Manitoba and Ontario have both passed accessibility legislation geared toward changing attitudes and practices around accessibility for individuals with a disability.
British Columbia is three years into its program called Accessibility 2024, which includes a commitment to implement a “made in B.C.” approach to accessibility legislation. In addition, the federal government recently completed its initial consultations into accessibility legislation. It released a new report summarizing its consultation process on May 29, 2017, and indicated its intention to begin crafting the relevant legislation. Clearly, accessibility issues are experiencing a moment in public consciousness and the regulatory landscape is changing to follow suit.
In Manitoba, both public entities and private businesses are facing looming deadlines to comply with this new regulatory framework. That means that whether your organization is public, private, large or small, it’s time to do some planning now for how you will meet accessibility obligations imposed by The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (“AMA”).
The AMA is based on the belief that most Manitobans will confront an accessibility barrier at some point in their lives and that accessibility barriers create considerable costs – not only for the person with the disability 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 obligations are on the horizon for businesses in Manitoba?
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 trying to ensure some form of accountability.
The only standard already in effect is the Customer Service Standard. It provides that the upcoming obligations will apply to private sector organizations with one or more employees that provide goods or services to the public or to another organization. Pursuant to s. 2 of that standard, “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.”
There are certain specific obligations that apply more particularly to businesses with 20 or more employees that provide goods or services to the public or another organization. These organizations must:
- develop policies that deal with how the organization will remove barriers for individuals with disabilities as it relates to obtaining, using and benefiting from the goods and services the business provides, and 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
- provide the documentation in an accessible format or taking into account any barriers encountered by a specific customer requesting that documentation
An additional component for those businesses with 20 or more employees relates to training for the employees. Specifically, training must be provided to employees who will interact with customers and to employees who will develop the policies. The areas where training must occur is 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 the best placed to be able to quarterback this policy development and training, but a variety of leaders within every business will need to collaborate in order to clearly identify what barriers exist and what potential low cost/no cost strategies might address such barriers.
When will these obligations apply to you?
Due to the rolling implementation date, most organizations have not yet had to take any steps to meet their obligations. So far, only the provincial government and larger cities have had to meet these obligations. However, implementation dates are now on the horizon.
Public entities will need to meet the requirements of the Customer Service Standard by no later Nov. 1, 2017.
All other provincially regulated businesses in Manitoba that provide goods or services to the public or another organization will need to meet these requirements by Nov. 1, 2018. That will capture the vast majority of businesses in the province.
Identifying the barriers; drafting the relevant, properly worded policies; and carrying out the training is likely to be a lengthy process. Prudent organizations should consider starting on this process well before the due date in order to be well placed to meet the deadline.
David Negus is a partner practicing labour and employment law with MLT Aikins in Winnipeg. He can be reached at (204) 957-4604 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Carolyn Frost is an associate practicing labour and employment law and dealing with corporate immigration issues with MLT Aikins in Winnipeg. She can be reached at (204) 957-4889 or email@example.com.