Royal Assent Granted for the Accessible Canada Act
The Canadian government introduced a new Bill (Bill C-81) on Accessibility mid last year to better protect individuals with disabilities, and the “Accessible Canada Act” has officially received royal assent. The Accessible Canada Act will become law on a date set by the government.
Currently, there are accessibility standards outlined, and enforced at the provincial level, in certain provinces across Canada. But, the Accessible Canada Act will take it a step further by implementing important guidelines for federally regulated employers around their accessibility plans, feedback mechanisms, and progress reports.
The core areas of compliance for employers will be the work environment, information and communication tools, design and delivery of programs, and transportation. An Accessibility Commissioner will be tasked with conducting inspections, implementing compliance guidelines, and enforcing financial penalties of up to CAD250,000 for employers who do not meet the new accessibility standards.
Bill C-81 sends a powerful message to employers across Canada, that certain employees still struggle with the status quo, and are in need of more practical, and robust protections, and a more inclusive, and accessible workplace dynamic.
General Principles of Accessibility:
Respect for dignity
All individuals, and the process of determining and implementing the accessibility, should respect:
- Privacy and confidentiality – individual with a disability is only required to provide information regarding functional limitations. They are not required to provide diagnosis or other medical information.
- The comfort and self-esteem of the individual with a disability.
- Access will be provided in a timely manner.
- Each person is unique and therefore requires an individual assessment to determine appropriate accessibility – examine requests on an individual basis.
- We cannot assume that two people with the same disability require the same accessibility.
- For example, some hearing impaired people use sign language (and therefore may require an interpreter for interviews), while others may speech read.
- Ask the individual with a disability what he/she feels would be an appropriate accessibility.
- Proportionality is about balancing competing interests (eg – the interests of the organization, and the individual with a disability).
- Critical in the accessibility process because the access has a potential impact on whether the individual with a disability can participate in the service (ie – whether the individual with a disability is provided with equal opportunity to access goods and services). Therefore, the organization is expected to expend greater resources, incur more inconvenience and inefficiency with implementing the accessibility.
Provide most appropriate accessibility
- Promotes individual with a disability’s integration and full participation in the community.
- Provides equal opportunity to access goods and services.
- Respects dignity of the individual with a disability.
- Provides an opportunity to enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges experienced by others.
What does this mean – the organization cannot unilaterally select and implement accessibility initiatives based solely on business efficiency or cost effectiveness.
Integration and full participation
- The accessibility should promote integration and full participation for people with disabilities.
- For example, (i) the individual with a disability should be able to access lunch and retail areas, (ii) the accessible building entrance should not be through the garbage storage room.
- The accessibility initiative should be communicated with the individual with a disability to ensure that he/she fully understands the expectations in the accessibility initiative.
What is Required for Accessibility?
The new Bill will cover many broad areas but here are three to consider today:
- Accessibility Plan: Covered organizations will need to prepare and publish an accessibility plan respecting their policies, programs, practices and services for identifying, removing and preventing barriers in the six areas referenced above. An updated version of the plan will be required at least every 3 years or as prescribed. Gowan Consulting can assist in developing your plan.
- Feedback: Covered organizations also need to establish and publish a process for receiving feedback concerning the fulfillment of the accessibility plan and any barriers encountered by employees or other persons.
- Reporting: Covered organizations need to prepare and publish a progress report concerning fulfillment of the accessibility plan. Persons with disabilities must be consulted in the course of preparing the progress report and the report must describe the manner of consultation.
How to Prepare for Accessibility?
As a federally regulated employer it is important to look at ways to improve your accessibility. Accessible customer service can be simple and may involve less than you think to support access to persons with disabilities.
- The regulations set out in Bill C-81 will be familiar to those in Ontario so look to resources that have been prepared in the provinces such as AccessON to be able to understand the resources available and already prepared.
- Consider education of your employees. AccessForward provides free training on AODA or consider a customized session for your staff
- Consider engaging a consultant that specializes in accessibility to assist with considering how your business will be impacted. Gowan Consulting has provided support to many organizations for their accessibility needs.
- Determine how you can get input from persons with disabilities on your plan. One of the most important components of the Act will be ensuring that the organization is getting input. Start to consider how you will obtain that feedback and input.
- When considering accessibility for your employees contact an Occupational Therapist to assist with the strategies to make your work, work tools and work place accessible.
- Realize that the regulations will have a reasonable time-frame to get to accessibility so don’t panic but contact an expert to assist you in determining your next steps to accessibility.
If you’d like to learn more, check out our webinar on the Highlights of the AODA Integrated Standards!
Canada – New workplace accessibility standards finalized – By Jamila Bolahood