by Frank Fulton
Originally published in Glass Canada Magazine, February 2015 Issue
In November, the Ontario Glass & Metal Association hosted a multi-topic seminar where the 65 people who attended took away a ton of informative, valuable and eye opening information. David Thompson and John Hodder, building science specialists with Entuitive Corporation discussed “Positioning Glass and Aluminum Curtainwall Systems for the Future” and Charmaine Mitchell with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) introduced and explained the benefits of the new OGMA/WSPS Health and Safety Policy Manual. But, it was the presentation by Jennifer Threndyle from WSPS that had the group shaking their heads and biting their nails.
You see, Ms. Threndyle is WSPS’s resident expert on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act legislation. Some of her examples of what companies have to do to comply with these new laws sent a shock wave through the room. If your business has a retail element open to the public you will be affected. If you have customers who you have to communicate with you will be affected. If you hire employees you will be affected.
The Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure enacted AODA in 2005, which set out a clear goal and time frame to make Ontario accessible by 2025. The Act lays the framework for the development of province-wide mandatory standards on accessibility in all areas of daily life. The “accessible customer service” section of the act came into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, for all Ontario businesses and organizations with one or more employees. Private and non-profit organizations with 20 or more employees were required to file an accessibility compliance report to prove that their organization met the standard by Dec. 31, 2014. If you haven’t done so, consider yourself in breach and open to severe penalties. The filing deadlines differ for smaller companies and larger organizations with more than 50 employees, so it is advisable to check the AODA website.
By the end of 2014, you were to have created your accessible customer service plan, trained your staff in applying your plan in practice, documented your plan describing your policies and made it available to the public, including the maintenance of a log of who was trained, when, and in what disciplines. Then you should have filed your compliance report with the ministry.
Accessible customer service is far more reaching than being just about ramps and automatic door openers. It’s about understanding that people with disabilities may have different needs, and the onus is on you and your business to consider and determine what their needs may be and remove any barriers that prevents a person with a disability from fully participating in all aspects of society. These barriers include physical barriers, architectural barriers, information and communications barriers, attitudinal barriers, technological barriers, and corporate policies and practices.
It is also important to understand that the types of disabilities you must accommodate are not limited to people in wheelchairs. You must be prepared and provide proof that you are able to provide customer service to people with any number of physical disabilities as well as mutes, people with speech impediments, people reliant on guide dogs or other service animals, people with mental impairment or a developmental or learning disability, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, inability to understand spoken language, and mental disorders. Dealing in compliance with the Act when encountering other types of disabilities will be more challenging and it may be in your best interest to have an expert such as WSPS assist you with putting together your plan.
Alternatively you can try doing the plan, training, and filing on your own, or claim ignorance and do nothing. But be aware that every person who is found guilty of an offence under this Act is liable to conviction and a fine of up to $50,000 each day. If a corporation is found guilty, the fine can be up to $100,000 per day, and every director or officer who is found guilty of not carrying out their duties pertaining to the Act are subject to fines of up to $50,000 per day.
All of this is for compliance to the Customer Service section of the Act only. By the end of 2016 you’ll have to file your compliance documents for the Disabled Employment Standards section.
Frank Fulton is president of Fultech Fenestration Consulting. He has been in the industry for 30 years and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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