Across Canada, various jurisdictions are implementing legislation aimed at making organizations more accessible for Canadians with disabilities. The Federal Government recently announced that it too plans to introduce legislation to promote accessibility in federally regulated organizations, such as banks, cross-border transportation providers and telecommunications companies. The Government is currently soliciting input from Canadians on what they would like to see addressed by the legislation. We anticipate however, that the new legislation will incorporate many features from Ontario and Manitoba's accessibility laws.
Provincial Responses to Accessibility
Human rights legislation in all Canadian jurisdictions has long protected the rights of individuals to be free from discrimination on the basis of disability. However, policy makers are increasingly recognizing that there are institutional barriers and biases that may limit the equal participation of individuals with disabilities – both as consumers and as employees.
Ontario was the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce legislation specifically targeting some of these barriers to accessibility. Its Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) came into force in 2005. It includes staggered deadlines for compliance, some extending to 2025. Among other things, Ontario organizations are required to implement policies, procedures and training programs to promote accessibility for their employees and customers. Ontario organizations with 50 or more employees must file regular reports with Ontario's Accessibility Directorate, confirming their compliance.
Manitoba is in the process of rolling out similar legislation (PDF) which will start impacting the private sector in 2018 (PDF). British Columbia is in the process of rolling out its Accessibility 2024 initiative. Quebec has legislation aimed at promoting equal access for individuals with disabilities in education, society and workplaces. And Nova Scotia has announced that it too has plans to introduce accessibility legislation.
Federal Sector Accessibility Legislation
The Federal Government is in the early stages of developing its own accessibility legislation. This federal legislation would create obligations for employers above and beyond the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship, as currently required by the Canadian Human Rights Act (PDF) Like the provinces' responses to accessibility, the Federal Government has suggested that the legislation could address (PDF):
- physical and architectural barriers that impede the ability to move freely in the built environment, use public transportation, access information or use technology;
- attitudes, beliefs and misconceptions that some people may have about people with disabilities and what they can and cannot do; and
- outdated policies and practices that do not take into account the varying abilities and disabilities that people may have.
The Federal Government's consultation process is open until February, 2017. Among other things, the Government is seeking feedback regarding how legislation should be monitored and enforced, the timelines for compliance and the scope of the requirements. Organizations are encouraged to participate in the consultation process. We will provide updates on this legislation as it evolves.