What to Expect

The Government of Canada has embarked on nationwide consultations with Canadians seeking input into what accessibility legislation should contain.

CNIB has prepared suggested responses to the 22 questions posed in the consultation discussion paper, available on the Employment and Social Development Canada website.

Here are CNIB's responses to the discussion questions.

How can the Government of Canada raise awareness of and change attitudes in relation to accessibility (in the short term and long term)?

Attitudes and misperceptions as to the abilities of Canadians with disabilities can best be achieved as follows:

Short-term:

By appointing persons with disabilities to visible public offices, boards and agencies, the Government of Canada can lead by example in reinforcing the fact that people with a disability can do the same work as other Canadians. These appointments should include both traditional employment opportunities as well as targeted campaigns placing candidates who are blind or who have significant sight loss into internships throughout the federal government. Federally regulated organizations should adopt a similar approach where by the target population is encouraged and supported in filling experiential roles. These roles should exist within both traditional and non-traditional positions given that the nature of work will continue to be transformed.

For opportunities, paid or otherwise, where applications are sought, prospective appointees should be encouraged to identify any accommodations which they may require. This disclosure should be voluntary and should be an integral part of every public facing competition or appointment process.

Long term:

In the long term, the government should create campaigns focusing on the day-to-day reality of Canadians with disabilities, avoiding unrealistic "hero" portrayals and outdated clichés.

How can the Government of Canada show leadership in improving accessibility and removing barriers for Canadians with disabilities?

The government needs to lead by example by ensuring both external and internal systems are accessible to prospective candidates who are blind.

While it may prove difficult to legislate similar expectations on federally regulated organizations, we would encourage the Government of Canada to explore a regime of tax credits that would be available to private sector employers if they adopted universal design into their procurement processes.

Accessibility to these systems must include unencumbered access to alternate format materials such as braille, large print and accessible audio materials.

Qualified Canadians with disabilities must hold positions throughout Canada's public service at all levels, and a similar expectation should exist among federally regulated organizations, including crown corporations.

All public spaces, where in the Government of Canada is a stakeholder or funding partner, must be accessible to persons who are blind. As such, the guidelines contained in CNIB's Clearing our Path and industry best practices should be adopted.

Do you have examples of collaborative models that have led to the creation of shared expectations and sustained culture change within organizations in relation to accessibility?

While we are unable to point to any collaborative models that have led to the creation of shared expectations resulting in improved accessibility, the consultative process being undertaken today represents a first for Canada. Other jurisdictions have successfully brought about significant change through the introduction of legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and to a lesser extent, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and The Accessibility for Manitobans Act. [1]

The overall goal of the legislation is to increase the inclusion and participation of Canadians in society and promote equality of opportunity by improving accessibility and removing barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction. Do you have any input regarding this goal?

CNIB believes that the legislation must have effective enforcement mechanisms that are observed thoroughly in order to be successful. It is essential to effectively address the key barriers facing Canadians with sight loss, including the built environment, information communication technology, public transportation, education, and employment.

How should the legislation define "accessibility" and/or "barrier"?

Accessibility should be defined as unencumbered access to goods, services and opportunities, regardless of how they are accessed. Accessibility should include both physical access. For example,  access to the built environment, virtual access through information communication technology and attitudinal access, appropriate training and awareness of those involved in delivering or designing programs which are federally regulated.

A barrier should be defined as any obstacle, physical, attitudinal, or technological which prevents someone with sight loss from accessing federally regulated services independently on an equal footing as someone without a disability.

Overall, which approach or approaches do you think would be best for federal accessibility legislation? Are there other approaches that you would suggest?

The federal government should take a prescriptive-type approach for federal accessibility legislation. Federal accessibility legislation should not differ across the country nor should it be any different from department to department; this could result in creating administrative silos.

If a prescriptive-type approach were to be taken, do you have any input on how standards could be developed?

The key to developing standards will be federally managed enforcement mechanisms. These standards should be developed with the disability community as part of the process.

If an outcome-based approach were to be taken, do you have any input on how accessibility outcomes could be established?

The simplest way to measure the outcomes would be to assess the number of Canadians in receipt of public assistance, with access to federal programs, and are adequately served by private sector organizations.

Are there other organizations within federal jurisdiction that should be covered by the legislation?

The legislation should cover all organizations, crown or private, who carry out business within Canada's federally regulated system.

Are there organizations that should be exempt from the legislation?

To ensure maximum effectiveness of the legislation, no organizations operating within Canada's federally regulated system should be exempt.

The legislation could potentially set out different requirements and timelines for different types and sizes of organizations. Do you have any comments or suggestions for this?

All organizations should be covered by the same regulations and timelines to ensure the removal of barriers facing Canadians with disabilities.

The legislation could specify the accessibility issues it will address, or describe a process for identifying these issues, or use some combination of the two. For example, the legislation could state that it will improve accessibility and remove barriers in specific areas, such as:

  • the built environment;
  • program and service delivery;
  • the procurement of goods and services;
  • employment;
  • transportation; and
  • information and communications

Of these, which are the most important to you? Are there other areas that should be included?

Each of the six identified areas carry the same level of importance, and prioritizing one over another is virtually impossible, and highly impractical. Accessibility legislation should be flexible enough so that new barriers can be included, while being specific enough to create reasonable expectations on the part of federally regulated organizations including crown and private corporations.

