Throughout the past few years, Ontario service providers, and retirement homes in particular, have been confronted with a series of new training and regulatory obligations. In October, we provided you with an update on new obligations under the Retirement Homes Act, 2010. The trend toward increasing regulation continues with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the AODA) which, effective January 1 2012, applies to all private service providers and retirement homes in Ontario. As questions relating to compliance with the AODA continue to pour in, we take this opportunity to remind you of what compliance may mean for you.
What is the AODA?
In June 2005, the Ontario Government passed the AODA. The goal of the AODA is to make Ontario accessible to persons with disabilities by the year 2025.
The AODA mandates the creation of certain “Accessibility Standards” targeted at areas of daily living. The two Standards passed thus far are: the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the Customer Service Standard) and the Integrated Accessibility Standards (the Integrated Standards). Both of these Accessibility Standards apply broadly to every organization with at least one employee in Ontario and that provides goods or services to the public or other third parties.
What do Retirement Home Operators need to do now to comply with the Customer Service Standard?
The Customer Service Standard began to apply to private sector organizations as of January 1, 2012. The key obligations under the Customer Service Standard address: (i)the establishment of policies, (ii) communication, (iii) training, (iv) notification to the public,and (v) complaints procedures. More specifically every organization to which the AODA applies must:
1. Establish policies, practices and procedures governing the provision of the organization’s goods and services to persons with disabilities, addressing:
- the use of assistive devices (such as wheelchairs and tele-typewriters),support persons and service animals by persons with disabilities in accessing the organization’s services; and,
- the measures the organization utilizes to enable persons with disabilities to access its goods or services.
2. Ensure the organization, and individuals who interact with the public or other third parties on behalf of the organization, communicate with persons with disabilities in a manner that takes into account their disabilities.
3. Establish a method of notifying the public when facilities or services, which persons with disabilities require to access the organization’s goods and services, are temporarily unavailable.
4. Provide training on the topics identified in the Customer Service Standard to all individuals who interact with the public or other third parties on behalf of the organization or who participate in the development of the organization’s policies, practices and procedures that govern the manner in which the organization delivers its goods and services.
5. Establish a process through which customers can provide feedback about the manner in which the organization provides goods or services to the public or other third parties.
Private sector organizations with 20 or more employeesare also required to ensure all of the policies, practices and procedures described above are set out
in writing, and that records are kept of the training provided under the Customer Service Standard. Importantly, a retirement home’sobligation to ensure training is provided to employees and volunteers may extend to third party contractors providing services on its behalf.
Organizations with 20 or more employees must also file annual (by December 31) “Accessibility Reports” with the Ministry of Community and Social Services stating they have complied with the AODA. But don’t despair;while the Customer Service Standard came into effect on January 1, 2012, there is still time for retirement homes to become compliant and file the required reports by December 31.
What do Retirement Home operators need to do to comply with the Integrated Standards?
The Integrated Standards consist of a series of standards relating to: (i) information and communication, (ii) employment, and (iii) transportation. For now, the obligations for retirement homes under the Integrated Standards consist of the following two requirements:
- Organizations which make emergency procedures or public safety information available for the public,must provide such information in an accessible format to persons with disabilities upon request.
- Employers must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to any employee with a disability where the employer is aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee’s disability.
In addition, between 2013 and 2021, retirement homes will be required to take additional measures in how they communicate with customers and employees, and in the manner in which they accommodate their employees. Stay tuned as we will continue to update you as these new obligations under the Integrated Standards come into effect.
A jurisdictional issue: Sherrard Kuzz LLP is a Canadian law firm based in Ontario. The scope of our knowledge is Canadian law. Any reader of our column based in another jurisdiction should appreciate what we write may not necessarily be applicable outside of Ontario or Canada. However, even if the laws are different in another jurisdiction, the issues we address are practical and often have general application regardless of the domestic statute which may legally apply.
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