Getting to compliance

2015 was another busy year for the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. As we hit the half-way point in our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025, we continued in our efforts to:

  • build awareness of the Act and the five accessibility standards
  • encourage compliance reporting through submission of self-certified reports
  • enforce compliance of the Act

Building awareness

In 2015, we continued to work hard to build awareness of accessibility requirements and the many tools and resources we offer to help organizations fulfill their obligations.

We launched a marketing campaign focused on the accessible employment standard and the need for businesses and non-profits with 50+ employees to comply with it starting January 1, 2016. The standard requires that organizations make their employment practices accessible to people with disabilities. The campaign, which ran into the early part of 2016, encouraged affected businesses to visit the government webpage for accessibility information, and take advantage of the free templates and other compliance resources.

As part of the campaign, advertisements were placed:

  • in elevators in office buildings of larger organizations
  • as radio and print ads placed in major urban centers
  • in publications such as The Globe and Mail

Encouraging compliance

To encourage compliance, we continued to reach out to the 400,000 companies, non-profits and public sector organizations across the province required to meet the accessibility standards. Our message was clear. You need to:

  • understand your legal obligations
  • make sure you are in compliance with the standards applicable to your organization
  • submit a self-certified report

In 2015, we continued our efforts to get the word out across the province. Our activities included:

  • 254 outreach opportunities across the province such as community fairs, trade shows, and business conferences
  • speaking with 27,547 people and distributing information on accessibility
  • 31 webinar presentations

We also launched a new website to make it easier to understand and complete compliance requirements. The website includes a new online feedback page which will help us improve accessibility in Ontario.

In addition, our dedicated help desk provided one-on-one assistance to thousands of organizations.

We also continued to expand our reach through our EnAbling Change program. This program funds projects with industry leaders to support organizations in their compliance with the Act. Through EnAbling Change, we empower organizations to become champions of accessibility by connecting them with partners in a variety of sectors who demonstrate a commitment to accessibility. In 2015, we worked with 18 partners on projects that ranged from supporting employers in complying with the accessible employment standard to promoting a cultural shift for organizations to move beyond the requirements of the Act.

A particular emphasis in 2015 was put on providing information and support to broader public sector organizations that were required to file compliance reports by December 31, 2015. These include school boards, colleges and universities, hospitals, provincial agencies and municipalities.

To remind them of their obligations – and the free online tools and resources we provide to help them comply – we delivered tailored presentations and webinars, sent out emails and made phone calls to senior officials in the broader public sector.

By the December 31, 2015 deadline, 91% of broader public sector organizations had submitted their reports. Since the deadline that number has climbed to 99%.

Verifying and enforcing compliance

In addition to building awareness and helping organizations comply with the Act, the Directorate also verifies and enforces compliance.

In 2015, we conducted 1,324 compliance activities, surpassing our public commitment of 1,200. We reached out to organizations that had either:

  • never filed an accessibility compliance report
  • not met their requirements under the law
  • filed a report in 2012 but not in 2014

As part of these activities, we audited 324 organizations that had filed a fully compliant report in order to verify they were in compliance. Organizations were audited on a variety of requirements across the standards and not all organizations were audited on the same set of requirements.

Our audits revealed that, for the most part, organizations across Ontario are fulfilling the core requirements. Specifically:

  • 93% of 224 organizations audited on the requirement to have accessible customer service policies, practices and procedures in place were compliant
  • 91% of 202 organizations audited on providing individualized workplace emergency response information were compliant
  • 90% of 224 organizations audited on providing a feedback process on accessible customer service were compliant

Where they fell down was in fulfilling some of the sub-sections of the standards. For instance, when it came to the requirement to have in place a multi-year accessibility plan:

  • 31% of the 150 organizations audited had not posted their plan on their website
  • 22% of the 150 organizations audited had not included a commitment to review and update their plan at least every 5 years
  • 18% of the 150 organizations audited didn’t include a commitment to provide their plan in an accessible format upon request

In addition, 16% of 50 organizations audited on customer service training didn’t include at least one of the mandatory subjects, such as how to interact with persons who use assistive devices.

The number of audits, types of organizations and requirements reviewed vary from year to year. As a result, compliance rates are not directly comparable across years. For example, the variability in compliance in 2015 versus 2014 is illustrated in the table below. Future compliance rates will also vary, and it is possible that the rate of compliance may decrease in 2016 as organizations may be less familiar with new requirements that are audited.

