The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) and Accessible Canada Regulations (ACR) are an important step on the road to a barrier-free Canada for Canadians with disabilities. The ACA and the ACR work together as a cause and effect—the Accessible Canada Act created the Accessible Canada Regulations. These regulations are centered around a cycle of making an accessibility plan, following that plan, receiving feedback and creating a progress report. The regulations allow a lot of individualized leeway, but there are still clear penalties for failing to comply.
The Road to a Barrier-free Canada
The road to a barrier-free Canada started in 2010, when the Canadian government signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). At this point, Canada had simply made a promise to create a more accessible nation, but no plan had been developed.
Later, from July 2016 to February 2017, the Canadian government collected information on what kinds of accessibility Canadian citizens needed and wanted, concentrating especially on the wants and needs of Canadians with disabilities. This information became part of the bill – An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada (the Accessible Canada Act), which became law in 2019.
The ACA intends to create a barrier-free Canada by January 1, 2040, by making changes in the present. These changes benefit the 6 million+ Canadians over 15 who have a disability by forming a “more inclusive society that provides greater access and opportunities for persons with disabilities.”
What is an Accessibility Barrier?
The Canadian government defines a barrier in a specific way, as “anything that prevents persons with disabilities from fully and equally participating in Canadian society” and notes that, “some barriers are very visible, like a building without an access ramp” while “other barriers are less visible, like instructions written in complicated language.”
Principles of the Accessible Canada Act
Human dignity is at the core of the ACA, articulated in the belief that “everyone must have the same opportunity to make for themselves the life they are able and wish to have.” To make this belief a reality, the ACA asserts that Canadians with disabilities “must be able to participate fully and equally in society” and the government must work to make this possible through accessibility regulation.
“Nothing About Us Without Us,” is the idea that any decisions about people with disabilities should involve people with disabilities. This idea carried through from the information collecting stage and became an important part of the ACA.
The Accessible Canada Regulations
The ACA mentions that organizations need to write accessibility plans and describes a bit of what they would include but does not get into specifics. Only later would the Accessible Canada Regulations (ACR) make clear what is involved in the required accessibility plans.
In December 2021, the Accessible Canada Regulations (ACR) came into force. Much of the Accessible Canada Regulations focuses on accessibility plans, the feedback process, and progress reports. There are several regulations about all three.
Organizations must inform the Accessibility Commissioner within 48 hours when they publish one of the three.
These documents must be made WCAG compliant and posted to the organization’s website (if the organization doesn’t have a website, the organization must keep an easy-to-access print copy in their building).
The ACR gives special attention to the accessibility of accessibility plans, description of the feedback process, and progress reports. Anyone can request an alternate format of one of these documents in large print, Braille, audio, or electronic format and the organization has between 15 and 45 days to provide it, depending on the format requested and the size of the organization (for example, an organization with less than 100 employees would have 20 days to provide a citizen with a large print version of a progress report).
The ACA Benefits Everyone
Community-level changes for people with disabilities will, in turn, benefit everyone in each community and the national economy as a whole. On the individual business level, researchers think the cost of following the regulations will be at the very least offset by gains in productivity and ability to pull from a wider pool of applicants.
Who Do the Accessible Canada Regulations Apply To?
The ACA applies to any organization under federal responsibility:
- Transportation that crosses borders
- Government of Canada departments and agencies (e.g. Employment and Social Development Canada)
- Crown corporations
- Canadian Armed Forces
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- And others
Every three years, each organization will publish an accessibility plan. All organizations must seek input from Canadians with disabilities on the content of their plan.
The published plan will note how the organization will “identify, remove, and prevent barriers” in the “seven priority areas” of the ACA:
- The built environment
- Information and communication technologies (ICT)
- Communication other than ICT
- The design and delivery of programs and services
- The procurement of goods, services and facilities
When Do You Need to Publish Your Accessibility Plan?
December 31, 2022 – Canadian federal government, Crown corporations, Parliamentary entities, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Canadian Forces
June 1, 2023 – Businesses with 100 or more employees
June 1, 2024 – Businesses with 10-99 employees
(Businesses with fewer than 10 employees and First Nations Band Councils do not have to publish an accessibility plan.)
The Feedback Process
The ACR also gives special attention to ensuring that the public can offer feedback on accessibility plans and anything inaccessible at their organization, but also leaves how the feedback is collected up to the individual organizations. There are four general requirements.
- Each organization must tell people how to leave feedback, likely on their website.
- The organization must have a system for receiving that feedback.
- One employee’s job description includes dealing with the feedback.
- The organization must inform the person who sent the feedback that their comment was noted.
The earlier accessibility plans are just that, plans. They don’t control what an organization will actually do. This is why organizations must write up progress reports on whether their accessibility plans have been successful (sorted by priority area) and say what they did with any feedback from the public they received.
As before with the accessibility plans, each organization must seek input from Canadians with disabilities. The published progress reports must go live “by the first and second anniversary of the deadline to publish each accessibility plan.”
Who’s in Charge?
The ACA created a Minister who’s responsible for the Accessible Canada Act. The Minister’s goal is the same as the ACA’s—to make Canada barrier-free by January 1, 2040. The Minister can direct research, put policies in place, and help coordinate between provinces and territories in order to accomplish this goal.
Enforcing the ACA
Another position, the Accessibility Commissioner, carries out the enforcement of the ACA. If an organization does not follow the ACA and a Canadian citizen has a negative experience due to this, that citizen can make a formal complaint. While the Accessibility Commissioner mostly handles complaints, depending on what the complaint is about, the citizen might need to contact another government group, like the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The Accessibility Commissioner has wide-ranging powers. They can investigate organizations that seem to be in violation of the ACA or ACR, even requiring an organization to share information or allow a physical search. If an organization is found to be in violation, the Accessibility Commissioner can take one of several actions: give the organization a warning, order the organization to fix the problem, create a compliance agreement with the organization, or make an organization pay a penalty.
Penalties are on a sliding scale based on many considerations, like severity, business size (smaller penalties for smaller businesses), number of previous violations, harm or potential harm, amount of carelessness, cooperation with the investigation, if the organization was clearly trying to become more accessible, or “if breaking the rule benefitted the organization.” Also, the penalty amount will be 10% smaller if an organization pays off a penalty within 15 days.
$250 – $75,000 – Minor Violation – (e.g. An organization doesn’t publish an accessibility plan.)
$2,500 – $150,000 – Serious Violation – (e.g. An organization disobeys a direct order from the Accessibility Commissioner.)
$6,250 – $250,000 – Very Serious Violation – (e.g. An organization obstructs an investigation by lying to the Accessibility Commissioner.)
How TPGi Can Help
One deadline has already passed, and the others are fast approaching. For businesses with 100 or more employees, June may feel like a long time off, but planning for June should still start early in the year. Start your accessibility journey with an accessibility review and audit, then you’ll be able to outline your accessibility plan.
Since most businesses have a website, creating an accessible website is likely going to be a part of your information and communication technologies (ICT) section on your accessibility plan and progress report.
TPGi is ready with our experience and expertise. No matter what your business does and how simple or complex your accessibility needs. Schedule a call to speak with an accessibility expert today!