Accessibility for Ontarians: Legislation Impacts Businesses in BC

By Melissa Magder

The province of Ontario has passed a series of laws intended to eliminate all barriers to persons with disabilities. Such barriers include systemic barriers, attitudinal barriers, physical barriers, and those to do with information, technology and communication. The objective is to make Ontario a fully accessible province for persons with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, building structures and premises by January 1, 2025.

Although the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a provincial legislation, many businesses outside of Ontario are also impacted and need to be aware of the requirements. Specifically, companies that are headquartered in another province but have offices or representation inside Ontario must also comply with the AODA.  If they do not, they are subject to hefty penalties associated with this legislation.

The starting point is customer service. By January 1, 2012, all private sector Ontario businesses that provide goods or services to the public or to other third parties were legally required to comply with the Customer Service Standard. This is the first of five standards to be passed under the AODA legislation. The law requires all businesses and organizations with more than one employee to create policies, procedures and plans for providing goods or services to persons with disabilities. It also requires mandatory training for anyone who interacts with clients, customers, the external public or third party service providers. There are specific elements that the training must cover, but it is centered on effectively communicating and interacting with persons with disabilities in a manner that takes into account their disability.

Organizations with more than 20 employees must report annually to the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario on their compliance activity. Businesses that do not comply with the Customer Service Standard are subject to a range of fines – up to $100,000.00 per day in the case of an offence.

Why has this become such a priority? 15.5 per cent of Canadians have some form of a disability. This number is expected to increase to 20 per cent over the next 20 years. Furthermore, research shows that persons with disabilities have an approximate spending power of $25 billion annually across Canada. Providing accessible customer service will help ensure that current and potential customers, including those with a disability, choose your business over your competitors. It also creates a positive public image – a factor that is becoming more influential in this age of social consciousness.

For more information on the AODA and its compliance requirements, go to http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca

Melissa Magder is director of Diversity, HR & Cross-cultural Training at proLearning innovations – a leading AODA and HR training solutions provider for small and large businesses across Canada.  For more information about the AODA and effective training solutions, visit their website at www.prolearningonline.com or contact aoda@prolearningonline.com or 647-847-1853.

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