The disability community has been advocating for a federal accessibility law for decades. On June 20, the Government of Canada finally tabled Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. If passed, this bill could go a long way in reducing barriers facing people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, the bill only applies to areas within the power of the federal government, such as:
- broadcasting and telecommunications
- travel between provinces by plane, train, bus or ferry
- postal services
Below is an overview of the bill and recommendations for improving it. Hopefully this new bill will inspire Quebec to update its own disability law.
Goal of the bill
The bill aims to prevent and remove barriers in these areas:
- the built environment (ex. buildings)
- information and communication technologies
- the procurement (i.e. purchasing) of goods and services
- programs and services
- Accessibility Plans and Reports
Federally regulated organizations would have to publish accessibility plans and reports on preventing and removing barriers. They would have to consult with people with disabilities in preparing their plans.
- Feedback Processes
Organizations would have to establish a process for receiving and dealing with feedback about barriers.
- Accessibility Commissioner
A member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission would be appointed as an Accessibility Commissioner. The Commissioner would receive and investigate accessibility-related complaints. She/he would also be able to perform inspections and issue monetary penalties.
- Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization
This new organization would develop and review accessibility standards. The majority of its members would be people with disabilities.
- Chief Accessibility Officer
This new Officer would advise the Minister on systemic and emerging accessibility issues.
Fines for violating the law could be as high as $250 000.
What’s the same?
People would continue to be able to file disability-related complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The new Accessibility Commissioner would handle some – but not all – of these complaints.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) would continue handing complaints regarding barriers in broadcasting and telecommunications.
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) would continue handling complaints regarding travel between provinces by air, rail, bus or ferry.
What could be improved?
The bill has several important gaps:
- It allows – but doesn’t require – the government to adopt accessibility standards.
- It allows – but doesn’t require – the Minister to work with provincial and territorial governments to improve accessibility.
- It doesn’t specify the amount of the penalties imposed for violations. (It caps these penalties at $250 000.)
- It initially caps compensation for pain and suffering at $20 000.
- It doesn’t recognize American Sign Language (ASL) and Quebec Sign Language (QSL) as official languages
- It doesn’t require all federal government laws, policies and programs to be studied through a disability law lens.
- It only requires an independent review of its operation every 10 years.
The disability community will advocate for amendments to the bill to address these gaps.