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Ontario Puts Stringent New Standards in Place for Customer Service Accessibility for the Disabled

January 10, 2012

Beginning January first of this year, Ontario put stringent new accessibility standards in place for businesses operating in that province. The new standards covered accessible customer service for the disabled, which the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services says is not just about ramps or automatic door openers. It’s about understanding that people with disabilities may have different needs when it comes to customer service.

“It can be as easy as asking ‘How can I help?’ and making small changes to how you serve customers with disabilities,” says the Ministry on its website.

The new Accessibility Standard for Customer Service applies to all organizations (public, private and non-profit) that provide goods or services either directly to the public or to other organizations in Ontario and that have one or more employees in Ontario. This includes consultants, manufacturers and wholesalers as well as other businesses and professional services.

People Access, a non-profit organization that provides consulting for businesses seeking to provide access to the disabled, is helping Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services bring improved awareness of the new guidelines to Canadian businesses, the Globe and Mail is reporting today.

Among PeopleAccess’s recommendations are the following:

  • Determine how your business will provide services to people with disabilities and incorporate that into your company’s policies, practices and procedures.
  • Allow customers who might need the aid of personal assistive devices like wheelchairs, walkers or oxygen tanks to access your services.
  • Communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his or her disability.
  • Train all staff to provide accessible customer service, including management, volunteers or anyone who will be acting on your behalf with customers.
  • Allow people with disabilities to bring a guide or service animal with them to your place of business, unless it is prohibited by law.
  • Allow people with disabilities who require a support person to bring that person with them. If you charge a fee, you can decide whether to waive or lower the fee for the support person.
  • Provide notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on are temporarily disrupted (such as accessible washrooms or ramps on your property).
  • Establish a process so that people can provide feedback on how you provide services to people with disabilities.
  • If you’re a business with 20 or more employees, you’ll need to file regular compliance reports with the Ministry of Community and Social Services and keep a written record of your policies, practices and procedures related to accessibility.
  • While smaller businesses need to develop these policies, practices and procedures and make sure they are communicated to all employees, they don’t have to keep a written record or file reports.

Businesses and organizations found to be out of compliance with the new standards will be subject to government inspections, financial penalties and even criminal prosecution.

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Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for ContactCenterSolutions. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell