Overseeing compliance

The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario continued its compliance efforts in the following key areas:

  • Building awareness
    • Strategic marketing campaigns that remind organizations of their requirements
  • Encouraging compliance
    • Conducting education and outreach activities among the 400,000 obligated organizations across the province
  • Verifying and enforcing compliance
    • Undertaking 1,604 compliance activities that help organizations understand and meet their requirements
  • Compliance and enforcement going forward
    • Identifying compliance goals for 2017 that will help support the priorities outlined in the Premier’s 2016 Mandate Letter to the Minister

Building awareness

Timelines for compliance with the requirements of the accessibility standards are being phased-in until 2021 and vary depending on an organization’s size (i.e., “small” being 49 employees or less and “large” being 50 employees or more) and its sector (i.e., private/non-profit, public sector, or government of Ontario).

This past year we re-launched the marketing campaign on the employment standards for accessibility, highlighting the January 2017 compliance deadline for businesses and non-profits with 1-49 employees. The employment standards are fully in effect and require obligated organizations with one or more employees in Ontario (the standards do not apply to the federal government or providers of goods, services and facilities that are under federal jurisdiction) to meet accessibility requirements in their employment practices.

The campaign, which began in the fall of 2016, encouraged obligated 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:

  • as print ads in newspapers
  • on English, French and multicultural radio stations in major urban centres
  • as banner ads on websites

Encouraging compliance

We continued to reach out to the over 400,000 businesses, 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
  • make sure you have submitted your most recent self-certified report

Our activities in 2016 included:

  • participating in over 80 events across the province such as community fairs, trade shows, and business conferences
  • launching two updated newsletter formats reaching over 6,000 subscribers:
    • a quarterly edition about what’s new in our accessibility work
    • a monthly bulletin that highlights helpful tools and tips to meet accessibility requirements
  • 18 webinars delivered to all obligated sectors providing additional information and answering questions on the requirements of the standards
  • sending over 30,000 reminder emails to organizations about their upcoming requirements

In addition, our dedicated help desk provided assistance through thousands of one-on-one interactions with organizations and individuals. Our agents offered support by answering questions about the act and its standards, providing assistance to encourage compliance with Ontario’s accessibility laws.

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 in a variety of sectors to become champions of accessibility. In 2016, we worked with partners on projects that ranged from supporting employers in complying with the employment standards to promoting a cultural shift to move Ontario organizations beyond the minimum requirements of the act.

Verifying and enforcing compliance

In addition to building awareness and helping organizations comply with the act, we also verify and enforce compliance. In 2016, we conducted 1,604 compliance activities, including Phase 1 and Phase 2 audits. Phase 1 audits focus on an organization’s requirement to submit a self-certified accessibility compliance report online. In a Phase 2 audit, documents are requested and reviewed for the purposes of verifying compliance with other requirements beyond reporting.

Accessibility compliance reporting activities and trends for 2016

The requirement to submit accessibility compliance reports is established under the act and the calendar year of 2017 is the next reporting year for all obligated organizations. While organizations can be selected for audit whether they submit a report or not, a large component of compliance activities center around organizations that have failed to file their most recent report.

For example, in 2016, 1,205 audits were completed at the Phase 1 level among organizations that had either:

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

In conducting these activities we observed a number of trends in compliance:

  • of the Phase 1 audits initiated in 2016, 95% were completed without requiring escalation to Phase 2 or enforcement, aligning with our overall compliance assurance approach
  • a progressive approach to compliance reduces the need for punitive, enforcement measures by providing upfront education, resources and 1:1 compliance improvement opportunities that help organizations understand and meet their requirements
  • 93% answered “yes” to providing emergency procedure plans or public safety information to the public in an accessible format, when asked
  • 89% responded that they provided tailored emergency response information for their employees who had disabilities, when asked
  • 81% were complying with the requirements of the Customer Service Standards that came into effect prior to the reporting year, according to their submitted accessibility compliance reports

We reached out to business and non-profit organizations that had never filed accessibility compliance reports. These activities continue to fulfill our commitment to increasing compliance reporting rates. By December 31, 2016, 43% of business/non-profit sector organizations had submitted their most recent version of the accessibility compliance report, up from 38% in 2014.

In 2015, 91% of designated public sector organizations submitted their accessibility reports. In 2016, we continued to work with the remaining organizations until 100% of all public sector organizations had met their reporting requirement.

2017 marks the first year where every sector (government, public, business/non-profit) is required to submit an accessibility compliance report. Approximately 56,000 organizations have until December 31, 2017 to submit their reports.

Phase 2 audits

In 2016, 361 audits were closed at the Phase 2 level. These audits requested evidence to either confirm compliance from organizations that had filed a fully compliant report or assist those that had failed to come into compliance at Phase 1. They were audited on a variety of requirements across the standards and not all organizations were audited on the same set of requirements.