The legislation could also describe a process that the Government of Canada would follow to identify and prioritize areas for improving accessibility and removing barriers. Examples of potential mechanisms include:

  • Advisory Council - the Government of Canada could create and support a permanent advisory committee comprised of Canadians with disabilities and other stakeholders.
  • Consultations - the Government of Canada could consult periodically with Canadians with disabilities and other stakeholders.

What do you think of these mechanisms? Are there other mechanisms you would suggest?

CNIB does not believe that a disability-specific council is an effective means to address accessibility issues unless such a council were to have status as an administrative agency. The principles of accessibility legislation would be set out via accessibility legislation with a disability council having authority similar to that granted to other administrative agencies. Such a council would possess clear and specific enforcement mechanisms with appropriate punitive penalties when needed.

Ongoing consultations, as with other legislation must be spelled out specifically through legislation. We speak more to this in question 22 below.

Canada has a number of laws in place to address human rights issues and improve accessibility. Do you have any comments on how the new accessibility legislation could interact with these existing laws? Should the legislation describe a process by which these laws would be reviewed and potentially revised?

Federal accessibility legislation should complement domestic and international human rights legislation. Human Rights legislation must become binding and precedent setting, and complaints raised by Canadians with disabilities must be addressed in a timely and effective manner.

Should the legislation build on accessibility standards already developed by provincial/territorial governments and other countries?

Yes. By using already-established best practices from other areas as a starting point, Canada can aim to improve upon these systems without starting from scratch. "Reinventing the wheel" serves no one and would add unnecessary delays not to mention costs in bringing about suitable accessibility legislation.

Potential monitoring mechanisms include:

  • Action plans — the legislation could require organizations to submit action plans that would detail how they will improve accessibility and remove barriers for persons with disabilities.
  • Progress reports — the legislation could require organizations to periodically submit progress reports that would detail their progress in improving accessibility and removing barriers.
  • Reviews and audits — the legislation could detail how action plans and progress reports could be verified through reviews, audits and/or inspections.
  • Complaints mechanisms — the legislation could detail how Canadians could submit complaints concerning an organization that may not be meeting its obligations under the legislation.

What monitoring mechanisms do you think should be considered for the legislation (including ones not listed here)?

The monitoring mechanisms mentioned are satisfactory, however they require effective enforcement mechanisms if accessibility legislation is to bring about real, meaningful and lasting change.

The legislation could also describe mechanisms to address issues of non-compliance. These enforcement mechanisms could include, for example:

  • An informal or formal mediation process to address compliance issues;
  • Public reporting of organizations that are non-compliant;
  • Orders that detail an organization's areas of non-compliance and give a timeframe for the organization to become compliant; and/or
  • Monetary penalties.

What enforcement mechanisms do you think should be considered for the legislation (including ones not listed here)?

A staged approached should be used depending on severity. Administration monetary penalties (AMPS) should be used in the most severe cases. Furthermore, a complaint process should have no cost burden on persons filing, and cases should be resolved within a reasonable timeframe.

Do you have suggestions for how the Government could help organizations to improve accessibility and remove barriers?

Continued investment in education and awareness activities must be accompanied by clear non-compliance rules and penalties in order to be effective. Along with effective awareness campaigns and educational efforts, which outline the lived reality of persons with disabilities, non-compliance must be well communicated such that all stakeholders clearly understand the consequences of failure to adhere to accessibility legislation.

Do you have suggestions for how the Government could encourage, support and recognize organizations that show accessibility leadership?

The Government of Canada could create a public-facing database, searchable by geography, industry, key performance indicators, aggregate score, ranking, trend, etc. This could manifest in a system similar to a stock ticker where scores rank government departments, federally regulated organizations and even private sector entities. The goal of such a system would be to showcase that compliance with accessibility legislation is achievable. Any such system should include best practices adopted by organizations leading the accessibility challenge. In other words, organizations with success stories should be encouraged and recognized via such a public facing reporting mechanism. Aside from providing an incentive for federally regulated organizations to avoid being listed at the bottom of the rankings, access to such a database might also facilitate the procurement process. It is very important that this be an open data initiative so as to remain flexible to changes in public policy and technology without compromising the benefits of transparency and accountability.

Purchasing practices should reflect principles of full inclusion by recognizing organizations who comply with accessibility legislation, or who have demonstrated a commitment to inclusion through accessibility are scored differently than competing bids which do not.

As stated earlier, private sector organizations, both within and outside of the federally regulated landscape could apply for tax credits there by incenting ongoing investment in accessibility practices.

In relation to the implementation and effectiveness of the legislation, how often would you want the Government of Canada to report to Canadians?

Every 3 years and allow for public comment on implementation and effectiveness. This reporting back would be an ideal opportunity to profile government departments, federally regulated organizations and private sector firms who have scored high on a system such as that referenced in question 19 above.

How often should the legislation be reviewed?

Every 5 - 10 years.

Are there specific considerations for how any such review should be conducted?

Review of accessibility legislation must be undertaken within the context of prevailing social or economic conditions. In times of plenty, lack luster performance on the part of federally regulated organizations must be flagged and publicly reported. At the same time, for federally regulated organizations facing unprecedented challenges some latitude must exist. The measure of feast or famine must be taken within the operating landscape in which a federally regulated organization operates; domestically or internationally. A key component of these reviews must include persons effected by the legislation, namely, Canadians living with disabilities.

Any legislative review process must also consider the disability landscape as it exists at the time of the review. For instance, assessing accessibility legislation drafted less than 10 years ago would completely omit technological advancements which have had a profound impact on mitigating barriers for persons who are blind.​