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Access for all small businesses must comply with new disability regulations.

Araft of new accessibility standards is just around the corner for Ontario's private sector businesses, not-for-profit organizations and any other service provider with at least one employee.

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January 1, 2012 is the deadline for the implementation of the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, the first of five standards laid out in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act: 2005 (AODA), an act that has been almost 20 years in the making and will help level the playing field for people with disabilities.

It is a set of rules created for businesses and organizations in Ontario to follow to identify remove and prevent barriers to accessibility.

Barriers are obstacles that make shopping, working, going to a movie or taking public transit difficult or impossible for people with disabilities.

Approximately 1.85 million people in the province, or one in seven, have a disability With the aging boomer population, those numbers are anticipated to increase to one in five over the next 20 years.

The Ontario government has set a target date of 2025-to have full implementation of all standards: customer service, built environment, employment, information and communications, and transportation.

More recently three of the five accessibility standards--information and communications, employment and transportation--have been integrated to help streamline and eliminate overlap between standards and to minimize regulatory concerns with which organizations will have to comply.

The new regulation is open for a 45-day public review period, concluding October 16, 2010.

Soon, private sector businesses will be required to establish policies, practices and procedures on providing goods and services to people with disabilities and to train employees on those policies.

Posted on the Ministry of Community and Social Services website is a 14-page guide that provides a step-by-step "how-to" for small businesses and organizations that will have to comply within the next year.

Dorothy Macnaughton, Sault Ste. Marie advocate, volunteer and owner of Accessibility and Diversity Training, has some concerns that smaller businesses, churches, and other not-for-profits in smaller communities are unaware of the approaching standards.

Macnaughton has been closely involved in government committees, providing valuable feedback as the standards have been developed. She even offers consulting and training services to other companies interested in implementing the standards to meet legislated targets.

Public sector organizations' deadline for the first standard came into effect in January of this year. A process was implemented by government that required public sector organizations to fill out online compliance reports by March 2010.

To date, there has been 96 per cent compliance, according to Macnaughton. This means online reports were submitted stating they have done or are in the process of training staff under the customer service regulation.

However, organizations that have less than 20 people on staff and not-for-profits are exempt from filing accessibility reports. But Macnaughton is suggesting that smaller businesses maintain thorough records because one never knows when a human rights complaint may arise.

Not unlike other government ministries that require a "watch dog" approach, the government has hired a director to head a compliance branch under the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario and is in the process of hiring inspectors. Macnaughton said the province will use an existing licensing tribunal that deals with businesses to hear appeals under the AODA.

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The procedural nuts and bolts of this agency are still in process of being developed.

Macnaughton said some businesses are embracing the standards while some feel it is another level of government bureaucracy Ultimately, it is about education and creating greater diversity she said.

"People with disabilities have been on the fringes of society for many, many years. It isn't that long ago that people with disabilities were put in institutions and left there. We've come a long way."

From the outset, the development of the five standards has received input from people with disabilities. Customer service was the first standard to be implemented because it was felt that the way people with disabilities were treated had to be dealt with first and foremost.

"It is all about wanting to be treated as a human being and not something less," said Mac-naughton, who has low vision. "An attitudinal shift needs to take place so people feel like they are valued. What you say how you say it and tone of voice makes a huge difference."

As stated in the AODA, an independent review of the legislation will occur every four years. Charles Beer was appointed in June 2009 to conduct the first review of the act. He made recommendations in a report which was tabled in the legislature on May 31, 2010.

The final proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard is now available online on the MCSS website. It went through the public review last year. It will begin the process for consideration as law.

www.accesson.ca

http://occ.on.ca/2010/04/free-resources-for-business-to-comply-with-new-customer-service-standard

By ADELLE LARMOUR

Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:SMALL BUSINESS
Author:Larmour, Adelle
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Legislation
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Oct 1, 2010
Words:809
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