Compliance Rates in 2015 versus 2014
YearSectorsRequirementsAuditsCompliance Rate
2014Private sector (41 organizations with 20-49 employees, 56 with 50+ employees)
Broader public sector
Customer Service Standard –Sections 3(5), 6(5), 7(4)
Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation – Sections 4(1), 5(1-2), 7(1-4), 11(1), 16, 22, 23(1-2), 27(1), 34 (1-2), 36 (1-2), 41(1,2), 42(1),43(1)
2015Private sector (focus on organizations with 500+ employees)Customer Service Standard – 3(5), 6(5), 7(4)
Integrated Accessibility Standards – 4(1), 11(1), 27(1)

The Directorate issued compliance plans to 31% of the 324 organizations selected for audit. A compliance plan lays out the steps an organization must take to come into compliance. These plans are only considered closed once the Directorate has confirmed that the steps required to become compliant have been met by the organization. A compliance plan is ranked according to the severity of non-compliance, from low to high. The vast majority of the plans issued were of low to moderate severity, and all but one of the organizations that received a plan were brought into compliance without the involvement of an Inspector.

Organizations that are uncooperative in responding to the requests of the Directorate, including meeting compliance plan due dates, are referred to an inspector. An Inspector can recommend enforcement measures to the AODA director. These measures may include a director’s order to comply, a monetary penalty, and prosecution. The Directorate has issued director’s orders to non-compliant organizations ordering them to pay monetary penalties.

Of the 1,324 compliance activities that took place in 2015, 26 files in total were sent to an inspector. Of these escalated files, 84% were resolved in 2015. The Directorate will continue to pursue enforcement with the remaining 16%.

Included in these compliance activities was a targeted audit blitz among 100 large retail organizations. The blitz focused on encouraging organizations to meet their obligations and verify that they are taking the appropriate steps to ensure that their workplaces and employment practices are accessible. The blitz helped to gauge organizations’ preparedness to meet requirements of the employment standard coming into effect in 2016. In particular, the blitz looked at the requirements to develop a multi-year accessibility plan, and to prepare for emergency situations by providing employees with disabilities with individualized workplace emergency response information.

The results were encouraging. Out of 100 organizations:

  • 86 had a multi-year accessibility plan in place
  • 91 had individualized workplace emergency response information in place

34 compliance plans were issued. The majority were ranked as low severity. Only 2 organizations required enforcement measures involving the inspector.

Finally, in 2015 we:

  • conducted a site visit to verify compliance within the Ontario Public Service (OPS). As a result of the tools and assistance offered, the OPS is now in compliance with the audited requirements
  • continued our partnerships with the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Labour to conduct 50 audits respectively, on a pilot project basis:
    • Ministry of Labour inspectors collected documentation that organizations are required to produce under the Customer Service Standard.
    • Ministry of Transportation’s Carrier Safety & Enforcement Branch and Regional Operations Branch similarly helped the Directorate in conducting audits among businesses that have a trucking component to their operations
  • promoted and monitored our feedback phone line and webpage, and received 58 comments about the standards by phone and email. These comments may inform future outreach activities, audits, and legislative reviews. Out of these interactions the top 3 categories for feedback were the:
    • customer service standard
    • design of public spaces standard
    • information and communications standard

Compliance and enforcement going forward

Overall, many organizations are incorporating accessibility into their daily business practices.

Our 2015 public education initiatives clearly show that organizations benefit from practical and tailored information about accessibility compliance. Going forward, we will continue to provide this help to our stakeholders via:

  • webinars
  • a regular e-newsletter
  • targeted partnerships to reach specific sectors

In 2016, we will continue to encourage and verify compliance by:

  • connecting via phone, email and/or direct mail with those that didn’t file a 2014 compliance report or have never filed one
  • helping those whose 2014 reports show they are not in compliance
  • auditing those that filed a report indicating they are in full compliance

In 2016, we will continue our focus on the accessible employment standard to create inclusive workplaces that are accessible and which allow employees to reach their full potential.

We will:

  • increase our compliance efforts across private, non-profit, and public sectors
  • conduct another sector-specific audit blitz to verify compliance with the employment standard, with a focus on the new requirements that have come into effect in 2016
  • audit organizations that need to comply with the Act, but are not required to submit reports because they have fewer than 20 employees
  • audit "high-risk" organizations (ones with a history of non-compliance)
  • continue to work with the Ministry of Transportation to complete the compliance pilot project that began in 2015
  • work with a third-party service provider on a pilot project to complete up to 500 compliance activities

In short, we will continue to work hard to build awareness of the Act, and encourage and enforce compliance with it.

In presenting the report, we want to remind those who are experiencing challenges with compliance to visit to find information on your obligations, and have access to multiple tools and resources to help you comply with the law.

We thank the many thousands of organizations that have embraced the vision of an accessible Ontario. We’re confident you’re seeing the benefits of your actions, and encourage you to continue to spread the word.