6 Things to Keep in Mind When Talking about Federal Accessibility Legislation
The federal Government plans to pass an accessibility act to make Canada more inclusive and, until March 2017, it will be consulting Canadians about the legislation through a survey and in-person consultations. 6 key points to emphasize at consultations are: 1. Use the act to implement the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), 2. NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US, 3. Name the Act: the National Accessibility and Inclusion Act, 4. Focus on federal issues, 5. An Act must have teeth to remedy barriers, so it must deliver more than voluntary standards and awareness raising activities, 6. Strong measures to support implementation.
1. Legislation is a way to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which Canada ratified with support from all political parties and jurisdictions. CRPD Article 4, states countries shall "(a) … adopt all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the …Convention…"
2. The philosophy NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US guided the CRPD's development and Canadians with disabilities expect the same approach during the drafting of our new Act.
3. The title of the Act should be the National Accessibility and Inclusion Act. Adding the concept of inclusion frames a "big tent" approach with the scope to address the broad range of issues affecting Canadians with various disabilities and Deaf and hard of hearing people. Inclusion effectively preserves and promotes respect for the inherent human dignity of persons with disabilities and Deaf and hard of hearing persons.
4. The new Act will address matters in federal jurisdiction. Focus the conversation on remedying barriers found in such areas as banking, broadcasting, Employment Insurance, federal investments in affordable housing, the National Building Code, the Canada Health Act, federal taxes, the post office, cross border passenger transportation (air, rail, marine, interprovincial bus), Aboriginal lands and rights, federal programs for women, criminal law, immigration, the national capital, official languages within the federal sphere, citizenship, voting in federal elections and control of drugs. Barriers in the aforementioned areas contribute to the poverty, isolation, discrimination, unemployment experienced by people with disabilities and Deaf and hard of hearing people, and sub-standard health care (For example, currently, some groups of people with disabilities have access to publicly funded habilitation/rehabilitation services and others do not. Increased use of individualized funding should be implemented to give people with disabilities choice in the rehabilitation/habilitation they receive.). Have conversations with provincial/territorial officials about barriers in restaurants, schools, hospitals, retail stores, taxis, social assistance.
5. To implement the CRPD, a National Accessibility and Inclusion Act has to go beyond voluntary guidelines and public awareness. It has to have teeth. Elements that would give the Act teeth:1
5.1 A Statement of Purpose to Guide Ongoing Implementation A robust declaration of purpose, including broad goals (i.e. inclusion, participation, dignity) and procedural goals (i.e. accountability [public reporting], barrier removal, political participation, universal design) and specifically address barrier removal for women and girls with disabilities, Deaf and hard of hearing people, First Nations, Aboriginal, Metis and Inuit persons with disabilities, both on and off reserve, and others facing multiple forms of discrimination.
5.2 No Undermining of Rights Afforded in any Existing and Future Legislation An interpretation section confirming the Act does not undermine the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights protections and referencing the CRPD.
5.3 Undertake Immediate Legislative Reform Include amendments to existing statutes to remove known barriers, such as provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which serve to exclude people with disabilities seeking to immigrate to Canada.
5.4 The Creation of New Mechanisms to Address Barriers The establishment of centres of excellence to monitor compliance and provide guidance to departments: a Commissioner of Accessibility and Inclusion (supplements existing accountability mechanisms, conducts independent assessment of disability programs, and reports directly to Parliament); an Accessibility Design and Communication Centre (supports federal departments and agencies, proactively advising them on standards, barrier removal, and access to information for Deaf and hard of hearing people (ASL and LSQ videos, captioning, etc.) and could have standard enforcement responsibilities), Full Inclusion Policy Centre (addresses disability-related barriers in practices of federal departments, commissions and agencies).
5.5 A Broad Scope The Act would apply to the entire federal jurisdiction - federal government departments, agencies and commissions, as well as federally regulated industries - enhancing regulatory regimes in transportation, banking and telecommunications and address the inter-jurisdictional barriers facing First Nations and Aboriginal persons with disabilities.
5.6 Focus on Areas of Most Need Areas requiring particular attention by an Act – transportation; telecommunications; banking; accessible democracy (accessible voting and accommodation of people with disabilities and Deaf people running in federal elections); access to information, including plain language, and information technology/websites (and standards for such accessibility); procurement and infrastructure; access to post-secondary education, training and employment of persons with disabilities and Deaf people (i.e. federal government becoming a model employer, to lead by example); affordable, accessible and visitable housing; violence prevention; disaster relief; Governor in Council appointments of people with disabilities to Commissions, boards, Crown Corporation, agencies and tribunals, and issues affecting girls and women with disabilities and First Nations and Aboriginal persons with disabilities.
5.7 Clear, Concise Definitions and Methods of Communication/Plain Language and a Recognition of Our National Sign Languages (ASL and LSQ) The Act will establish the recognition of our national Sign Languages that will promote and protect our human rights to Deaf people's first languages in Canada – American Sign Language (ASL) and langue des signes quebecoise (LSQ). The recognition of ASL and LSQ will value the linguistic identity of Deaf Canadians and will promote civic participation within Canadian society including the elimination of barriers to promote accessibility, effective participation, and equality of opportunity for Deaf Canadians. Language includes spoken and signed languages and other forms of non-spoken languages. Communication includes spoken and signed languages such as ASL and LSQ videos and captioning and video accessibility, display of text and Braille, and tactile communication, large print, written, audio, accessible multimedia, plain language, human reader and augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, including accessible information and communication technology.
5.8 Inclusion of Strategies that will Ensure the Broadest Impact of a National Accessibility and Inclusion Act Strategies and tools An Act could include: an omnibus approach (to reform existing legislation that continues to discriminate), procurement policies (use of federal purchasing power to encourage development of accessible products and services), and representative advisory committees (an avenue of input to government, agencies and government programs).
6.0 Robust Implementation Strategy The Act needs to authorize effective regulations, compliance and enforcement measures and significant resource allocation for consistent implementation throughout Canada, so that tangible outcomes will result from this Act.
1. Source: Gordon, P. (1996). "A Federal Disability Act: Opportunities and Challenges". Retrieved 12 August 2015 from http://www.ccdonline.ca/en/socialpolicy/fda/1006.
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