Canada’s recent strides towards a more accessible country, headed by the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, have produced a number of new accessibility regulations. The Canadian Human Rights Act has historically prevented discrimination against protected classes, including people with disabilities, by federally regulated organizations since 1985. But these more recent laws go beyond just discouraging discrimination to require organizations- often both public and private- to actively remove barriers to Canadian accessibility.
The House of Commons and Senate of Canada unanimously passed the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) in 2019. The ACA is the first legislation to apply nationally to federal and private sector organizations under federal jurisdiction, like banking, transportation, and telecommunications. While the Canada Human Rights Act prohibited discrimination within those industries, the ACA specifically requires that organizations remove barriers several areas of society- employment, built environment, IT and communication technology, non-IT communication technologies, the procurement of goods, services, and facilities, design and delivery of programs and services, and transportation.
Specific requirements of exactly how organizations should remove barriers will be decided by the newly-assembled Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO). For now, organizations have flexibility in how they comply with the ACA. Essentially, they are required to ensure that every person their organization serves has equal options and opportunities, and that any laws or regulations impacting people with disabilities must include people with disabilities and their needs in their creation.
Until exact requirements are developed, organizations can decide for themselves how they will implement these requirements. The ultimate goal is for Canada to be fully accessible by 2040.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Ontario passed the first law of its kind, called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), in 2005. The AODA outlines a plan for Ontario to become fully accessible for all people by the year 2025. This provincial legislation applies to both public and private organizations located in Ontario. The AODA applies accessibility requirements to five separate areas- customer service, employment, information and communications, transportation, and design of public spaces.
Accessibility would provide opportunities for people with disabilities to participate equally in society, businesses would have a broader talent pool, and the production of universally designed products would harness the buying power of people with disabilities. In an effort to truly adopt a cultural shift towards the adoption of accessibility, the AODA is the first of its kind to require staff be trained on accessibility. This goes beyond merely requiring that organizations produce accessible products and services. When staff members are trained in accessibility, they are able to spend their time actively making their workplace, products, and services accessible. Without training, employees flounder trying to find accessibility solutions, wasting valuable productivity and frequently failing to achieve fully usable solutions.
Accessibility for Manitobans Act
Manitoba passed a law similar to the AODA in 2013, in which five mandatory accessibility standards apply to all organizations, both public and private. The Accessibility Advisory Council develops these standards, which compiles the ideas of a standard into a discussion paper. The council invites feedback from various organizations of people with disabilities on these discussion papers and then drafts them into standards for the Minister responsible for the AMA to review and approve, pending any amendments.
The Council is working on developing these standards one at a time, rolling them out in stages as they are completed. Standards apply first to the Manitoba government, then the public sector, and finally small municipalities and private organizations.
The Accessibility Standard for Information and Communications is currently under development, following a three hour public consultation in May of 2019. Requirements will likely reflect Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), among others. The goal is to make Manitoba more inclusive by 2023.
Respecting Equal Access to Employment in Public Bodies- Quebec
Quebec prohibits discrimination in employment by public entities in their Act, Respecting Equal Access to Employment in Public Bodies. The industries impacted include schools, healthcare providers and public transit.
These public industries must report on how many people with disabilities (and other protected groups named by the legislation) work for them and in which occupations. This data is used to determine which groups are underrepresented. Organizations must also implement an equal access employment program to address potential barriers within employment systems to people with disabilities. The equal access employment programs make suggestions for making hiring and employment more equitable and attractive to people with disabilities, and set goals for implementing these suggestions.
Nova Scotia Accessibility Act
The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act passed in 2017 with the goal of making Nova Scotia accessible by 2030. The Act outlines five areas of accessibility standards that will apply to both public and private organizations. Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Directorate will work with people with disabilities and organizations that serve them to create and implement specific standards that organizations will follow to achieve compliance and accessibility.
Areas covered include goods and services, information and communications (including websites), transportation, employment, built environment, and education. In an effort to lead by example, the first group to develop and implement specific standards is the Government of Nova Scotia. Between 2018 and 2021 they’re working with government staff and people with disabilities to raise awareness and work towards accessibility in IT communications, the built environment, employment, and the delivery of goods and services.
What Else is Coming?
British Columbia has proposed legislation that would give the BC government the ability to create accessibility standards in an effort to build a “barrier-free BC,” says Dan Coulter, the Parliamentary Secretary for Accessibility. Like similar legislation in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, the Act would consult people with disabilities and organizations that serve them when developing standards. This Act would complement British Columbia’s existing “Accessibility 2024” plan, which outlines the province’s goal of accessibility by 2024.
While additional provinces do not have accessibility requirements, the passage of the Accessible Canada in 2019 will certainly encourage additional laws. “But what many provinces have told us is, once we do our law, they will then do a mirror image in their province which would then get to the coffee shop,” says Minister of of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough.
What you can do now
If your province doesn’t have specific accessibility requirements right now, it’s still a good idea to start implementing accessibility into your organization now. The sooner you begin, the more time you have to address accessibility practices going forward and to remediate your website and the digital documents that exist already. Working towards accessibility before it’s legally mandatory allows your organization to reach the 6.2 million Canadians with disabilities. Get a head start on accessibility by evaluating your website and other digital resources using Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which most accessibility regulations reference. Audit files like PDFs so you know how many there are and where they’re located so you can develop a plan to remediate them.
Need help making your website and PDFs accessible to comply with provincial or federal legislation? Contact us!