After a lengthy eight month consultation process and a long 2 year wait, federal legislation aimed at improving accessibility for and inclusion of people with disabilities has finally arrived.
As Parliament broke for the summer, the Liberal government got in under the wire their promise to introduce the Accessible Canada Act before the end of Spring 2018. If you missed the announcement of the legislation, it kind of took a back seat to the announcement that October 17th will be the date marijuana will be legalized (another item checked off their promise list). However, for people with disabilities and advocates of people with disabilities, the legislation was welcomed as a step in the right direction.
A plain language summary of the bill can be found here. In reading through the summary, there is certainly cause for optimism as it definitely is a step forward. The question becomes where do we go from here. Some ideas:
1) One item that was missing from the legislation, which had been requested as part of the consultation process, was to make it mandatory for the government to put its own policies, legislation and program decisions through a disability analysis, just as it currently does for gender-related and first nations issues. The Government of Canada,including government departments, Crown Corporations and agencies are required to comply with the act, so I would hope this would be reflected in their decision making process. However, I do think it would be reasonable to have a formal process where identified marginalized groups are considered when forming policy and making program decisions.
2) I believe the Federal government needs to walk the talk, and hopefully the Act will encourage them to do so. At the EARN (Employment Accessability Resource Network) conference in 2017, I was somewhat disappointed to hear that departments in the Federal government were resistant to hiring people with disabilities. (Admittedly this may have just been one case that was being shared.) One would hope that the Federal government would show leadership in this area and do what they are asking other companies to do.
3) Under the proposed legislation, one of the roles and responsibilities of the Minister is “cooperating with provincial and territorial government to organize efforts on accessibility”. While the federal legislation works for companies under their jurisdiction, there are 100s of companies impacting people with disabilities that fall under provincial jurisdiction. It is my hope that the Accessible Canada Act would form a framework that other provinces could use, or in cases where ones exist (such as the AODA in Ontario), to ensure accessibility for Canadians across the country, coordinating such things as:
- Movement of adaptive devices. While healthcare is a provincial jurisdiction, when I moved from Quebec to Ontario, I needed to return the Quebec chair and get an Ontario chair. Would it not be more efficient to transfer between provinces?
- Financial assistance for adaptive devices, particularly those needed for people with disabilities to be able to work. During the 2015 Federal Election campaign, the Green Party actually proposed creation of a National Equipment Fund that would assist with adaptive devices. Passing laws to encourage inclusion is great but that implies removing barriers, which often are financial costs associated with adaptive devices.
While there is still work to be done, the Accessible Canada Act is certainly a good first step.