The Canadian government has taken the next step toward establishing Canada as a world leader in accessibility.
The Accessible Canada Regulations address services that will become more accessible to Canadians with disabilities, including redesigned physical spaces, travel on a barrier-free transportation network, and more options to consume digital content and technologies. People with disabilities looking for work will have increased access to employment opportunities and accessible workplaces.
“Canadians with disabilities have the right to fully participate in a society that is free of barriers—whether it be in their workplace or in accessing services within their communities,” Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough said in a statement. “The government is working closely with persons with disabilities to achieve a fully inclusive and accessible Canada.”
The Accessible Canada Regulations expand upon how federal departments and agencies must fulfill the legal requirements of the Accessible Canada Act (2019). This legislation applies to the government of Canada, the Canadian Parliament, the federal public service, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as well as the federally regulated private sector, including airlines, airports, banks and postal services.
“The Accessible Canada Act is a federal law that aims to create a barrier-free Canada by 2040,” said Maureen Haan, president and CEO of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work in Toronto.
According to Statistics Canada, 59 percent of Canadians with disabilities between the ages of 25 and 64 are employed, compared to 80 percent of Canadians without disabilities from that age range.
“Removing barriers for people with disabilities is essential,” said Penny Leclair, president of Barrier Free Canada in Toronto. “Canada has a long way to go.”
Drafting Accessibility Plans
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) published a module on the Accessible Canada Regulations in December 2021. Federally regulated organizations have to make plans for how they will improve accessibility, give progress reports and address feedback, Leclair explained.
Accessibility plans must show how an organization is taking steps to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility. Federal employers need to publish and update their accessibility plans every three years, Haan added. In the two years that organizations do not have to publish accessibility plans, they must present progress reports.
“This document is a critical starting point,” said Kerri Joffe, an attorney with ARCH Disability Law Center in Toronto. “Businesses and organizations can take this opportunity to create more inclusive workplaces.”
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) have authored their own regulations for the Accessible Canada Act, Haan noted. CRTC regulations apply to all television, radio, Internet and telephone companies, while CTA regulations apply to all federal transportation providers.
Canada’s public service workforce is approximately 267,000 employees, reported the government of Canada.
The ESDC drafted guidelines for federal agencies to include in an accessibility plan:
- Reflect the organization’s short-term and long-term accessibility goals.
- Include useful accessibility-related information for clients and employees, such as the location of accessible entrances and restrooms, available programs and activities, and where to find human resource materials, forms and communication platforms.
- Explain what the organization hopes to achieve in improving accessibility.
- Describe the organization’s approach to accessibility training.
The Accessible Canada Regulations also require federal organizations to establish an anonymous feedback process for individuals to submit opinions by mail, telephone, e-mail or social media, Haan added.
Canadian organizations need to prepare their accessibility plans and progress reports in English and French. Accessibility plans should be available in print, large print, Braille, audio and an electronic format compatible with adaptive technology to assist people with disabilities, Haan noted.
Federal employers should publish accessibility plans and progress reports on a company website or another digital platform the organization uses to communicate with the public, Haan stated. If an organization does not have an Internet presence, then the documents must be displayed in a location visible and accessible to the public at the entrance or reception area of each business location.
Timelines for Compliance
The deadlines to publish the initial accessibility plans are as follows, Joffe said:
- Federal government departments, the Canadian Armed Forces, agencies and Crown corporations of Canada must submit by Dec. 31.
- Private-sector entities with 100 or more employees must submit by June 1, 2023.
- Private-sector entities with between 10 and 99 employees must submit by June 1, 2024.
Federal-sector employers with less than 10 employees do not have to prepare an accessibility plan, Joffe added.
Organizations that do not follow the Accessible Canada Act—including failing to publish an accessibility plan—could face fines, Haan stated. Penalties can range from CAD $250 to $250,000 (approximately USD $200 to $200,000), depending on the seriousness of the violation.
“Moving forward, ongoing collaboration, consultation and communication will be critical to proactively and systemically identifying, removing and preventing further barriers to accessibility in Canada,” Leclair concluded.
Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia.