The first deadline for the Customer Service Standard is coming up rather quickly. That’s right, public sector organizations have 5 months left! Are your policies ready? Is your training plan in place? I’ve been following this act and standard for some time now and I recently came across some interesting information. In contrast to the human rights code, where you have to file a complaint before an audit takes place, the Ministry of Community and Social Services is forming and audit committee to proactively seek out any violations.
How do you feel about this approach? The government has received push back from members of the community saying it could not truly reach accessibility for all Ontarians by 2025 with the current act and accompanying standards. Is this a step towards ensuring accessibility?
It is easy to tick off a box on an employee file that says so and so completed the required compliance training to meet the requirements of the AODA Customer Service Standard. But how can organizations show a commitment to truly building an accessible Ontario by 2025? Awareness is the first piece of the training puzzle. Supplying more information than stipulated within the standard is another piece. We have explored the different training methods being used right now to meet compliance requirements, but what can be done to exceed them? An informed workforce is a strong workforce.
What are your accessibility training plans for the future?
I had a very interesting conversation with the head of the accessibility initiatives of a municipality within the Halton region this week. Would it be better to amalgamate the training requirements of all five standards under the AODA or stick with the current approach which is to release each standard one by one with a few years in between?
Take for example the employment standard. When this is reviewed and finally released, all organizations will be required to train all their employees on diversity awareness. This topic lends itself well with the training requirements of the Customer Service Standard. The current approach is somewhat of a piecemeal training strategy. Perhaps it may be best to create a blended training plan incorporating all the standards.
As I mentioned in a previous post, municipalities are coming to the realization that some training must be done online. Given all the standards, several topics can be grouped together in one module. Also, with the amount of training that will be coming down the pipeline, one workshop or training session won’t be enough. There needs to be follow up or refreshers, if you will.
What are your thoughts? Would it benefit you organization if the standards were grouped together?
One public sector I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with is municipalities. A trend I have noticed is that often, regions will pool their resources together to collectively train (using the same training resource) or create new policies, practices, and procedures in coordination with one another. This is a good use of collaboration, but keep in mind all accessibility reports must be filed separately. This means that often a dedicated resource is still required, or someone is hired to ensure compliance with the customer service standard and legislation.
What trends have you been noticing?
We now have 8 months before the AODA Customer Service Standard compliance deadline. Have you counted your employees? If not I recommend you start here. 8 months may seem like a lot of time but you may be cutting it close.
A recent trend I have noticed is the three tier training method. This includes face to face instructor led training, online courses, and print material such as brochures. Depending on the amount of customer interaction within the organization, you are placed into a staff group and trained accordingly. Senior management tends to receive the face to face training and the print material is being presented to front line staff in some cases. I am wondering whether this is the most effective means of training, especially for those employees who interact with customers on a daily basis. Also, how much customization is taking place? Those deciding on the policies and standards should probably be exposed to different content. Is this happening? And lastly, are the right people in your organization involved with the implementation of this program?
It’s no surprise to anyone that in these economic times gaining that leading edge, if you will is essential for businesses to survive. Does an accessibility plan provide this value add? Quite simply, no it doesn’t. The AODA requires all businesses to comply with the new standard. This equates to new policies, training and operational changes. If everyone is doing it then it doesn’t set you apart.
Accessibility is indeed a topic that must be addressed in Ontario (and the whole country for that matter) given the recent and upcoming demographic changes. But how do you stand out from the rest of the pack? It’s important to take these requirements a step further than bare minimum. As well, how much your company actually believes in these changes and is transparent is the absolute key to successful implementation.
What other benefits do you see in accessibility training for businesses?
One of the Customer Service Standard requirements is to establish a feedback process on the provision of goods and services. This sounds like a well intentioned requirement but how the feedback is addressed is left open for interpretation. If the feedback is not properly addressed then this can be cause for concern. What is your organization doing in regards to this requirement? Is there a policy in place to handle the feedback received? I am curious to know how this will play out.
As we all know feedback is an important part of implementation and an essential part of learning. How else can you decipher whether the learning objectives were transferred. Which begs the question how will you know the training was properly received?
Believe it or not, 9 months remain before all public sector organizations must be in compliance with the AODA Customer Service Standard. Believe it or not there are some companies that have yet to begin addressing the standard. Let’s discuss the first requirement shall we?
You must establish policies, practices and procedures on providing goods/services to persons with disabilities. How is your company meeting this requirement? Most importantly who is responsible for writing the policies, practices and procedures? Have you created a committee that is representative of all the important functions?
In my opinion, it is crucial that front line employees who interact with the public be involved in this process. A logical way to go about this is to make this requirement the responsibility of the current policy makers. But a fresh new way to look at things may help us identify and eliminate some of the barriers we face in our society.
What are your thoughts?
Yes we’re back to this again. Will we have an accessible Ontario by 2025? That is a question that is up for debate so let’s have at it! The answer is we don’t know yet. We do know that since the AODA became the law nearly four years ago only one of the five standards has been released.
I have been talking to many organizations that have to comply by the end of this year and the consensus is that the requirements are somewhat vague. The Guide to Accessibility Standards for Customer Service provided by the Ontario Government states that “the standard does not specify what reasonable efforts are because they may be different in each situation”. This lack of clarity is challenging and the fact that “barriers” are not defined also adds that “huh?” element. Clearly everything isn’t black and white but it seems the legislation leaves a lot up to the service provider. For instance the new feedback process is a huge step towards accessibility but the standard doesn’t outline who receives it and what should be done with it. Is anyone else getting the same impression?
We have a little over fifteen years and four more standards to plow through so it is hard to say if we will in fact reach our goal. Seems like plenty of time, but how many times have you said to yourself “time flies”? Hopefully the next standards will roll out sooner than the Customer Service Standard.
Will Ontario reach its goal of becoming fully accessible for persons with disabilities by January 2025?
An accessible Ontario has been in the works since the Harris government (a name I haven’t heard for some time). So where are we now? In 2005 the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was passed. Under the act there are five standards,
- Customer Service Standard
- Information and Communications
- Built Environment
The Customer Service Standard became the law in January of 2008. What does the standard entail? A great deal of work and here’s the catch – a fast approaching deadline. For the public sector there is less than a year left to meet all the requirements, January 2010 to be exact. The private sector on the other hand has a little more time since their deadline is January 2012. I’ve been reading the compliance manual that is provided online and I must admit it seems a little daunting from new written policies to training all your staff. What is more alarming is the general lack of concern over the standard. From the discussions I’ve had mainly with the public sector there seems to be a resounding “we haven’t started to think about it”, which worries me a little. There is however exceptions, in fact some agencies have written their policies and trained all their staff.
What if you don’t comply? Failing to meet the requirements carries with it some large fines. So why hasn’t anyone taken this seriously yet? What can I say; I don’t have all the answers.