How to make customer service accessible
Learn about the steps required to meet the accessible customer service standard by creating a policy and a plan to train staff on how to serve people with disabilities.
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The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) is the law that sets out a process for developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards. Government, businesses, non-profits and public sector organizations must follow the standards. Accessibility laws and standards help to reduce and remove barriers and make Ontario more inclusive for everyone.
Barriers to accessibility
Almost one in four people in Ontario has a disability. That’s over 2.6 million Ontarians.
Providing accessible goods, services and facilities can attract more customers by removing as many barriers to access as possible, making Ontario open for everyone. Barriers to accessibility are obstacles that make it difficult — sometimes impossible — for people with disabilities to do the things most of us take for granted, like shopping, working or taking public transit. People with disabilities will choose a business where they feel welcomed, and where they can easily get the products and services they want. People with disabilities and older adults are a large and growing group of consumers.
The AODA requires all organizations to identify barriers, and remove them, in order to provide customer service that is more accessible to people who have disabilities.
These requirements apply to organizations that:
- serve the public
- provide goods, services or facilities to other businesses or organizations (for example, manufacturers, wholesalers and professional services have other businesses as their customers)
Follow the steps below to learn what you must do to provide accessible customer service and train your staff on how to serve people with disabilities.
Step 1: create policies
Develop and put in place polices that outline how you will provide goods, services or facilities to people with disabilities. “Facilities” in this case, refers to rooms or spaces used to provide a service, such as a stadium or a banquet hall. It does not refer to the physical structure of a building. Document your policies if you are:
- a business or non-profit organization with 50 or more employees
- a designated public sector organization
Make sure your policies are guided by these principles:
- Dignity – provide service in a way that allows the person with a disability to maintain self-respect and the respect of other people.
- Independence – a person with a disability can do things on their own without unnecessary help or interference from others.
- Integration – provide service in a way that allows the person with a disability to benefit from the same services, in the same place, and in the same or similar way as other customers, unless a different way is necessary to enable them to access goods, services or facilities.
- Equal opportunity – provide service to a person with a disability in such a way that they have an equal opportunity to access your goods, services or facilities as what is given to others.
When creating your policies:
- make a list of what you do to provide customer service
- identify, remove and prevent potential barriers for people with disabilities
Your policies must include information on how your organization will address the requirements below.
Consider a person’s disability when communicating with them
Ensure your employees are prepared to communicate with customers who have various types of disabilities in a way that considers their disability.
Allow assistive devices
An assistive device is a piece of equipment a person with a disability uses to help them with daily living (for example, a wheelchair, screen reader, hearing aid, cane or walker, an oxygen tank).
When creating your policies:
- identify any assistive measures that you currently offer to help people with disabilities access your services (for example, an electric scooter, a TTY phone line)
- consider integrating additional helpful measures (for example, carry-out service or delivery)
- evaluate and address any risks or dangers for customers entering your premises with assistive devices (for example, an open flame could be dangerous for someone with an oxygen tank)
Allow service animals
There are various types of service animals besides guide dogs that support people with various types of disabilities, such as:
- vision loss
- anxiety disorder
There are no restrictions on what type of animal can be used as a service animal to support a person with a disability. An animal is considered a service animal if:
- it can be readily identified as one being used because of the person’s disability e.g. if it wears a harness, vest or other visual indicator or
- the person with a disability provides documentation from a regulated health professional
Sometimes you might be able to identify that an animal is a service animal because it helps a person with a disability perform certain tasks, like opening a door, or picking up a dropped object.
Don’t make assumptions. If you cannot easily identify that the animal is a service animal, you can ask the person to provide documentation (for example, template, letter and forms) from a regulated health professional. The documentation must confirm that the person needs the service animal for reasons relating to their disability.
Welcome service animals into public areas of your workplace or business. In cases where the law prohibits service animals, provide another way for the person to access your goods, services or facilities.
Service animals have a job to do. They are not pets. Avoid touching or addressing a service animal. Your customer is responsible for the care and supervision of their service animal. When creating your policies:
- clearly identify the areas of your premises that are open to service animals
- evaluate how you should adapt your practices to provide services to people who have service animals
- think about how else you would provide your services if the law prohibits a service animal from an area in your workplace or business
Welcome support persons
Support persons help people with a disability perform daily tasks. For example, a support person might help with communication, mobility or personal care. Without support, that person may be unable to access your organization or your services. A support person may be a paid professional, a volunteer, a family member or friend of the person with a disability. When creating your policies:
- think about how customers who require the assistance of a support person will use your services
- decide how you will deal with special situations or services
- identify any possible situations where a support person might be required to accompany a person with a disability for health or safety reasons
- include information on how you will handle situations where a support person is required for health or safety reasons
Your organization may only require a support person to accompany a person with a disability:
- in very limited circumstances, and
- when there is no other available option
Before making a decision, you must:
- consult with the person with a disability to understand their needs
- consider health or safety reasons based on available evidence
- determine if there is no other reasonable way to protect the health or safety of the person or others on the premises
Admission fees if you charge admission:
- let people know if you charge a fee for a support person
- clearly disclose the fee in advance
- waive the admission fee for the support person if you require them to accompany the person with a disability due to health or safety reasons
Inform customers when accessible services are temporarily unavailable
Sometimes accessibility features or services require repair or are temporarily out of service (for example, an elevator, ramp, audio announcements or accessible washroom). When this happens, let your customers know by providing a public notice.
To create your policies:
- make a list of the facilities and services people with disabilities rely on
- describe the steps you will take when a temporary disruption occurs
- prepare a template notice in advance and state the reason for the disruption, how long the service or facility will be unavailable and a description of alternative facilities or services, if available
- determine how the notice will be provided so that people are aware of the disruption (for example, a sign at the entrance door to your business or in another high-traffic area, a message on your website or phone line)
Consider other ways to provide notice, such as having a procedure in which staff tell customers about service disruptions and accessible alternative facilities or services, if available.
Invite customers to provide feedback
Provide a way for your customers who have disabilities to comment on how you provide accessible customer service. Let them know how to provide that feedback and how you will act on complaints. It’s a good way to learn about barriers that exist in your workplace so that you can work to address them.
Ensure your feedback process is accessible by providing or arranging for accessible formats and communication supports on request.
To create your policies:
- determine how you want to receive feedback and complaints (for example, in person, by telephone, in writing, by email or another way)
- clarify how you will respond to feedback, including complaints
- state how you will let customers know about the process
Learn more about creating accessible policies.
Step 2: train your staff
Train all members of your organization on accessible customer service and how to interact with people with different disabilities.
Include training in your policies:
- determine when you will train your staff
- state the required accessibility training topics in your policies
Step 3: document your policies and training
Put your accessible customer service policies in writing and make it available to people who request it if:
- you are a business or non-profit organization with 50 or more employees
- you are a designated public sector organization of any size
- you are part of the Government of Ontario or Legislative Assembly
When creating your policies:
- use the accessibility policy sample or create your own to document the policies – your policies can be made up of one or more documents
- let customers know how to find it (for example, post a notice on your website or in a high-traffic area)
- offer your policies in an accessible format or with a communication support, when requested (for example, you may direct the person to your accessible website, offer to read it aloud or provide it in large print)
- provide the accessible format in a timely manner and at no additional cost than what you would normally charge
- keep a log of the training you provide; keep track of the number of people you trained, on what and when
Step 4: follow additional accessibility [legal] requirements
Your organization has to meet all applicable accessibility requirements. Keep track of the past and future deadlines to comply with accessibility laws and find out if and when you have to file accessibility compliance reports.
The aim and purpose of this webpage is to help individuals and organizations with information related to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and its associated Integrated Accessibility Standards regulation O. Reg 191/11. While we aim to provide relevant and timely information, no guarantee can be given as to the accuracy or completeness of any information provided. This guidance is not intended to, nor does it provide legal advice and should not be relied upon or treated as legal advice. Those seeking legal advice should consult with a qualified legal professional.
In case of discrepancy between website content and relevant Ontario legislation and regulations, the official version of Ontario Acts and Regulations as published by the King's Printer for Ontario will prevail.
The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility and the Government of Ontario do not endorse or recommend any accessibility consultant(s), their advice, opinions or recommendations.
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