The Customer Service Standard passed pursuant to The Accessibility for Manitobans Act will apply to the private sector starting November 1, 2018. This standard will impose new obligations and requirements on virtually all private sector entities who offer goods or services to the public. This includes retail stores, services, restaurants, professionals, clubs, gas stations, places of worship, training schools or counselling services and others. Even summer camps are covered!
“Customers” will likely be given a broad meaning, and will likely cover anyone seeking to purchase goods or access service. You may call these people by a number of different names, including, but not limited to customers, clients, students, members, patients, patrons, parishioners, congregants or consumers.
Businesses are required to identify barriers to accessible customer service, remove those barriers and prevent the creation of new barriers. The goal of the standard is to allow all people, regardless of ability, to have the same access to goods and services.
Barriers can take many forms. For example:
- physical barriers, such as clutter blocking a hallway;
- architectural barriers, such as stairs;
- communication barriers, such as signs which are confusing or too small, or information which is either visible or audible, but not both;
- technological barriers, such as a website which cannot be used by a person using a screen reader; and
- attitudinal barriers, such as not understanding or respecting people with disabilities.
The Customer Service Standard contains some specific requirements:
- Allow support people to accompany customer;
- Allow service animals into areas accessed by public;
- Ensure the “built environment” allows for access by individuals using assistive devices – wheelchair, scooter, walker, cane, etc.;
- Ensure that communications are available in a variety of formats – clear font, large print, screen reader compatible, accommodate for auditory/visual impairments;
- Provide process for feedback;
- Training requirements for employees and volunteers; and
- Documentation requirements.
Training must be provided to employees interacting with customers or those responsible for accessibility policies and procedures. This training must include:
- How to interact and communicate with people disabled by barriers, including those who use assistive devices, or require the assistance of a support person or service animal;
- How to use any equipment or assistive devices that may be available in the workplace to assist people disabled by barriers;
- What to do if a person disabled by a barrier is having difficulty accessing a good or service; and
- A review of The Human Rights Code, The Accessibility for Manitobans Act, and The Customer Service Standard Regulation
- In workplaces of 20 or more employees in Manitoba, there are requirements to document the training.
Tips for Compliance
Be prepared! The November 1, 2018 deadline is fast approaching. All businesses should have an accessibility policy, and a plan for identifying, removing and preventing barriers. A smart move is to appoint a Customer Accessibility Officer, so that one person takes charge of this important and evolving area.
The Customer Accessibility Officer should conduct a survey to determine existing barriers, and determine what can reasonably be done to remove/alleviate existing barriers. The Customer Accessibility Officer should ensure that alternative means of access are available, are publicized to the public and are known to employees, and that there is an ongoing process for identifying, remediating and avoiding new barriers. Special care should be taken to ensure public events are accessible.
All documentation produced for customer use, including pamphlets, websites and forms should indicate that the document is available in alternate formats.
The Danger Zone
The Act and Regulations provide for severe penalties in the face of persistent non-compliance with the standard. In the worst case, violations are punishable on summary conviction with a fine of up to $250,000. The much safer route is to prepare for the new world of accessibility in advance of the November 1, 2018 deadline.
DISCLAIMER: This article is presented for informational purposes only. The views expressed are solely the author(s)’ and should not be attributed to any other party, including Taylor McCaffrey LLP. While care is taken to ensure accuracy, before relying upon the information in this article you should seek and be guided by legal advice based on your specific circumstances. The information in this article does not constitute legal advice or solicitation and does not create a solicitor-client relationship. Any unsolicited information sent to the author(s) cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.