Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act: Is your business compliant?

Sign Language at Cafe

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the AODA) has been in place for nearly 20 years. During that time, business in Ontario have gradually been required to comply with obligations upon reaching a certain size and upon certain dates. While all of the AODA deadlines have now passed, employers who are not already compliant, regardless of deadline, should consider getting into compliance as soon as possible.

Determining Compliance Obligations

To determine what obligations, apply to their business, employers need to consider the number of employees they employ. Employers must count all employees in Ontario, including full-time, part-time, seasonal, or fixed-term employees. Employees outside of Ontario, volunteers, and independent contractors are not included in the count. Employers with:

  • fewer than 20 employees are considered a “Small organization”.
  • 20 or more employees but less than 50 employees are a “Medium organization”.
  • 50 or more employees are a “Large organization.”

Obligations for Small Organizations

Small organizations are required to:

  • Create accessibility policies to achieve accessibility goals. Although the policies do not need to be in writing, it is a good idea to have written policies.
  • Train their employees and volunteers on the Ontario Human Rights Code, accessible customer service, and any accessibility obligations required under the AODA.
  • Provide accessible customer service by communicating in a manner that consider a person’s disability and welcome individuals with assistive devices, service animals, and support persons into your business.
  • Provide notice of temporary disruption if accessible services are disrupted and include the duration of the disruption if known.
  • Provide an accessible feedback process for improvements to accessibility suggestions.
  • If applicable, purchase self-service kiosks (such as parking machines, self-checkouts, and other such equipment) with accessibility features.
  • Implement accessible recruitment and hiring practices, including providing alternative formats of job ads and making interviews etc. accessible.
  • Provide accessible formats of manuals, handbooks, and other workplace documentation to employees who request such items in an accessible format.
  • Provide information in an accessible format to members of the public, upon request – in particular when it comes to emergency/public safety information, feedback processes, employee information, and other print information.
  • If you are constructing a new publicly-accessible space, review the Ontario Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standards.

Obligations for Medium Organizations

Medium organizations, with 20 to 49 employees, are required to comply with all items listed in the Small Organizations requirements directly above, with an additional requirement that policies must be in writing.

There is an additional item to consider for medium organizations, which is the requirement to file an accessibility report every three years. The next accessibility report deadline is December 31, 2023.

The Accessibility Compliance Reporting form is available from the Ontario government’s Central Forms Repository. Note that the forms for 2023 are not yet available, so it is important to check back as a new version of the form will be available sometime in early 2023.  

Obligations for Large Organizations

Large organizations, in addition to everything described above, are also required to file a Multi-Year Accessibility Plan (MYP). The MYP is a custom document that will vary based on the organization’s context, but in general is intended to outline how the organization intends to remove barriers and meet the AODA’s requirements.

Common items to include in the MYP are, for example, identifications of barriers that exist and how the organization will deal with them. Barriers can be attitudinal, for example employees not knowing how to communicate with a disabled person or making assumptions about disabled persons. Barriers can also be informational, technological, systematic, or physical. Most people are aware of physical barriers such as flights of stairs, manual-only doors, or other such barrier. The MYP asks each organization to consider all of the barriers and determine how best to overcome or remove them.

In addition, large organizations must ensure that their externally-facing websites are accessible and meet the WCAG 2.0 AA web accessibly standard. What this generally means is to ensure that your website incorporates accessible web features such as support for screen readers, high contrast colours, alternative text to images, video transcriptions and more. The standard is not perfection, but organizations must use their best effort to meet the standard.  

At Bridge Legal & HR Solutions, we provide expertise for employers of all sizes. Call us today at (647) 794-5442 for all your employment law and workplace investigation needs.

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