From 2016 to 2017, the federal government consulted Canadians on planned accessibility legislation. That legislation was introduced as Bill C-81 in June 2018. It received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019, and came into force on July 11, 2019 as the Accessible Canada Act. The purpose of the Accessible Canada Act is to increase the inclusion and participation of disabled Canadians in society by removing barriers and improving accessibility. The Act affects many issues, such as: the targets of the legislation (e.g., transportation, government services, employment, etc.); how to make sure businesses and governments follow the rules for accessibility; and how to evaluate its success in improving accessibility.
The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada (CAD-ASC) successfully conducted several projects throughout the progress of the legislation. We used these projects to make sure that the federal government was aware of the concerns of Canadians who have any kind of communication needs or language differences. This includes people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, Deafblind, blind, visually impaired, language deprived, developmentally or intellectually delayed, have mental health issues, or have literacy (reading/writing) difficulties.
Recommendations from CAD-ASC, and results
Our consultations and research with 31 partner organizations resulted in a report submitted to the federal government in the spring of 2017. This report included 24 recommendations. The government considered these recommendations when it wrote Bill C-81 in 2017-18. Here are some of the central pieces of the legislation which were influenced by our recommendations.
Sign Languages recognition: American Sign Language (ASL) and Quebec Sign Language (LSQ) along with Indigenous Sign languages were recognized as the primary languages for communication by Deaf persons in Canada.
Communication accessibility: The legislation strives to promote full communication accessibility by removing many barriers that hinder full and equal participation in society by Deaf people and people with communication disabilities.
Breaking barriers: The Act outlines how to identify and remove accessibility barriers in areas such as: the built environment (buildings and public spaces), employment (job opportunities and employment), delivering programs and services, procurement of goods and services, transportation, and information and communication technologies.
Enforcement: The Act created the position of an Accessibility Commissioner to make sure that organizations and services follow the law. There is also an independent Chief Accessibility Officer who will be responsible for monitoring and reporting to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities on the implementation of this Act across all sectors. The Chief Accessibility Officer will also be responsible for reporting and providing advice to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities on emerging and systemic issues.
Disability community’s involvement: There is now a body called Accessibility Standards Canada which is responsible for developing accessibility standards. This organization has a board of directors and committees that include people with disabilities.
Affected organizations: The Act applies to most governmental organizations and services that must follow the government’s laws: Canada Revenue Agency, Transportation Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada, the RCMP, banking, telephone, radio, and television services.
Changing attitudes and raising awareness: National AccessAbility Week has been created by the Act. Starting on the last Sunday of May and continuing until the first week of June, it is a week for Canadians to promote inclusion, diversity, and accessibility in their communities and workplaces, and to further break down barriers.
Autonomy and independence: One of the principles and declared purposes of this legislation is to give people with disabilities independence and autonomy, treating them with inherent dignity and offering them equal opportunities.
Community involvement: The Act mandates organizations to work with people who have disabilities to create a plan to make their services accessible. It ensures they provide ways for people with disabilities to make complaints. It also requires them to share their accessibility information with the public. Inspections and enforcement: The Accessibility Commissioner or an enforcement officer would be allowed to verify compliance or to prevent non-compliance. They would be allowed to make inspections and compliance audits, issue compliance orders, write notices of violation, impose monetary penalties, and administer other punitive options.
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