintain policies outlining how these accessibility requirements will be achieved. Organizations with 50 or more employees will need to establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan outlining their strategy to meet the Integrated Accessibiilty Standards.

This plan will need to be posted onto your organization’s website and be available in an accessible format upon request. The plan will also need to be reviewed every five years.

Employee training
By now your organization should have provided training and education for all employees and managers in the area of CSS, focused on how to work with customers and clients who present with various disabilities.
With the IAR, organizations will need to further train employees on the requirements of the regulations as well as the Human Rights Code of Ontario. The training will need to further describe how to work with and assist both customers/clients and co-workers with disabilities, as well as outline your organization’s accessibility policies and procedures.

Websites, Intranet and other social media
Your marketing and communications department or consultants will need to become familiar with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). As your organization updates and develops your external web pages, internal intranet pages and other related web-based communication, consideration and design must meet the WCAG for accessibility. It is important to consider internal and external end-users when designing and developing these tools to ensure full accessibility.

Accessible formats and communication supports
Your communications, marketing and human resources departments or consultants need to review all communication materials, both internal and external. These need to be provided in accessible formats while also providing communication support when requested by employees or prospective employees.
Similar to the CSS, this regulation requires the accessible formats and communication to be provided in a timely manner and at no additional cost to the employee, customer/client or third party.

Accessible feedback process
At this point, your organization should have in place written policies and procedures for receiving and responding to feedback from customers, clients and visitors, as per the CSS. The Integrated Accessibility Standards — particularly under the Employment and Communication Standards — require employers to provide accessible feedback systems for employees, and in the format the employee requests.

Employment equity
The IAR requirements will require your organization to provide equal opportunity throughout the employment lifecycle for paid employee positions. This requirement addresses the process for recruitment, testing, interviewing, hiring, employee accommodation (incorporating your organization’s existing disability management and return to work programs), performance management and career development.

Employers must consult with employees to ensure that they provide and arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for workplace information and communication that affect the employee’s ability to perform their job.

Organizations with 50 or more workers must develop and implement a formal process for creating written individual accommodation plans for new and existing employees. The process for the development of these plans is specific within the new IAS and must include the way in which the employee will participate in the development of the accommodation plan.

Employers with 50 or more employees must have a return-to-work process for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability, and require disability-related accommodations in order to return to work. These formal plans will need to be considered for these same employees anytime there occurs a performance review, career development, advancement opportunities or lateral moves to alternate jobs.

If your organization looked at the AODA-CSS as a one-time human resources project to check off on a to-do list, think again. The AODA is here to stay. Ensuring the Integrated Accessibility Standards are put into place in an appropriate and long-term fashion will require cross-departmental coordination managed at a strategic level and with appropriate budgets to ensure success.

-— co-authored by Olga Dosis.

Jane E. Sleeth is OPC Inc.’s ergonomic and universal design expert and author of the newly released Carswell CLV Special Report - Psychological Illness, Mental Health and the Workplace: Canadian Trends and Return to Work Challenges.

Olga Dosis is OPC Inc.’s strategic accessibility consultant. Jane and Olga can be reached at [email protected] or www.AODA-OPC.com