Many separate accessibility standards development processes exist in Canada. Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia all have laws that mandate creation of provincial accessibility standards. In addition, the Accessible Canada Act mandates accessibility standards that apply to organizations under federal jurisdiction. However, the government of Canada intends to coordinate federal and provincial accessibility laws. Moreover, the third review of the AODA recommends that the Ontario government should support this aim by aligning its accessibility law, the AODA, with the laws of other provinces and the country. If the governments work together to make these laws more similar, the AODA standards development process may change to align with laws in other places across the country. In this article, we explore accessibility plans across Canada.
Accessibility Plans Across Canada
Under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), organizations must create and implement multi-year accessibility plans. This requirement applies to large private sector organizations, as well as small and large public sector organizations. An organization’s plan must outline the steps it will take to:
- Identify, prevent, and remove accessibility barriers, including:
- Meet other requirements under the IASR, such as:
Organizations must review and update their plans at least every five (5) years.
In addition, when public sector organizations develop their plans, they must consult people with disabilities. Organizations with accessibility advisory committees must consult those committees when developing accessibility plans.
Manitoba and Nova Scotia
In Manitoba and Nova Scotia, only public sector bodies in those provinces must create accessibility plans. However, these plans follow many of the same guidelines as Ontario plans, such as:
- Availability to the public, and in accessible formats
- Consultation with people with disabilities, or members of organizations representing people with disabilities, during development
In addition, these plans must list steps the organization has already taken, and will take in future, to identify, prevent, and remove barriers. Moreover, the organization must also outline the steps it will take to assess the accessibility of new policies, programs, practices, and services it develops. This assessment should help organizations prevent barriers more effectively. If the AODA one day changes to align more closely with other provinces, Ontario could follow this example.
Manitoba organizations must create plans every two years. Nova Scotia organizations must update their plans every three years.
Accessible Canada Act
Under the Accessible Canada Act, federally regulated organizations must also create accessibility plans. However, they are only required to do so if the organization that governs them chooses to enforce this requirement.
The Governor in Council has the power to choose the day when organizations must begin developing their plans. Then, organizations have one (1) year to create their plans. However, the Governor in Council is not required to set the date that begins this process. As a result, many organizations may not develop accessibility plans.
Most organizations can develop one (1) plan that outlines how they will identify, remove, and prevent barriers. However, some organizations need two (2) plans. These organizations:
- Carry on broadcasting undertakings
- Are Canadian carriers or telecommunications service providers
- Are in the Transportation Network
The Governor in Council chooses the day when these organizations create one of their plans, which addresses barriers that any organization might have, such as in the areas of:
- The built environment
- Transportation (for broadcasters and telecommunications providers)
On the other hand, these organizations need to prevent and remove specific barriers in the areas of:
- Information and communications technology
- Procuring goods, services and facilities
- Design and delivery of programs and services
- Transportation (for transportation companies)
As a result, these organizations must develop separate accessibility plans to address barriers in these areas. Moreover, the governing organizations of these industries, not the Governor in Council, have the power to choose the day when organizations must begin creating their plans.
Finally, all organizations must:
- Update plans every three years
- Consult people with disabilities when preparing plans
- Describe this consultation process in the plans
- Make plans available in accessible formats upon request
As governments work together to align their accessibility laws, the Accessible Canada Act could adopt some provincial mandates. For instance, the Act could require all organizations to create and implement accessibility plans. Moreover, the Act could mandate only one plan per organization. However, the Act could require certain organizations, such as communication or transportation organizations, to have more extensive plans dealing with industry-specific barriers.