Many Ontario businesses will have received a notice from the provincial government this week about something called the Accessible Customer Service Standard. Many Ontario businesses will then be wondering what that is and what it means to them.
Put simply, the “standard” is a legal requirement for organizations in Ontario to establish policies, practices and procedures that govern how they provide goods or services to their customers with disabilities.
Put less simply, the standard requires businesses to put together policies that respect the dignity and independence of persons with disabilities and to put those policies into place before January 1, 2012.
The aim of the policies should be to allow persons with disabilities to access goods and services to the fullest extent reasonably possible.
Generally speaking, the policies should be ones that make sense, and are flexible enough to deal with your particular business environment. For example, a policy on how service animals or support persons are dealt with, a policy on keeping a pad and pencil by your front desk for persons with hearing impairment to use in communicating with your staff, and policies about how staff are trained to deal with various accessibility issues.
The government notes that more than 15% of Ontarians are currently classed as disabled, and with an aging population, that number will rise significantly in coming years. With those kind of numbers, the accessibility standard is both a legal requirement and a business must.
That said, the standard does pose some challenges and implementing it will not necessarily be a piece of cake. Although the government is providing resources to help businesses adjust (at http://ontario.ca/AccessON), some of those resources are a little dense. I think that the average business person might find the combined 192 pages of the Training Resource manual, the Compliance Manual and the Guide to be a little daunting – and those are the starter documents. Further, questions about conflicts of rights (for example, where service animals might pose a problem for persons with respiratory ailments) are quagmires even for the most sophisticated business person.
The reality is that this standard, and others like it, are coming. The customer service standard is the first of several standards that the government hopes to introduce in the next few years. Future standards will relate to transportation, information and communications, employment and the built environment.
The legislation contains provisions for enforcement and incredibly serious penalties of up to $50,000 per day of non-compliance for individuals, and $100,000 per day of non-compliance for corporations (as well as separate penalties for corporate directors). The standard is serious business. This is the way the business landscape in Ontario is evolving and businesses need to adapt.
Our advice is to take a look at the government resources and try to familiarize yourself with the standard and your requirements under it. If you’re feeling ambitious, try to put together some policies of your own. Of course, in doing so, you’ll be taking your eye off of what you do best in your business. Instead, give your legal counsel a call and talk to them about applying the standard to your particular business.
Scott R. Young