Following in the footsteps of Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, the federal government recently introduced the Accessible Canada Act (the “Act”), aimed at bringing down barriers in federal organizations for individuals with disabilities.
The new Act defines “barriers” to include anything “architectural, physical, technological or attitudinal…that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation.”
The Act will focus on six areas, including employment.
Once passed, the new legislation will apply to federally-run organizations and programs, as well as businesses in the banking, telecommunications, transportation and military industries. It will require these organizations to do three things:
- Create accessibility plans in consultation with people with disabilities, publish these plans, and update them every three years;
- Set up tools to receive and respond to feedback; and
- Prepare and publish progress reports that detail how the accessibility plans would be fulfilled. Progress reports will have to be created in consultation with people with disabilities, and describe the main concerns raised through the feedback tools.
To implement and enforce the new law, the Act creates three new bodies: a Chief Accessibility Officer to oversee and implement the Act, an Accessibility Commissioner to ensure compliance, and a Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, which Board of Directors will be comprised of people with disabilities, and which will be tasked with developing model accessibility standards.
Unlike Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which lacks any mechanism for an individual to initiate a complaint against an organization, the Act appears to include an individual’s right to file a complaint against an offending organization and receive compensation.
Enforcement of the new Act will be divided between the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the Canadian Transportation Agency and the Accessibility Commissioner. To ensure compliance, these bodies will be able to carry out inspections, conduct compliance audits, issue compliance orders and notices of violations, and issue fines of up to $250,000.
As the Act was just recently tabled and will likely go through some changes as it undergoes additional readings before it is passed, Federal employers in the banking, telecommunications, transportation and military industries are advised to closely watch the requirements of the Act as they develop. While it is anticipated that the finalized Act will provide ample time for organizations to come into compliance, it is not known what the finalized timelines will be. Miller Thomson will continue to monitor the Act as it is debated and amended, and will continue to provide updates as the Act progresses toward receiving royal assent.