The Accessible Canada Act (the “Act”), which came into force on July 11, 2019, brought with it a number of changes for the federally regulated landscape. Designed to compliment and build on the existing human rights framework applicable to federally regulated employers, the stated purpose of the Act is to create a barrier-free Canada by January 1, 2040. To do this, the Act imposes three main obligations on employers: to prepare and publish accessibility plans; to set up a feedback process about accessibility; and to prepare and publish progress reports.
The deadline for compliance with the accessibility plan requirement varies depending on the entity. For government entities (including government agencies and departments, Crown corporations, or other prescribed government-related entities), the deadline is December 31, 2022. For private sector businesses with an average of 100 or more employees, the deadline is exactly one year away – June 1, 2023. Private sector businesses with an average of between 10 and 99 employees have one extra year to complete their accessibility plans, with the deadline for publishing the initial accessibility plan being June 1, 2024. Currently, businesses with nine or less employees are exempt from the planning and reporting requirements of the Act.
Requirements for accessibility plans
To assist businesses with preparing their accessibility plans, the Accessible Canada Regulations (the “Regulations”)– which came into force on December 31, 2021 – set out more information on the structure and contents of accessibility plans.
Notably, there is no minimum or maximum length for accessibility plans prescribed in the Act or the Regulations. Accessibility plans must, however, be written in simple, clear and concise language. Accessibility plans must also include any information that is prescribed in the Act or Regulations. For example, the Regulations provide that accessibility plans must include the following prescribed headings:
- A “General” heading, under which the business must identify the job position of the person designated to receive feedback related to accessibility, and the manner and information through which the public can communicate with the business.
- A heading for each of the business’ policies, programs, practices and services related to the identification and removal of barriers, and the prevention of new barriers in each priority area identified in the Act, including: employment; the built environment; information and communication technologies; communication other than information and communication technologies; procurement of goods, services and facilities; design and delivery of programs and services; and transportation (the “Priority Areas”).
- A “Consultations” heading, under which the business must set out the consultation process engaged in by the business with persons with disabilities in the preparation of their accessibility plan.
In December 2021, to further assist businesses with preparing their accessibility plans, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) published Module 1: Accessibility Plans which provides federally regulated businesses with tips and best practices to assist with the preparation and publication of accessibility plans. This is one of a number of anticipated modules that are expected to be published throughout 2022 to assist businesses with understanding their new obligations under the Act.
As a starting point, Module 1 recommends that businesses start the process of preparing their accessibility plans by identifying the individual(s) who will be responsible for preparing the accessibility plan. The individual should also ideally be someone who has decision-making authority within the business, and should build a team responsible for working on the accessibility plan that represents different aspects of the business.
Module 1 then recommends that businesses identify existing barriers within a business’ policies, programs, practices and services, and think through how to remove these barriers while also preventing the unintended creation of new barriers. The required consultation with persons with disabilities will be particularly helpful to businesses working to identify and address such barriers.
When it comes to preparing the business’ accessibility plans, Module 1 recommends that under each Priority Area heading some or the following information be included:
- Concrete and achievable actions that the business is taking (or has already taken) to identify, remove, and prevent barriers in the Priority Area.
- Short descriptions of the business’ current level of accessibility, the business’ accessibility goals, and the positive changes that are expected to result from greater accessibility in the Priority Area.
- Policies, programs, practices and services that the business intends to change related to the Priority Area, how the business plans to change these policies, programs, practices and services, and the expected results of the changes.
- Other accessibility achievements or milestones the business expects to reach while the accessibility plan is in place.
- Training related to the Priority Area that has been provided, or will be provided, to employees.
- Long-term plans for activities or changes that go beyond the duration of the accessibility plan.
- The names and contact information of any staff that have responsibilities related to the business’ accessibility plan.
Module 1 also outlines additional content that, while not required by the Regulations, is recommended by the ESDC. The Module suggests that businesses include a glossary that includes defined terms related to the accessibility plan. Examples of such terms can be the definitions of “barrier” and “disability” from the Act, as well as any technical or professional terms relevant to the business’ accessibility policy. Additionally, it is recommended that the accessibility plan contain a description of the budget or resources the business has allocated to accessibility improvements, and a description of the training that will be offered to the business’ employees.
Once prepared, the business must publish their accessibility plan and notify the Accessibility Commissioner – a new entity established pursuant to the Act – that the plan has been published within 48 hours of publishing. The Regulations confirm that such notice can be sent through email or other electronic means, and that the business must include in the notice either the URL address of the plan, a hyperlink to the URL address or the mailing address of the places of business where the plan has been published.
Some federally regulated businesses, for example those that fall under the regulatory authority of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Transportation Agency, have additional or varying requirements under the Act including with respect to accessibility plans. In such circumstances, Module 1 recommends that a single accessibility plan be prepared that meets the requirements of both the Act and the applicable regulatory authority. Federally regulated entities are strongly encouraged to review the full text of the Act and Regulations to confirm whether they have additional requirements and, if so, what those requirements are.
Employers should not wait to get started on preparing their accessibility plans. As a first step, businesses that are not yet familiar with the Accessible Canada Act should confirm their obligations. Employers will then want to give themselves plenty of time to meet the deadlines set out in the Act, and should avoid leaving the preparation of their accessibility plans to the last minute.
For more information on the requirements under the Act, or advice on how to commence the process of preparing accessibility plans, please contact a member of the Dentons Canada Employment and Labour group.