You may already know that as of January 1st, 2012 every private, public, and not-for-profit sector organization must comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), but figuring out what this legislation means for your small business can be a bit confusing.
Basically, if you have at least one employee or provide goods and services to the public, you must meet the requirements or risk fines ranging from $200 to $15,000. However, removing barriers to accessibility in your business has less to do with possible fines and more to do with doing the right thing; it’s your role as part of a responsible business community to ensure respect for equal opportunity.
So how can you become compliant with the AODA?
Establish policies, practices, and procedures – This standard involves listing specific policies allowing customers with disabilities to maintain their independence (i.e. letting your customers do things in their own way and ensuring that all customers receive the same level of service). Identify any gaps between your policies and what people with disabilities might need in order to access your services.
Example: a clothing store might include an exception on a “no refunds, credit only” policy if fitting rooms are not wheelchair accessible.
Provide training – Training must include an overview of the purposes of the AODA and must be provided to employees, volunteers, agents, contractors, and others who may interact with the public on your behalf. You can determine the content of your training and find some helpful resources at ontario.ca/AccessON.
Establish a feedback process – Your business will need a process for collecting feedback as well as a process for responding to questions or concerns.
Example: a bed-and-breakfast might include a notice on receipts that informs guests they may submit any feedback at the front desk or through their website. Furthermore, detailed information about the feedback process is posted on their website.
Communication – This aspect of the AODA concerns how you take into account a person’s disability when interacting. Think about how people with various disabilities communicate and how you may have to alter your communication to suit the situation and the person’s needs. The best thing to do is ask your customer how best to communicate with them and how you can help.
Example: if you offer a schedule in paper format, perhaps your website can include an accessible format that can be read with a a screen reader so that a customer with low vision may access the schedule at home on their computer despite it not being available in braille.
Service animals & support persons– Service animals must be permitted onto any part of the premises that is open to the public, except where the animal is otherwise excluded by law. Furthermore, those with disabilities must be able to bring a support person with them when accessing goods or services.
Example: A theatre informs patrons that support persons are permitted and not charged admission to the show.
Notice of temporary service disruptions – Prepare a template of a notice for any interruption in service that may affect access to your goods and services. Your notice should include a reason for the disruption, how long the service will remain unavailable, and the alternative facilities when possible.
Documentation – Pertaining to businesses with 20 or more employees, you must prepare documentation that includes specific information on each of the aforementioned aspects of AODA compliance.
Which requirements apply to your business?
To determine what you’ll need to implement for your business in particular, check out the AODA E-Wizard. It’s free and sums up a personalized list of things you need to do.
More summarized information on the regulations can be found by clicking here.