[Note: This article was submitted by Olga Dosis and Jane Sleeth. If you would like to submit an article to be considered for publication, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.]
We all got back to work in January (unless you were lucky enough to vacation somewhere warm right now); we made the drive or the commute to work; we rode the elevator or took the stairs; made our way to our workstations or work areas; performed our work to the best of our abilities and then headed home. We did not think twice about the day or how we even got to and from work. But what if that changed? What if you suddenly found you were wheelchair bound following a car accident? Or your vision was slowly diminishing due to your diabetes? Or your MS was worsening and you now need to use a cane? Or you had a serious case of depression recently and found you could not think as logically as you normally can? Would you think about your commute to and from work and how you would manage to get to your work area let alone complete your work? Would you now worry about your ability to keep you with your co-workers, apply for a new job or a promotion; meet performance objectives? Would you be wondering how you will find your way to the washroom and ensure you entered the men’s or the women’s washroom or will you be able to hear your customer’s voice over the phone?
Or, what if you already have a disability where you tend to be process new concepts at a slower pace; you were born without the ability to hear and you use sign language to communicate; you were born with cerebral palsy & use a scooter to get around. What are your thought processes around thinking of applying for a job; wondering if the counters in the cafeteria are low enough to accommodate your chair; or if computers are provided with voice activation software?
If you take just a few minutes to think about the scenarios above and consider if you have or have acquired a disability you are most likely thinking about all of the barriers that might get in the way of you living your daily life. This includes successfully holding a job or pursuing a career; even getting yourself out of bed to begin your day!
In the Province of Ontario these barriers to accessibility have been and will be addressed over the next number of years. The next question for Ergonomists, Facility Managers, Designers and Architects, Furniture Dealers as well as business owners and corporations reading this article is; are your clients ready for this? Is your own business ready? Do you know about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act, which was passed June 13th 2005? (Note; Even though the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 is now the law, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 remains in force until it is repealed) If you are not aware of or are vaguely aware of this Act and its implications for both public and private industry it is recommended you get up to speed and fast as the due dates for the initial phases of the Act being implemented were January, 1st, 2010 for Public businesses and January 1st, 2012 for all Private businesses!
The Act, which is also referred to as AODA, will:
- make Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to develop, implement and enforce mandatory accessibility standards
- apply to both the private and public sectors
- The Act and its ensuing Accessibility Standards will make Ontario accessible by 2025
So why now? We are in a deep recession & your business nor can your client’s businesses afford to make themselves more accessible. The most significant reason why accessibility is top most on the government’s mind is that about 1.85 million people in Ontario have a disability (Statistics Ministry of Community and Social Services Ontario, 2009), AND over the next 20 years as the population ages, the number will rise to one in five Ontarians! This presents a huge challenge and an enormous opportunity for designers and architects, facility managers and builders to do things right!
When these facts of disability are combined with the shrinking skilled workforce in Ontario and Canada we can quickly see that there is a perfect formula for a shrinking base of excellent potential employees to draw from. As well, there will occur the loss of valuable employees who can no longer gain access to the workplace, let alone access an employer’s website to apply for a job on line.
There are five standards or regulations that all sectors must comply with. These are:
- customer service
- information and communication
- built environment (buildings and other structures)
The first regulation under the AODA that became law on January 1st, 2008 is the Customer Service Standard. This law means that all businesses or organizations that provide goods or services to the public or to other third parties in Ontario are legally required to comply with the requirements of the standard. In terms of timing, all Public sector organizations must:
- comply with the standard by January 1, 2010, and
- file their first accessibility report by March 31, 2010
This means that all businesses in the Public Sector should be at a point where they are ready to file their first Accessibility Reports for March 31 2010. As for the private sector and non-profit organizations, compliance with this Standard will be required January 1, 2012 with the first filing of the accessibility report by March 31st 2012. It is important in your Interior Design practice to ensure that your client base (and your own businesses) are aware and are moving toward compliance with the regulations.
The standards being referred to in this article and in the legislation are the agreed way of doing business. They are the rules that businesses and organizations in Ontario will have to follow to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for people with disabilities accessing any goods or services in your business.
Now that the Customer Service Standard is law it is enforceable and businesses and organizations in Ontario will have to adhere to the requirements of this standard – including filing a compliance report along the timelines stated by the Ministry. And what will compliance look like for this first law? Here is the list to get you started toward guiding your client base:
Accessibility Standards for Customer Service to ensure provision of accessible customer service to people with various kinds of disabilities including:
- Establish policies, practices and procedures on providing goods or services to people with disabilities.
- Set a policy on allowing people to use their own personal assistive devices to access your goods and use your services and about any other measures your organization offers (assistive devices, services or methods) to enable them to access your goods and use your services
- Use reasonable efforts to ensure that your policies, practices and procedures are consistent with the core principles of independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity.
- Communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his/her disability
- Train staff, volunteers, contractors and any other people who interact with the public or other third parties on your behalf on a number of topics as outlined in the customer service standard.
- Train staff, volunteers, contractors and any other people who are involved in developing your policies, practices and procedures on the provision of goods or services on a number of topics as outlined in the customer service standard.
- Allow people with disabilities to be accompanied by their guide dog or service animal in those areas of the premises you own or operate that are open to the public, unless the animal is excluded by another law. If a service animal is excluded by law, use other measures to provide services to the person with a disability.
- Permit people with disabilities who use a support person to bring that person with them while accessing goods or services in premises open to the public or third parties.
- Where admission fees are charged, provide notice ahead of time on what admission, if any, would be charged for a support person of a person with a disability.
- Provide notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on to access or use your goods or services are temporarily disrupted.
- Establish a process for people to provide feedback on how you provide goods or services to people with disabilities and how you will respond to any feedback and take action on any complaints. Make the information about your feedback process readily available to the public
AND if your business is a designated public sector organization, or have 20 or more employees, you & your clients have additional responsibilities, which include:
- document in writing your accessible customer service policies, practices and procedures
- notify your customers that these documents are available upon request, and
- provide information in the required document(s), when providing them to a person with a disability, in a format that takes into account their disability
If you are not certain what to do next, here is what we are recommending to our clients: have someone with real expertise in this area (and be very careful as there are suddenly Accessibility Experts appearing from nowhere so ask for qualifications and experience) come speak to you and your client group about the requirements and next steps relative to complying with this legislation. This discussion should consider how to fold this legislation into your client’s current and future operational imperatives. As well an audit of what your client has in place and what needs to be done next to comply is strongly recommended.
The Accessibility Standards for Customer Service is an important law which ultimately will benefit employers & businesses in Ontario in a significant way. Understanding this law and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act together on the part of ARIDO members is now a critical part of your knowledge base. Your clients will be seeking guidance and information about this legislation and the future legislation on Built Environments. Arming yourselves with this knowledge, and teaming with qualified Accessibility Experts, will be an important first step in ensuring you limit client liability and ensure more Ontarians have access to the workplace, recreational and retail environments.
About the Authors:
Olga Dosis is Senior Accessibility Consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants. Olga holds a Masters Degree in Psychology & a Masters Degree in Critical Disability Studies, and has more than 20 years experience working in this field. She can be reached at email@example.com
Jane Sleeth is Managing Director & Senior Consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants an Ergonomic, Accessibility and Disability Prevention firm located in Toronto Ontario. Jane and her team of consultants most recently completed a building & accessibility audit for the LCBO with recommendations which will ensure LCBO meets the Ontario standards for Communication and design. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-03-10.