Aug 20, 2010

Is your workplace ready for the accessibility challenge?

By Mari-Len De Guzman

But what if that changed? What if you suddenly find yourself 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? 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 up with your co-workers, apply for a new job or a promotion or meet performance objectives?

Or what if you already have a disability?  

If you take just a few minutes to think about these scenarios you are most likely thinking about all of the barriers that might get in the way of you living your daily life, including holding a job or pursuing a career; even getting yourself out of bed to begin your day!

In Ontario these barriers to accessibility have been and will be addressed over the next number of years. The next question for human resource managers, facility managers, designers and architects, disability managers and environmental, occupational health and safety managers, as well as business owners and corporations reading this article is: Are you ready?  

If you are not aware or are vaguely aware of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability 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 1, 2010 for public businesses and January 1, 2012 for all private businesses.

The Act, 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; and, make Ontario accessible by 2025.

The most significant reason why accessibility is topmost on the government’s mind is that about 1.85 million people in Ontario have a disability, according to 2009 statistics from the Ministry of Community and Social Services Ontario. Over the next 20 years, as the population ages, this number is expected to increase to about one in five Ontarians!

There are five standards or regulations that all sectors must comply with:
    •    Customer Service
    •    Employment
    •    Information and Communication
    •    Transportation
    •    Built Environment (buildings and other structures)
The first regulation under the AODA that became law on January 1, 2008 is the Customer Service Standard. For all businesses and organizations that provide goods or services to the public or to other third parties in Ontario, the deadline to comply was January 1, 2010. These organizations were required to file their first accessibility report on March 31, 2010.

Private sector and non-profit organizations, on the other hand, must comply with this regulation by January 1, 2012, and file their accessibility report by March 31, 2012.  

The standards being referred to 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.

To get you started with your compliance to the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, here is a list of what you need to do:

•    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

Olga Dosis is senior accessibility consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants. Olga holds a Masters Degree in Psychology as well as a Masters Degree in Critical Disability Studies.  

Jane Sleeth is managing director and consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants an ergonomic, accessibility and disability prevention firm located in Toronto and Vancouver. You can contact her at or visit