Thursday, 7 March 2013

Ontarians With Disabilities Act: Your Obligations to Employees and Audiences

By Sarah Farrell, J.D.

The Ontarians With Disabilities Act (the "Act") imposes Accessibility Standards that apply to all organizations with one or more employees in Ontario, who provide goods or services directly to the public—such as a play or a workshop—or to other organizations in Ontario.  This can include small not-for-profits, engagers, co-ops, and community theatres.  It is important for organizations to understand that many staff members are considered employees under the law, even if those organizations do not consider them to be employees.  Depending on the type of organization and the severity of the contravention, failure to comply with the requirements set out in the Act may result in penalties ranging from $200 to $15,000 per day.  Careful evaluation of the requirements set out under the Act, along with a review of your organization's current policies and possible barriers to accessibility, can help you come up with practical solutions to meet the Accessibility Standards and more importantly, to meet the various needs of your staff and audience members with disabilities in a conscientious and considerate way.

Among other things, the Act requires that organizations ensure they have effective hiring and employment policies in place to provide accommodation for applicants and employees with disabilities, and ensure that their websites and other communications meet the Act's Accessibility Standards.  Where applicable, organizations should also begin considering barriers to accessibility that may exist in their buildings.

The Act imposes Accessibility Standards for Customer Service on organizations.  The Accessibility Standards for Customer Service vary, depending on the number of employees employed by an organization.  All organizations were required to develop and implement accessibility plans and train their staff with respect to providing services to customers with disabilities.  Organizations with 20 or more employees were also required to provide the government of Ontario with a report on their progress by December 31, 2012.  The Act also imposes Accessibility Standards for Employment on organizations.  Among other things, organizations are required to let job applicants know that recruitment and hiring processes will be modified to accommodate their disabilities if requested, build employees’ accessibility needs into their human resources practices, and protect employees’ safety by providing them with individualized emergency response information.  Depending on the size of the organization, it may also be necessary to create a written process for developing and documenting individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities.

The Act also imposes Accessibility Standards for Information and Communications that will require organizations, when requested, to provide accessible formats and communications supports as quickly as possible and at no additional cost (including feedback processes and  public emergency information.)  Depending on the size of the organization, it may also be necessary for websites and web content to be made accessible according to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.  Ontario’s Building Code will eventually be revised to include requirements for enhancements to accessibility in buildings.  Where applicable, it is important for organizations to begin considering the physical barriers to accessibility that may exist in their buildings.

Join us for Theatre Ontario’s workshop “Ontarians With Disabilities Act: Your Obligations to Employees and Audiences” to learn more about the Accessibility Standards set out under the Act.

Sarah Farrell ( is a Toronto-based entertainment lawyer who focuses on the law affecting theatre practitioners in Ontario.  The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice nor do they create a solicitor/client relationship between Sarah Farrell and the reader.  Each individual and organization will have its own specific concerns and circumstances that it will need to address when dealing with the issues set out in this article.  It is strongly recommended that the reader seek independent legal advice prior to following any course of action related to this article.  This article is not an exhaustive review of the topic set out herein and only provides a snapshot overview of some of the issues surrounding that topic.  Source:

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