On June 21, 2019, Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act: An Act to Ensure a Barrier-Free Canada became law after receiving Royal Assent. This is a historic moment for Canada, as this marks the first time in history that we have federal accessibility legislation. It is the most significant advancement in disability rights since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Accessible Canada Act becomes the fourth enacted piece of accessibility legislation in Canada after the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (2013), and the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act (2017).
As outlined in the Accessible Canada Act, disabilities can be visible or invisible, permanent or temporary, and congenital or acquired. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility recently stated: “As a person with a disability, I appreciate what a game changer this will be. I was born legally blind, with only 10 percent corrected vision. Quite frankly, I was born into a world that wasn’t built for me – one where people were going to make assumptions my whole life about what I can and cannot do.”
The Accessible Canada Act will be monumental in helping to identify and remove barriers to inclusion—barriers that can exist in the built environment, the digital world, or even in our attitudes.
Overview of the Accessible Canada Act
The Accessible Canada Act was proposed in June 2018 by Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport and Persons with Disabilities. The bill was originally created in response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s goal of developing federal legislation that ensured greater inclusion of Canadians with disabilities.
At its core, the Accessible Canada Act aims to create a barrier-free Canada by identifying, removing, and preventing accessibility barriers in the following areas:
- Information and communication technologies, including digital content and technologies used to access it
- Built environments, including buildings and public spaces
- Employment, including job opportunities and employment policies and practices
- Procurement of goods and services
- Delivering programs and services
- Transportation, including air, rail, ferry, and bus carriers that operate across a provincial or federal border
Does My Organization Need to Comply?
All organizations under federal jurisdiction need to comply with the Accessible Canada Act, or risk substantial fines. These organizations include:
- Parliament: The Senate, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament, and the Parliamentary Protective Service
- The Government of Canada: Government departments, Crown Corporations, and agencies
- The federally regulated private sector: Organizations in the transportation sectors, broadcasting and telecommunications services, and banking and financial sectors
- Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
These organizations are also required to develop an accessibility plan of how they will improve to meet legal requirements, implement a system to receive and respond to customer or employee feedback, and create progress reports.
How Can My Organization Start Working Towards Compliance?
One way your organization can begin working towards compliance is by removing and preventing barriers in information and communication technologies. Start by making sure your website is accessible:
- Do your web pages have proper headings and consistent design with a logical sequence?
- Do you include alternative text for images, graphs and charts?
- Is there proper colour contrast for images, links, text, icons and buttons?
- Do your videos have captions and alternative transcript?
- Would you be able to navigate your site using just a keyboard?
These are some of the simple yet crucial ways you can ensure your website is accessible for those living with a disability.
Creating an accessible website is not only the right thing to do, but it’s now the law under the Accessible Canada Act. Accessible websites also lead to better usability, improved SEO, and the ability to reach close to 20% more customers or visitors.