As of January 1, 2019, the federal government and the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are at various stages of introducing accessibility laws. Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and as such has agreed to take appropriate measures to achieve accessibility and to develop and monitor minimum accessibility standards. Here is a snapshot of the current situation across the country.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is fully operational and, regardless of the size of your organization, as long as you have one or more employees in Ontario, your organization should have fulfilled the general accessibility requirements, complied with the accessible customer service standard, the employment standard, the design of public space standard and information and communication requirements (with the exception of websites). This blog post does not address the education and public transportation sectors.
Ongoing obligations include training of staff on the Human Rights Code disability provisions and the AODA whenever new staff are hired or your policies change. Employers with 20 or more employees in Ontario must also report compliance on the Service Ontario website every 3 years and employers with 50 or more employees must review and update their multi-year accessibility plan at least every 5 years. Monetary penalties have already been issued against certain organizations for a failure to report their on-line compliance.
Websites and content published after January 1, 2012 will need to meet the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines (with a few carveouts) by January 1, 2021, except where it is not technically feasible, your organization does not control the information, the content is unconvertible or the required technology is not readily available. These guidelines have been developed by the World Wide Web Consortium and include “success criteria” that cover matters such as meaningful sequences, separation of foreground information from background, functionality by keyboard, avoidance of flashing visuals, providing non-text content in text format and other criteria to address which make navigation and use of websites more accessible for those with a variety of developmental, physical, intellectual, mental, sensory, visual and hearing disabilities.
The first standard under The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) applies as of November 1, 2018 to private sector employers with one or more employees in Manitoba. The Customer Service Standard Regulation applies to such organizations if they provide goods or services directly to the public or to another organization in Manitoba. Fortunately, the Customer Service Standard Regulation is very similar to the accessible customer service standard under the AODA and minimal changes will be required to bring your standard into compliance if you already have an Ontario customer service policy and training program. Employers with 20 or more employees in Manitoba must also document training of staff on the AMA and the Manitoba Human Rights Code. Monitoring of compliance on the Customer Service Standard is expected to start in 2019 or 2020.
Standards on employment and information and communications have been drafted. Upcoming standards will cover the built environment and public transportation and infrastructure. Apparently the education standard will be the final standard to be developed.
The Accessibility Act was passed in 2017. Standards currently under development cover education and the built environment. The plan is to develop other standards at the rate of one per year starting in 2021 to cover: delivery of goods and services, information and communication, public transportation and infrastructure and employment.
The federal government introduced Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, or the “Accessible Canada Act” (ACA) on June 20, 2018. The Bill passed third reading in the House of Commons as of November 27, 2018. There have been many amendments and much discussion. The standing committee reported back with 74 amendments. The Bill was in first reading in the Senate on November 29, 2018.
Note that the ACA does not make Canada accessible and does not require the provinces to take any legislative steps. Instead, the ACA will required organizations governed by federal law to implement accessibility. Such employers include those in telecommunications, broadcasting, interprovincial transportation, railways, shipping and banking. Such employers will need to develop an accessibility plan, which needs to be updated every 3 years, a feedback process, and to publish progress reports.
The enforcement mechanisms go further than those of the AODA. Enforcement includes inspections, production orders, compliance orders, monetary penalties and compliance agreements. There is also a complaint process to the Accessibility Commissioner, who can order compensation for lost wages, up to $20,000 for pain and suffering and up to $20,000 in case of a wilful or reckless practice. The CRTC will be responsible for compliance and enforcement in the broadcasting and telecom sectors, while the Canadian Transportation Agency will be responsible for the transportation sector.
We will issue further updates as further standards are developed under the provincial accessibility laws and when the federal Accessible Canada Act is passed.