Northern Exposure

Ontario employers should check for overdue accessibility compliance reports

by Cathy Chandler

In 2005, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in the world to enact proactive legislation designed to establish policies and programs to promote the provision of services to people with disabilities in five areas: customer service, employment, information and communications, public transportation, and design of public spaces.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires organizations to do many things, including to file certain reports. Private-sector organizations with 20 or more employees were required to complete by December 31, 2014, an online report to tell the government if they have met their accessibility requirements under the AODA. (Designated public-sector organizations and the Government of Ontario also are required to file accessibility reports but on a different schedule.)

So have you filed your accessibility report yet?

Failure to file may result in enforcement action being taken against your organization, which can include inspections, director’s orders, administrative penalties, prosecutions, and fines. This self-reporting mechanism (reports are filed online) is currently the primary tool for monitoring compliance with the AODA.

Recently, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario sent letters to organizations that have not filed a 2014 accessibility report. These “noncompliance” letters are a clear indication that the government is taking steps to monitor compliance with the legislation and impose its progressive enforcement regime.

The 2014 accessibility compliance report requires organizations to indicate their compliance with the accessibility standards contained in the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation made under the AODA. (Private-sector organizations were required to file their first accessibility report in 2012, confirming compliance with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service.)

The online accessibility reports are set up in such a manner as to elicit a “yes” or “no” response from the organization in terms of its compliance with a specific provision in the legislation. Here are some sample questions an organization would be required to answer on the 2014 accessibility report:

• When requested, do you provide individualized emergency response information for your employees who have disabilities?

Individualized workplace emergency response information must be provided when an employee‘s disability is such that the information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation because of the employee’s disability. For example, an employee who has a hearing disability may not hear an alarm and may need to be notified by other means, such as a visual alarm with flashing lights. Employers are not expected to provide individualized workplace emergency information for employees with disabilities of which they are unaware. Compliance deadline: January 1, 2012.

• Have you established, implemented, maintained, and posted a multiyear accessibility plan?

A written plan outlining the strategy of the organization to prevent and remove barriers and to meet the accessibility requirements under the Integrated Standards must be developed and posted on the employer’s website. Compliance deadline: January 1, 2014 (50+ employees).

• Do your new Internet websites and the content in them conform to the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A?

All new Internet websites and web content on those sites must conform to World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A. Compliance deadline: January 1, 2014 (50+ employees).

• Have your employees received training on the requirements of the accessibility standards referred to in the Integrated Standards and on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities?

All employees, volunteers, and all other persons who provide goods and services on behalf of an organization must receive training on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities and on the requirements of the accessibility standards referred to in the Integrated Standards. Compliance deadline: January 1, 2015 (50+ employees); January 1, 2016 (fewer than 50 employees).

Ontario is currently the only jurisdiction in Canada to have legislation in place requiring the filing of accessibility compliance reports. If and when other provinces bring in their own accessibility measures (Manitoba enacted legislation similar to Ontario’s AODA in 2013 but with no requirement to file accessibility reports), lack of nationwide harmonization will likely become a concern for businesses operating in jurisdictions across Canada.

For now, private-sector organizations in Ontario can begin to prepare for the next accessibility report filing deadline, on December 31, 2017, and every three years thereafter. And organizations in the rest of Canada should stay tuned for any developments in their provinces.