Author: Carolyn Frost
While it may not have been top of mind during these last lazy days of summer, there is a deadline looming that will affect every business in Manitoba that has customers in this province and at least one employee (hint: that’s almost everyone!).
That means that whether your organization is large or small, it’s time to draft your policies in order to meet accessibility obligations imposed by The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (“AMA”).
Accessibility is about more than a ramp or an accessible washroom.
The AMA is based on two beliefs:
- most Manitobans will confront an accessibility barrier at some point in their lives;
- accessibility barriers create considerable costs not only for the disabled person and his or her family but also to the community as a whole and to the economy of our province.
To address these two guiding beliefs, the AMA establishes some key principles:
- Access: Everyone should have barrier-free access to places, events and other functions that are generally available in the community;
- Equality: Everyone should have barrier-free access to those things that will give them equality of opportunity and outcome;
- Universal design: Access should be provided in a manner that does not establish or perpetuate differences based on a person’s disability;
- Systemic responsibility: The responsibility to prevent and remove barriers rests with the person or organization that is responsible for establishing or perpetuating the barrier.
The AMA identifies the general obligations for organizations around record keeping and government enforcement activities. However, the real substance of the obligations that will be imposed on private organizations in particular is found in “Standards” passed as regulations under this legislation.
What Must Your Policies Address?
Your organization needs to include specifics in your policies around removing communications barriers and properly accommodating support animal or support people, among others.
The AMA is a highly process-oriented piece of legislation. It does not mandate how an organization will remove barriers for individuals with a disability, but it sets up various processes to ensure that organizations are at least turning their collective minds to the problem – and it ensures a measure of accountability for those that don’t.
As section 2 of that Standard notes, “accessible customer service is provided when all persons who are reasonably expected to seek to obtain, use or benefit from a good or service have the same opportunity to obtain, use or benefit from the good or service.”
Your organization must:
- develop policies that deal with how your organization will remove barriers for individuals with disabilities as it relates to obtaining, using and benefiting from the goods and services your business provides and to document the policies on the timeline set out in the standard;
- be able to provide documentation on request to a customer;
- provide notice to customers that documentation is available on request; and
- provide the documentation in an accessible format or taking into account any barriers encountered by a specific person customer requesting that documentation.
An additional component relates to training for employees.
Specifically, training has to be provided to employees who will interact with customers and to employees who will develop the policies.
The areas where training must occur are divided into five parts, including:
- how to interact with disabled persons generally;
- how to interact with disabled persons who need a support person or service animal;
- how to use equipment or assistive devices;
- what to do if a person is having trouble using the goods or accessing the service; and
- The Human Rights Code, the AMA and the Standards.
The human resources professionals in most businesses are likely in the best position to quarterback this policy development and training, but leaders throughout each business should collaborate in order to be able to clearly identify what barriers exist and what potential low cost/no cost strategies might best address such barriers.
Organizations need to include specifics in their policies around removing communications barriers and properly accommodating support animal or support people, among others.
If your business operates in Ontario as well, this might seem a bit like déjà vu. In fact, Ontario has similar legislation which has been in effect for several years. Manitoba’s Customer Service Standard is closely based on Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and you can and should draft a policy that will work across your business.
Identifying the barriers specific to your company; drafting the relevant, properly worded policies; and carrying out the training will likely be a somewhat lengthy process. With a countdown of only two months to go, it’s time to pick up your pens!
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.