A Workplace Guide to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act

By the end of this training module, you will know and understand: 

Introduction to AODA

A Brief Overview of AODA

What is AODA? 

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or AODA is a provincial law that aims to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for people with disabilities

Why do we have AODA? 

The purpose of the AODA is to develop, implement and enforce standards for accessibility related to goods, services, facilities, employment, accommodation and buildings  

When must your workplace be AODA ready?

The AODA became law on June 13, 2005, target date for reaching this goal is no later than January 1, 2025

Defining Disability

Changing our Perception of Disability 

Thinking of disabilities, we tend to think of people in wheelchairs and physical disabilities – disabilities that are visible and apparent. But disabilities can also be non-visible. We can’t always tell who has a disability.

The broad range of disabilities also includes vision disabilities, deafness or being hard of hearing, intellectual or developmental, learning, and mental health disabilities.

Why is AODA important?


Toggle over the image below to view just a few of the reasons improving accessibility is the right thing to do 

General Requirements of the AODA

The AODA Standards

AODA Standards 

The standard gives information about how to identify and remove barriers and a time schedule for meeting the standard

Understanding the Five Standards

The Five AODA Standards 

The AODA consists of five (5) standards, and some general guidelines. The five (5) standards are as follows: 

  1. Customer Service Standard
  2. Information and Communication Standard
  3. Employment Standard
  4. Transportation Standard
  5. Design of Public Spaces Standard

Information and Communication, Employment, Transportation Design of Public Spaces standards together make the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR)

While AODA governs all accessibility concerns across sectors and all standards are important, for the purposes of this training module, the key area of focus is the Customer Service Standard 

Comprehension Quiz 1: the Five AODA Standards

Rank the 5 AODA standards in the appropriate order! 

  • Customer Service Standard
  • Information and Communication Standard
  • Employment Standard
  • Transportation Standard
  • Design of Public Spaces Standard

Who is affected by AODA

The AODA’s regulations establish the accessibility standards. An accessibility standard ("the standard") applies only to a person or organization that does at least one of the following activities:

  • provides goods, services or facilities
  • employs people in Ontario
  • offers accommodation
  • owns or occupies a building, a structure or a premises
  • plays a part in a business or other activity that the regulations may identify

Outlining Non-Compliance

The Overarching Expectation 

When it comes to AODA, every party in the workplace has a responsibility to uphold the obligation that all patrons of an organization are to be treated with dignity and respect, especially as pertains to accommodating disability. 

What Constitutes Non-Compliance?

  • Providing false or misleading information to a director, or in an accessibility report
  • Failing to comply with an order made under the AODA 
  • Blocking, preventing, or failing to cooperate with an inspection
  • Intimidating, coercing, penalizing or discriminating against someone for seeking enforcement of the AODA, cooperating with an inspection, or providing information as part of an inspection

What are the Penalties for Non-Compliance?  

  • A corporation or organization that is guilty can be fined up to $100,000 per day
  • Directors and/or officers of a corporation are liable to a fine of up to $50,000 for each and every day or part day that the offence happens 

Individuals can be fined for AODA non-compliance.

  • Directors and officers of a corporation/organization that is guilty can be fined up to $50,000 per day
  • All responsibility lies with the Employer

Customer Service Standards under the AODA

Understanding the Obligations of the Customer Service Standard

Regulations for being AODA Compliant: Maintaining Customer Service Standards 

Every provider shall develop, implement, and maintain policies governing its provision of goods, services or facilities, as the case may be, to persons with disabilities.

Key Requirements of the Customer Service Standard

Primary Customer Service Standard Requirements

The Customer Service Standard requires organizations and businesses to provide accessible customer service to people with disabilities. Training on providing accessible customer service and how to interact with people with disabilities is a key requirement of the standard.

Requirements of Customer Service Standard Policies

Ensuring Customer Service Standard Excellence 

The provider shall use reasonable efforts to ensure that the policies are consistent with the following principles

Providing Compliant Customer Service

There are numerous guidelines and best practices to consider when serving a customer with accessibility concerns, and even with two like disabilities, individuals and their needs will vary, however the main things to remember are: 

  • be communicative 
  • be inclusive 
  • be understanding 

Serving Customers with Physical Disabilities

Some Best Practices to Remember 

  • Use the appropriate terminology 
  • Ask before you help; don't make assumptions about peoples' abilities 
  • Don't touch or move peoples' equipment unless specifically requested 
  • Be cautious of physical barriers, and know where accessible features are, if and when applicable   
  • If talking with people who are seated, always ensure opportunity to communicate eye to eye; (i.e) come around from any tall counter areas if applicable 

Serving Customers with Vision Loss

Some Best Practices to Remember 

Vision loss can restrict someone’s ability to read documents or signs, locate landmarks or see hazards. Some people may use a guide dog, a white cane, or a support person such as a sighted guide, while others may not.

  • When you know someone has vision loss, don't assume the person can’t see you. Not everyone with vision loss is totally blind. Many have some vision
  • Identify yourself when you approach and speak directly to your customer if they are with a companion. 
  • Ask if they would like you to read any printed information out loud to them, such as a menu, a bill or schedule of fees
  • When providing directions or instructions, be precise and descriptive (for example, “two steps in front of you” or “a metre to your left”). Don’t say “over there” or point in the direction indicated
  • Offer your elbow to guide them if needed. If they accept, lead – don’t pull
  • Identify landmarks or other details to orient the person to the surroundings. For example, if you’re approaching stairs or an obstacle, say so
  • If you need to leave the customer, let them know by telling them you’ll be back or saying goodbye
  • Don't leave your customer in the middle of a room – guide them to a comfortable location

Serving Customers with Hearing Loss

People who have hearing loss may identify in different ways. They may be deaf, oral deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing. These terms are used to describe different levels of hearing or the way a person’s hearing was diminished or lost.  

A person with hearing loss might use a hearing aid, an amplification device or hearing ear dog. They may have preferred ways to communicate, for example, through sign language, by lip reading or using a pen and paper

Best Practices to Remember 

  • Once a customer has self-identified as having hearing loss, make sure you face the customer when talking and that you are in a well-lit area so the person can see you clearly
  • As needed, attract the person’s attention before speaking. Try a gentle touch on the shoulder or wave of your hand
  • Maintain eye contact. Use body language, gestures and facial expression to help you communicate
  • If the person uses a hearing aid, reduce background noise or if possible, move to a quieter area
  • Don’t assume that the customer knows sign language or reads lips
  • If necessary, ask if another method of communicating would be easier (for example, using a pen and paper)
  • When using a sign language interpreter, look and speak directly to the customer, not the sign language interpreter. For example, say “What  can I help you with today?” not “Ask her what she’d like.”

Serving Customers who are Deafblind

A person who is deafblind has some degree of both hearing and vision loss. People who are deafblind are often accompanied by an intervenor, a professional support person who helps with communication. Intervenors are trained in special sign language that involves touching the hands of the client. 

People who are deafblind might also use the assistance of braille, large print, a hearing aid, magnification equipment, white cane or service animal.

Best Practices to Remember 

Speak directly to your customer, not to the intervenor

The customer is likely to explain to you how to communicate with them or give you an assistance card or note

Don’t assume what a person can or cannot do; some people who are deafblind have some sight or hearing, while others have neither 

Serving Customers with Speech or Language Disabilities

Cerebral palsy, stroke, hearing loss or other conditions may make it difficult for a person to pronounce words or express themselves. Some people who have severe difficulties may use a communication board or other assistive devices

Best Practices to Remember 

Don’t assume that a person who has difficulty speaking doesn’t understand you

Speak directly to the customer and not to their companion or support person

Whenever possible, ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no" 

If the person uses a communication device, take a moment to read visible instructions for communicating with them

Be patient. Don’t interrupt or finish your customer’s sentences

Confirm what the person has said by summarizing or repeating what you’ve understood and allow the person to respond – don’t pretend if you’re not sure

If necessary, provide other ways for the customer to contact you, such as email

Serving Customers with Learning Disabilities

The term “learning disabilities” refers to a range of disorders. One example of a learning disability is dyslexia, which affects how a person takes in or retains information. This disability may become apparent when the person has difficulty reading material or understanding the information you are providing. 

People with learning disabilities just learn in a different way

Best Practices to Remember 

Be patient and allow extra time if needed. People with some learning disabilities may take a little longer to process information or to understand and respond

Try to provide information in a way that works for your customer. For example, some people with learning disabilities find written words difficult to understand, while others may have problems with numbers and math

Be willing to rephrase or explain something again in another way, if needed

Serving Customers with Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities or intellectual disabilities can mildly or profoundly limit a person’s ability to learn, communicate, do every day physical activities or live independently.

