Special to Financial Post
Sep 13, 2011
By Suzanne Wintrob
Ontario mandates business accessibility for the disabled
One in seven people in Ontario have a disability, a number that is expected to reach one in five within 20 years because of an aging population. No wonder then that the Ontario government is calling on private and not-for-profit organizations to make their workplaces more accessible. The new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) forces organizations with 20 employees or more to conform to mandatory standards in customer service, employment, transportation, information and communications and new construction. Customer service is the immediate priority, carrying a Jan. 1, 2012 deadline, and the other standards will be phased in over the next decade.
Kristin Taylor, a partner and manager of FMC Law’s Employment and Labour Group office in Toronto, says discrimination based on disabilities has long been prohibited in the workplace, but only enforced when people complained. AODA positions Ontario as the world’s first jurisdiction to move from complaints-based legislation to a proactive regulatory regime concerning mandated accessibility. Here, Taylor shares her five-step program for AODA compliance:
- Do your research
Understand what’s required and what applies to your business. Contact organizations dedicated to people with disabilities to learn more about the issues and how to address specific needs. Surf websites such as www.aoda.ca
and www.mcss.gov.on.ca for AODA backgrounders, guides, training resources, accessibility consultants and tips on how to interact and communicate with customers with disabilities.
Need more? “Every major law firm in town” is holding seminars on how to achieve compliance, Taylor says.
- Conduct an audit
What policies do you have in place now? What barriers exist? What issues have been brought to your attention by customers, suppliers and employees? Know exactly what you already have in place before trying to fix it.
- Develop policies
Identify and address the issues that come out of the audit to ensure they meet the standard’s requirements. The first two priorities for January 1 are customer service and developing emergency response information for employees with disabilities, so deal with those immediately.
- Start training
Ensure employees understand the policies and train them on how to implement the policies during the workday.
- Think ahead
Set a schedule for addressing AODA’s four other accessibility standards. Even though making websites and communications material accessible are a few years out, why procrastinate? Says Taylor: “As opposed to waiting until 2017 and having conniptions, figuring out how to achieve them and working within a business plan to do that now makes a lot of sense.”
Reproduced from http://business.financialpost.com/2011/09/13/enabling-behaviour/