Accessibility Act in hospitals

Osler legal updateThe , 2005 (the “AODA”) came into force on June 13, 2005.  The purpose of this legislation is to develop, implement and enforce accessibility standards for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, building, structures, premises and employment.  In order to achieve this objective, the AODA sets out specific standards that employers and providers of goods or services – including hospitals – are required to comply with, and the dates by which compliance must be achieved.  Some of these deadlines have already passed, and some are fast approaching.  This article summarizes the various compliance deadlines and requirements applicable to hospitals.

Accessibility standards for customer service

The Accessibility Standards for Customer Service (the “Customer Service Standards”`) came into force on January 1, 2008.  The Customer Service Standards establish accessibility requirements in the provision of services to members of the public.  Hospitals were required to comply with the Customer Service Standards starting on January 1, 2010.   In particular, the Customer Service Standards require that hospitals do the following:

• establish policies, practices and procedures on providing services to people with disabilities;

• use reasonable efforts to ensure that policies, practices and procedures are consistent with the core principles of independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity;

• set a policy on allowing people to use their own personal assistive devices to access services and on any measures made available by the hospital for enabling access to services;

• communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account his or her disability;

• allow people with disabilities to be accompanied by their guide dog or service animal in public areas of the hospital’s premises;

• permit people with disabilities who use a support person to bring that person with them while accessing services in public areas of the hospital’s premises;

• provide notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on to access a hospital’s services will be disrupted;

• train staff, volunteers and contractors on interacting and communicating with persons with disabilities, how to use assistive devices that are available, and what to do if a person with a disability is experiencing difficulty accessing the hospital’s services;

• document in writing all policies, practices and procedures for providing accessible service;

• notify those to whom services are provided that documents required under the Customer Service Standard are available upon request; and

• when giving the above documents to a person with a disability, provide the information in a format that takes into account a person’s disability.

To the extent they have not already done so,  hospitals should take steps to comply with AODA Customer Service Standards as quickly as possible to avoid enforcement measures under the AODA (fines, spot audits or inspections) and potential claims of discrimination.

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Integrated accessibility standards

The Integrated Accessibility Standards came into force on July 1, 2011.  These Integrated Accessibility Standards impose additional requirements on hospitals and other organizations pertaining to accessibility in the areas of information and communication, employment, public transportation, and the design of public spaces.

The Integrated Accessibility Standards require hospitals to establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan by January 1, 2013, which outlines the hospital’s strategy to prevent and remove barriers to accessibility.  The plan must be available to the public and must be updated every five years.  The Integrated Accessibility Standards also require hospitals to develop, implement and maintain accessibility policies governing how the organization achieves or will achieve compliance with the Integrated Accessibility Standards, by January 1, 2013.

Furthermore, the Integrated Accessibility Standards require hospitals to train their employees and volunteers on the requirements of the Integrated Accessibility Standards and on the Human Rights Code as it pertains to persons with disabilities.  Training must take place as soon as practicable but no later than January 1, 2014 for hospitals.

The employment-related requirements in the Integrated Accessibility Standards require hospitals to do the following, by January 1, 2014:   • notify employees, all job applicants and the public about the availability of accommodation for applicants with disabilities in the recruitment process;

• provide for suitable accommodation at the request of a job applicant;

• notify successful applicants of the hospital’s policies for accommodating employees with disabilities;

•  inform employees of hospital policies to support employees with disabilities;

• where an employee with a disability requests it, consult with the employee to provide accessible formats and communication supports for information that is needed to perform the employee’s job and information that is generally available to employees in the workplace;

• provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees with a disability;

• develop and have in place a written process for the development of documented individual accommodation plans, which plans shall include detailed information respecting the development and review of the accommodation plan; and

• develop and have in place a return to work process for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability and require disability-related accommodation in order to return to work.

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Hospitals must also take into account the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities in any performance management, career development and advancement or re-deployment process in their workplaces.

Hospitals need to think about developing policies and implementing the above-noted accessibility requirements now, as deadlines for compliance have either passed, or are fast approaching.  In many cases, compliance will simply be a matter of reviewing and modifying existing policies and practices.  In others, compliance will require the completion of new policies and training.