Accessibility in the workplace is an important issue that affects millions of Canadians. According to a recent study, an estimated 15% of Canadians have a disability and face barriers when it comes to the workplace or even accessing employment opportunities. Providing an inclusive environment for your staff and customers with disabilities is legally required, but more than that, it is the right thing to do.
In this article, we’ll explore why it’s so important for businesses to ensure their workplaces are accessible and how they can do so effectively.
What is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)?
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is an important piece of legislation that helps protect and promote the rights of those with disabilities in Ontario. It requires organizations to take steps to ensure their workplace is accessible and inclusive for everyone, including those with disabilities.
What does accessibility in the workplace include?
The AODA covers many areas: customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation and design of public spaces. In each area, organizations are required to take specific steps to create an accessible environment for people with disabilities.
The design of public spaces is probably the area that comes to mind when we think about accessibility in the workplace. This includes the installation of ramps, handrails and other measures to ensure people with disabilities can safely access buildings.
However, accessibility in the workplace also covers things like including sensory elements in public spaces (such as large-print signs or tactile lane markers), providing accessible parking spots, and ensuring that pathways are wide enough for wheelchairs.
For example, in the customer service area, organizations must ensure their employees are trained on how to provide services in a way that meets the needs of customers with disabilities. In the information and communication area, organizations must make sure any printed materials or information posted on their website use language that is clear and easy to understand for everyone, including those with disabilities.
Website accessibility is becoming increasingly important, and organizations should consider whether their website meets commonly accepted standards of web accessibility.
Accessibility in the workplace also extends to your hiring practices. For example, employers must provide a barrier-free application and interview process, use accessible job postings and consider the needs of all potential candidates when evaluating resumes.
Compliance with the Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Ensuring that your workplace is accessible is essential for creating an inclusive and equitable environment. To make sure you’re compliant, you should review all areas of accessibility in the workplace and assess where improvements can be made.
If you have fewer than 20 employees, you do not need to file an accessibility report. However, it’s still important for employers to understand the requirements and make sure their workplace is accessible. If you have more than 20 employees, you are required to submit an accessibility report every three years. This should include information on what measures you have taken in your organization to meet the AODA requirements.
What happens if I am not compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
If an organization is found to be non-compliant, it can face fines and penalties. These can range from a warning and technical assistance to significant financial penalties of up to $50,000 per day for individuals and up to $500,000 per day for corporations.
The benefits of compliance far outweigh any potential fines and penalties, as it ensures your workplace is equitable and inclusive for all employees.
The benefits of staying on top of accessibility in the workplace
Let’s look at one of our clients. They were recently audited by the Province of Ontario. While this was a stressful time, they were relieved to have a plan in place that ensured their compliance with the AODA.
They avoided heavy fines, and their organization’s reputation remained intact. It also built confidence among staff that their employer was taking steps to support an inclusive environment.
Had they not been on top of this before, this process would have been overwhelming. It would have created a consuming project that may have overridden other priorities. However, by creating policies and processes before being audited, handling any missing pieces was relatively simple. Furthermore, complying with AODA, helped the company attract potential new employees from a larger pool of qualified candidates while also increasing the organization’s customer base as their service offerings have become more accessible.
That is the kind of manageable, strategic and thoughtful approach that we recommend when looking at accessibility in the workplace. By staying on top of your accessibility requirements, you can ensure your organization is compliant and make a positive impact on the lives of those with disabilities.
Are you compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
At Brown Consulting Group, we understand the importance of creating an equitable and accessible workplace. We will work with you to ensure you are compliant with the AODA and make sure that your organization is meeting all its requirements.
Contact us today to learn more about accessibility in the workplace and how we can help your organization create a safe, inclusive, accessible workplace.