The AODA is here to stay; The Integrated Accessibility Standards Should Impact Customer Loyalty if i

Background; the AODA Customer Service & Integrated Standards for Retailers in Ontario

For the many employers in Ontario who have not heard about the AODA or are just becoming aware of this, the AODA law was passed in 2005 by the McGuinty government. The overarching goal for the AODA is to create an ‘Accessible Ontario’ for people with disabilities by 2025. This will be achieved through the identification and removal of barriers that exist in society that prevent accessibility to people with all types of disabilities. This will ensure people with disabilities are able to obtain full access to goods, services, accommodations, employment, buildings and premises.

The legislation involves the gradual roll out of 5 accessibility standards, each addressing various areas in society including the workplace and with varying requirements and timelines for compliance:

The Customer Service Standard (for the private sector compliance was required by January 1, 2012 with mandatory reporting of Customer Service Training of all retail staff having been completed by December 2012).

The Integrated Accessibility Regulation (includes the next three standards)

  • The Employment Standard; the recruitment & hiring process for disabled employees in retail environments
  • The Transportation Standard
  • The Information and Communication Standard; this will impact all forms of advertising and communication including website and e shopping sites for retailers

The Built Environment Standard was just released in early September for public review and feedback. The Built Standard will aim to ensure persons with disabilities are able to access newly constructed or renovated buildings such as malls and premises such as retail stores and e based commerce. 

The Customer Service Standard (CSS) applies to all businesses in Ontario not just those who deal directly with the public. The CSS applies to any organization that:

(1) Provides goods or services either directly to the public or to other businesses or organizations in Ontario; and

(2) has at least one (1) employee in Ontario.

Compliance involved implementation of 11 requirements should be based on a thorough internal environmental scan of your retail business, policies, practices and any barriers that may exist for people with both visible and non-visible disabilities in accessing your goods or services.

Once these barriers are identified, retail employers need to determine how to remove these barriers in keeping with the spirit of the law: independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

Emphasis is placed on the requirement for all retail employees to receive mandatory training on the Customer Service Standard with an emphasis on how to serve persons with disabilities in a dignified and accessible manner.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services has commenced enforcing the AODA starting in 2012 for Private Employers. For companies who fail to comply they may face daily fines of up to $50,000 per day for individuals and $100,000 per day for corporations, along with a greater potential for Human Rights Claims to be made to the Ontario Tribunal.

Our Retail Store & Business is in compliance with the CSS; what is next?

For retailers who are now in compliance with the CSS, now is the time to plan to meet the next requirements under the more complex Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. The IAR has requirement of businesses in Ontario to provide disability-inclusive information and communication, employment and transportation.

The Integrated Standards are more complex than the compliance requirements for the CSS, therefore we recommend that the assignment of responsibility for these processes and standards be cross departmental in nature and no longer assigned to just your HR department or HR manager.  The new IAR and Built Environment touches upon departments as varied as human resources, IT, marketing and sales, communications, website and software design and diversity programs, facility management, interior design and procurement.

The first deadline for CSS for private employers passed January 1st, 2012 and this must include your retail store’s emergency information. These should have been reviewed and updated for every retail environment in Ontario.

Emergency situations present greater hazards for people with disabilities. People who use mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers & canes and who rely on elevators & escalators or even stairs to exit buildings are more vulnerable in emergency situations. People with cognitive or mental disabilities may not be aware that an emergency situation exists let alone the cause or degree of the emergency. 

By 2014 all employers in Ontario including Retailers are required to create written policies outlining how the obligations in each of these 3 standards will be complied with.  Some of the documentation and planning required includes;

Employee training

By now your organization should have provided training and education for ALL employees & managers in the area of Customer Service Standards with an emphasis on how to work with customers and clients who present with various disabilities.

With the Integrated Standards organizations will need to further train employees on the requirements of the regulations as well as the Human Rights Code for Ontario.  The training will need to further describe how to work with and assist both customers/clients and co-workers with disabilities as well as to outline your organization’s accessibility policies & procedures.

Accessible websites, Intranet and other Social Media

Your marketing and communications departments or consultants will need to become familiar with the World Wide Web Consortium who have developed the Web Content Accessibility Guide-lines (WCAG) (Levels of Accessibiilty are defined from A to AAA).

As your organization updates and develops your external web pages & web sites, internal intranet pages & other related web-based communications consideration & design of applications, text, images, forms and down-loadable files will all need to meet the WCAG for accessibility. Your communications departments, web designers, & marketing staff in your organization will need to consider customer/client end-users and internal users of the web and intranet to allow full accessibility to people who have hearing loss, who use screen readers, magnifiers or specialized keyboards to navigate your web sites and e-retail sites for example.

Accessible formats and communication supports

Your Communications, Marketing and Human resources departments or consultants will need to review all communication materials both internal and external to your retail organization. In going forward as part of the Integrated Standards these will need to be provided in accessible formats while also providing communication support when requested by employees or prospective employees.

Accessible feedback process- Further refinement of the CSS Feedback Process

At this point your retail organization should have in place written Policies and Processes for receiving and responding to feedback from customers, clients & visitors as per the CSS. The Integrated Standards specific to Employment & Communication dictates accessible feedback systems be extended to the internal feedback from employees in your organization if requested & in the format the employee requests.

Employment Equity. An opportunity to bring about success with Diversity in the Workplace

The Integrated Standards Employment requirements will require your retail organization to provide equal opportunity throughout the employment life cycle for paid employee positions.

This requirement addresses the recruitment, testing & interviewing, hiring, employee accommodation performance management and career development.

To illustrate retail organizations will need to ensure the recruitment of new employees is accessible to people with various disabilities. This includes consulting with applicants to arrange for the provision of appropriate accommodation which takes into account the applicant’s disability. It also includes providing information in an accessible format and providing communication support.

Employers must consult with employees to ensure they provide & arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for information that is a part of the employee’s ability to perform their job & general workplace communications.

Retailers with 50 or more employees must develop and have in place a formal process for the development of written individual accommodation plans for new and existing employees. The process for the development of these plans is specific within the new IAS and must include the way in which the employee will participate in the development of the accommodation plan. 

In case your retail organization looked at the AODA-CSS as a one-time human resources related project and training program to check off on a To Do List; think again. The AODA for Ontario is here to stay and it will start to impact retail environments on an increasing basis.

Some retailers will view this as yet another governmental imposition on businesses in the Province.

Other innovative retailers will see this as being able to capture the 17-20% & growing market who are not being served by retailers in Ontario currently and who have the potential to become very loyal and very vocally supportive customers of retail.

About the Authors:

Olga Dosis is OPC Inc’s strategic accessibility consultant and author of the OPC-AODA E learning Tools.

Jane E Sleeth is OPC Inc’s ergonomic & universal design expert and author of the Carswell CLV Special Report – Understanding, Preventing and Controlling Back and Neck Pain