Canada Moves Forward on Nationwide Accessibility Legislation

By: David Titmus
Ottawa Parliament Building

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Canadian legislators late last month brought forth a piece of nationwide legislation intended to improve accessibility for all people with disabilities.

The Accessible Canada Act is designed to “identify, remove, and prevent” accessibility barriers in federally regulated sectors, such as those in banking, transportation, telecommunications, and government-run services. The act would outline development standards, regulations, compliance, and enforcement measures, among other things.

The Canadian government has earmarked nearly $300 million over the next six years to implement the proposed legislation.

The act also would see the creation of three new bodies to support the bill — a chief accessibility officer to oversee the implementation of the legislation; an accessibility commissioner to oversee compliance; and the advent of an accessibility standards development group.

According to Statistics Canada, almost 14 percent of the Canadian population aged 15 years or older — 3.8 million individuals — reported having a disability that limited their daily activities, and three-quarters of Canadians with disabilities have more than one kind.

The Accessible Canada Act came into focus after government officials spent eight months, beginning in 2016, consulting with advocacy groups and disabled individuals across Canada about which accessibility issues they regarded as priorities.

The results showed that those surveyed wanted to see laws that would lower unemployment rates for people with disabilities; reduce the number of non-accessible buildings for those with physical and intellectual disabilities; improve access to information and communications technology; and remove accessibility barriers for Canada’s air, rail, ferry, and bus transportation systems.

Though advocacy groups noted the proposed legislation was a step towards greater inclusion, some voiced concerns about the bill’s ability to prevent new accessibility barriers from finding their way into future government laws.

Still in its initial stages, the act will be discussed in both the House and Senate before being considered for law.