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A Primer on the New Standard

Oct 21, 2015

The Customer Service Standard, the first accessibility standard to be developed under the landmark Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA), will come into force on November 1, 2015 and will usher in sweeping improvements toward the inclusive delivery of goods and services throughout the province. Following are links for downloadable versions of the new regulation: (Word / PDF). Here is the Press Release.

The Customer Service Standard is written as a formal regulation so it is a little complex. Clearly, it is not written for the general public. That said, it sets a high bar that all organizations (with more than one or more employees) will be required to meet over the next three years.

Following is our summary of some of the highlights in the form of FAQs.

What is accessible customer service?

Accessible customer service means that persons of all abilities have equal opportunity to use and benefit from all goods and services provided in Manitoba.

What will organizations be required to do to provide accessible customer service?

All organizations with one or more employees are required to:

  • Develop formal policies and practices to provide accessible customer services that are consistent with the AMA's four principles (access, equality, universal design and systemic responsibility) and The Human Rights Code.
  • Develop formal policies and practices to identify and remove existing barriers and prevent new barriers from being created.
  • Provide descriptions of these policies and practices upon request (this only applies to organizations with more than 20 employees).
  • Ensure that there is a clear process to secure and respond to feedback on accessibility concerns.
  • Document actions taken to address accessibility concerns and make this document available on request.
  • Recognize that persons disabled by barriers have the right to be accompanied by a support person and/or a service animal when accessing goods and services.
  • Communicate with persons disabled by barriers in a manner that takes the barrier into account.
  • Train all staff and volunteers who provide goods and services to the public on The Human Rights Code, the AMA and the organization's accessibility policies and practices.

Can organizations charge extra for accessible services?

Only if the organization cannot reasonably accommodate the person otherwise. This includes any additional charges for support persons. We asked that any and all additional charges be prohibited but the standard's current restriction was seen to go as far as was possible while complying with The Human Rights Code.

What about the accessibility of public meetings?

All public sector organizations are required to ensure that:

  • Public meetings and events are held in accessible space.
  • Notice of public meetings and events is provided in an accessible format and indicate that relevant accessibility supports will be made available upon request.
  • The physical and communication needs of persons disabled by barriers are met upon request.

What is the deadline for organizations to comply with the standard?

All Manitoba government departments must comply by November 1, 2016. Most other public sector organizations will need to comply by November 1, 2017. All other organizations in the private and non-profit sectors will have to comply by November 1, 2018.

What is the maximum penalty for non-compliance by organizations?

The maximum penalty for an offence under the AMA is $250,000 but this would only apply to flagrant and prolonged non-compliance with AMA requirements. The early emphasis will be on education and providing assistance to help organizations understand and comply with the standard. When you come right down to it, accessible customer service is really just good business practice. 

How will Government know if organizations are in compliance with the standard?

That's a darn good question and one that we have been asking of Government since the passage of the AMA in December 2013. We don't think that the government has a good answer for this yet but we are told that it working on it.

Are accessibility standards in other areas going to be developed?

The government has made the commitment to develop accessibility standards in four additional areas:

  • Employment
  • Information and Communication
  • Transportation
  • The Built Environment

These are a great start though others may also be needed in other areas like health and education. Our chief concern is that it has taken two years to develop the first accessibility standard. At that pace, we won't have the first five standards in place until 2023. This is just way, way too long. The government needs to dedicate the resources required to make much speedier progress.

Of course, we also have a provincial election a mere six months away. So while initial work has begun on an accessible employment standard, we fear that government will not be releasing much in the way of public information on what's going on behind the scenes until after the election. 


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