Under the Customer Service Standards of the AODA, service providers must make their goods, services, and facilities accessible to customers with disabilities. Our last article outlined accessible information in government offices. In this article, we cover best practices for accessible government service. In particular, we look at how staff can find ways to make their premises welcoming to residents who need accessible features that a government facility does not have yet.
Providing Accessible Government Service
Service Animals and Assistive Devices
Government offices must welcome all residents who enter with assistive devices or service animals. Service animals are legally permitted in all areas open to the public, with a few exceptions related to food production.
If government buildings have any accessible structural features, staff should know what and where they are. For example, staff should know where residents can find elevators and accessible washrooms. Moreover, if buildings lack the features a resident needs, staff should be prepared to find ways to meet the resident’s needs. For instance, staff could:
- Come outside to serve a resident at street level
- Assist a resident to enter and move through the building
- Serve a resident away from high counters
Furthermore, offices must train their staff to interact with residents who have disabilities. Training should show staff how to help residents access their services if their buildings lack the features those residents need. Staff should understand how to communicate with residents, both in person and remotely.
In addition, staff members should be available to greet residents and ask if they need any assistance. In this way, they can make residents aware that they are willing to provide services if their offices lack certain materials. For instance, when offices do not have signs or forms in the formats a resident needs, a staff member can offer to guide a resident through the office or read and fill in forms. Some residents might bring a support person to help them perform any or all of these tasks. However, offices should not require that a resident has a support person with them.
Accessible Format Awareness
When government offices offer accessible versions of hard-copy print, such as forms, agendas, or other documents, staff need to be aware of:
- What information is available in what format(s)
- Where hard copies are kept
- Whether hard-copy Braille or large print versions can be created upon request
- How residents can find web versions
- Whether alternate-format versions are up-to-date
Staff should know the differences between a current printed version of a document and the version a resident can read. For example, staff can keep a printed list of the differences clipped to the Braille version of a document. They can then let the resident know what the differences are.
If a document is not available in any of the formats a resident can use, staff should read the document to the resident. If it is a form, staff should fill it in according to the resident’s directions.
Accessible Communication Support Awareness
Similarly, when facilities offer communication supports for meetings, appointments, or other interactions, staff should know:
- What supports are available for what kinds of interaction
- Where on-site communication devices are stored, and best practices for serving residents using them
- Whether plain-language versions are available and how to access them
- How to arrange Real-Time Captioning (RTC) or Sign language interpretation
- How far in advance arrangements should be made
If the support a resident requests is not available, staff should provide information to the resident in a different way. For instance, if interpretation is not available at a meeting, staff could provide text transcripts in advance. When a presentation differs from its transcript, staff can make note of the differences and let residents know what they are.
Accessible government service ensures that all residents have the opportunity to be involved in their local or provincial governments.