Among Phase 2 organizations, the following trends were found:

  • 92% notified employees and the public about the availability of accommodation for applicants with disabilities in their recruitment process
  • 90%  provided individualized workplace emergency response information for employees with disabilities
  • 68% provided accessibility training to staff, volunteers and contract workers as soon as practicable

In general, the number of audits, types of organizations, and requirements reviewed vary from year to year. There are, however, four accessibility requirements that are verified year-over-year in order to identify trends in compliance across all types of organizations. These requirements have been selected because they speak to the spirit of the act and are best suited to gauge the progress being made in establishing an accessible Ontario by 2025:

  • compliance in establishing accessibility policies, developing a multi-year accessibility plan and training staff suggests that an organization has a broad understanding of their requirements and what it means to provide goods, services or facilities in an accessible way
  • establishing a system for receiving and responding to public feedback related to accessibility reflects an organization’s preparedness and willingness to improve accessibility to goods, services or facilities in Ontario

In 2015, a selection of large organizations from the business/non-profit sector was audited on one or more of the four foundational requirements. Their rates of compliance were:

  • Develop accessibility policies: 93%
  • Provide accessibility training: 80%
  • Establish a method to receive and respond to public feedback on accessibility: 90%
  • Develop a multi-year accessibility plan: 65%

In 2016, a selection of small organizations from the business/non-profit sector was audited on three foundational requirements. Their rates of compliance were:

  • Develop accessibility policies: 64%
  • Provide accessibility training: 63%
  • Establish a method to receive and respond to public feedback on accessibility: 92%

In 2016, organizations from the designated public sector were audited on the foundational requirement to develop a multi-year accessibility plan. Audits completed among these public sector organizations with this particular requirement resulted in a compliance rate of 66%.

Compliance plans

We issued compliance plans to 45% (164) of the 361 organizations selected for Phase 2 audit in 2016. A compliance plan lays out the steps an organization must take to come into compliance. It is confirmed that an organization has put these prescribed steps in place before the plan is considered closed or completed.

Organizations that are uncooperative in responding to our requests, including meeting compliance plan due dates, are referred to an inspector. An inspector can either conduct an on-site inspection or recommend enforcement measures to the Director appointed under the act. Enforcement may include a Director’s Order to comply, a monetary penalty, and prosecution. 84% (138) of 164 organizations that received a plan were brought into compliance without the involvement of an inspector.

Of the 1,604 compliance activities that took place in 2016, 38 were sent to an inspector with only two requiring monetary penalties.

Targeted audit blitz

Each year we conduct a targeted audit blitz intended to focus on a specific sector, verifying compliance with specific requirements. The 1,604 compliance activities included a targeted Phase 2 audit blitz of 125 large organizations from Ontario’s hospitality sector.

The blitz focussed on the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation employment standards requirements to:

  • notify employees and the public about the availability of accommodation for applicants with disabilities in the recruitment process
  • notify successful applicants of policies for accommodating employees with disabilities when making offers of employment

These requirements are valuable indicators of an organization’s commitment to accessibility as they require employers to actively promote those policies to the public and to staff.

The results were encouraging. Out of 125 organizations audited as part of the blitz:

  • 109 or 87% notified their employees of available accommodations for applicants with disabilities during the recruitment process
  • 101 or 81% notified the successful applicants of their policies for accommodating employees with disabilities

22 compliance plans were issued. All compliance plan deadlines were met and no organizations required enforcement measures.

Public feedback

We continued to promote and monitor the single point of contact phone number that the public can use to receive information about the act, request assistance and provide feedback or complaints. The accessibility-related feedback was recorded and is used to identify trends and inform official legislative reviews, as well as outreach and compliance activities. In 2016, we received 103 comments about the act.

Out of these interactions the top three categories related to the standards were:

  • customer service
  • transportation
  • design of public spaces

Pilot project to increase enforcement capacity

As outlined in Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan, the government is committed to collaborating with service providers on pilot projects to enhance our compliance and outreach activities. In 2016, we secured a service provider to increase our capacity to verify and enforce compliance with the act to more than 400,000 obligated organizations in Ontario.

To ensure consistency, the service provider was trained using the same processes that were developed for, and used by, our own compliance and enforcement staff.

In addition to the 1,604 compliance activities conducted internally, the pilot resulted in 424 Phase 1 audits among organizations that failed to meet their reporting requirements and 74 Phase 2 audits among organizations that had submitted accessibility reports indicating compliance. The service provider also conducted 700 outreach calls reminding organizations of their compliance requirements.

We are currently assessing the data received from these additional compliance activities. Further opportunities to work with service delivery partners may be explored next year.

Compliance and enforcement going forward

Compliance activities conducted in 2016 reveal that overall many organizations are incorporating accessibility into their daily business practices.

Our 2016 public education initiatives show that organizations benefit from practical and tailored information about accessibility compliance. We will continue to provide this help to our stakeholders through:

  • webinars
  • regular monthly bulletins
  • targeted partnerships to reach specific sectors

In 2017, we will conduct compliance and enforcement activities that will:

  • help increase compliance reporting rates among business/non-profit sector organizations
  • raise awareness among obligated organizations of their requirements under the act
  • allow us to verify compliance and conduct enforcement activities among a greater number of organizations
  • support the implementation of a Provincial Employment Strategy for people with disabilities

In order to achieve these goals, we will:

  • help organizations submit their accessibility reports using our new, easier to use reporting process
  • increase our compliance efforts across public, business/non-profit sectors (including those that are not obligated to submit accessibility reports)
  • increase to two targeted audit blitzes instead of one
  • explore opportunities to work with a third party service provider to conduct additional compliance activities on our behalf
  • continue to audit the requirements of the employment standards to help ensure that organizations are establishing a baseline level of accessibility in their employment practices

The results of these activities will be made available in the next Accessibility Compliance and Enforcement Report. We are committed to report annually on our compliance activities as well as any observable trends.

In presenting the report, we want to remind those who are experiencing challenges with compliance to visit Ontario.ca/Accessibility to find information on your obligations, and access 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.