Best Practices to Remember 

Don’t make assumptions about what a person can or cannot do

Don’t exaggerate your speech or speak in a patronizing way

Use straight forward terms 

Provide one piece of information at a time

If you’re not sure of what is being said to you, confirm by summarizing or repeating what was said, or politely ask them to repeat it – don’t pretend if you’re not sure

Ask the customer if they would like help reading your material or completing a form, and wait for them to accept the offer of assistance

Be patient and allow extra time if needed

Serving Customers with Mental Health Challenges

Did you know that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health disability at some point in their lives?  

Mental health disability is a broad term for many disorders that can range in severity. A person with a mental health disability may experience depression or acute mood swings, anxiety due to phobias or panic disorder, or hallucinations. It may affect a person’s ability to think clearly, concentrate or remember things.  You may not know someone has this disability unless you are told. Stigma and lack of understanding are major barriers for people with mental health disabilities

Best Practices 

  • If you sense or know that a customer has a mental health disability, treat them with the same respect and consideration you have for everyone else
  • Be confident, calm and reassuring
  • Listen carefully, and work with the customer to meet their needs. For example, acknowledge that you have heard and understood what the person has said or asked
  • Respect your customer’s personal space
  • Limit distractions that could affect your customer’s ability to focus or concentrate. For example, loud noise, crowded areas and interruptions could cause stress
  • Respond to the person’s immediate behaviour and needs. Don’t be confrontational. If needed, set limits with the person as you would others. For example, “If you scream, I will not be able to talk to you"

Respecting the Parameters when a Support Person or Animal is Present

There are a number of instances in which support persons or animals (guide or support animals) are present) during interactions with people, and these support people or animals can be defined as follows. 

Support person” means, in relation to a person with a disability, another person who accompanies him or her in order to help with communication, mobility, personal care or medical needs or with access to goods, services or facilities

Guide dog” means a dog trained as a guide for a blind person and having the qualifications prescribed by the regulations 

Service animal” means: an animal being used for supportive or indicative reasons by the person for reasons relating to the person’s disability,

Best Practices to Remember 

  • Don’t touch or distract a service animal. It’s not a pet, it’s a working animal and has to pay attention at all times
  • If you’re not sure if the animal is a pet or a service animal, ask your customer. You may ask to see their documentation from a regulated health professional
  • The customer is responsible for the care and supervision of their service animal. However, you can provide water for the animal if your customer requests it

Serving Customers with Assistive Devices

An assistive device is a piece of equipment a person with a disability uses to help with daily living. 

Most assistive devices are “personal assistive devices,” such as a wheelchair or walker, white cane, hearing aid, oxygen tank or communication board. They belong to the person using them and are part of their personal space.

Best Practices to Remember 

  • Don’t touch or handle any assistive device without permission
  • Don’t move assistive devices or equipment (such as canes or walkers) out of the person’s reach

Phone Etiquette

The obligations of upholding Customer Service Standards extend to telecommunications including phone-calls to persons with disabilities.

Best Practices to Remember 

  • Focus on what the customer is saying. Don’t interrupt or finish your customer’s sentences. Give your customer time to explain or respond
  • If you’re not sure what is being said to you, politely ask the customer to repeat what they said, or repeat or rephrase what you heard them say and ask if you have understood correctly
  • If the customer is using an interpreter or a telephone relay service, speak naturally to the customer, not to the interpreter
  • If you encounter a situation where, after numerous attempts, you and your customer cannot communicate with each other, consider making alternate arrangements that may work best for them

Many clients will have their own assistive devices, such as scooters and wheelchairs. It is important that you...

  • Not touch the assistive devices without permission
  • Not move the devices out of their reach
  • Not leave your clients in an awkward, dangerous or undignified position such as facing a wall or in the path of opening doors d
  • All of the above

Which of the following should you not do when serving a client with a disability?

  • Speak directly to your client, not to his or her personal support person
  • Grab the arm of your client with vision loss to pull him or her in the direction you are moving
  • If the client uses a hearing aid, reduce background noise or move to a quieter area
  • Ask your client to repeat any information you didn’t understand when it was said the first time