Federal Government Passes Canada’s First National Accessibility Legislation

by Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Posted May 30, 2019

Disabled Canadians declared a partial victory Thursday hours after the government voted to enact Canadas first national accessibility law, calling it a major step forward while cautioning that more work was still needed to ensure it achieves its goal.

The Accessible Canada Act, which aims to improve life for those with disabilities, received unanimous support in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening. It awaits only royal assent, expected in the coming weeks, before officially becoming law.

Advocates who fought for amendments to strengthen the legislation praised the governing Liberals for delivering on a promise to implement the bill and bring Canada more in line with other countries that have had such laws for years. But they also cautioned against complacency, saying more work lay ahead.

We applaud the government for its willingness to listen to Canadians with disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities chair Jewelles Smith said in a statement.

CCD reminds the government that there are many serious ongoing barriers that will not be addressed by this act, and encourages the federal government to pursue policy solutions to these well-known concerns.

Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough, who spearheadded national consultations on the bill and shepherded it through Parliament, hailed its passage as a significant moment.

This is the most transformative piece of legislation since enacting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a true testament to the work, commitment and contributions of the Canadian disability community, she said in a statement. This historic act sends a clear signal to Canadians that persons with disabilities will no longer be treated as an afterthought.

The act passed by Parliament bears striking differences from the version initially tabled last June.

Its stated purpose to identify, remove and prevent accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction was greeted with enthusiasm and remains the same. Those areas include built environments, federally run programs and services, banking, telecommunications and transportation that crosses provincial lines.

But disabled advocates almost immediately began raising concerns about the effectiveness of the legislation and lobbied for changes.

Last fall, a group of 95 disability groups signed an open letter outlining nine areas of perceived weakness, including the lack of a timeline for the bills implementation and failure to recognize various forms of sign language as official languages of the deaf.

The Senates committee on social affairs, science and technology, citing community concerns, amended the bill to include sign language recognition as well as a timeline for the bill to be fully implemented by 2040.

Those amendments were reflected in the bill that garnered parliamentary approval.

Activists celebrated the passage of the act as genuine progress, but some continued to voice concerns about areas where they feel it still falls short.

The Arch Disability Law Centre indicated Thursday that it was particularly troubled by the language employed throughout the bill, which repeatedly uses may rather than shall or must when describing initiatives.

This language gives government power to make and enforce the new accessibility requirements, but does not actually require them to use these powers, Arch said in a statement.

An amendment before the Senate committee addressed that concern but was defeated.

Advocates also criticized the bill for granting the government broad powers to exempt people from the new rules, spreading enforcement over numerous agencies, and opting not to withhold federal funding from organizations that dont comply with accessibility measures. Conservatives and New Democrats echoed those issues in Parliament.

Gabrielle Peters, a Vancouver-based wheelchair user, said the governments failure to address those areas leaves the law lacking compared to similar legislation in other countries. She said she questions whether the law will prove significant for all its meant to serve.

I and many like me will be at home with my broken wheelchair in my tiny box of an improperly adapted apartment living in poverty in a city with 8,000 corners where I cant cross the street, she said.

Nothing in the act will change that. But I am glad Canada finally has an Accessible Canada Act, however lacking I find it, and I want to recognize the work of those who actually worked on and for it.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Original at https://www.citynews1130.com/2019/05/30/federal-government-passes-canadas-first-national-accessibility-legislation/

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New Strategy for a More Accessible and Inclusive Public Service

May 27, 2019
Ottawa, Ontario Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Canadians expect innovative, efficient and productive programs and services from an inclusive federal public service that reflects the true diversity of Canada. On the occasion of National AccessAbility Week, the Government of Canada today launched its first ever accessibility strategy for the public service of Canada, setting the conditions to identify, prevent, and remove barriers in the workplace to persons with disabilities.

The strategy, Nothing Without Us, is focused on 5 key objectives:

  • improving recruitment, retention and promotion of persons with disabilities
  • enhancing the accessibility of the built environment
  • making communications technology usable by all
  • equipping public servants to design and deliver accessible programs and services
  • building public service that is confidently accessible

Guided by the principles in the proposed Accessible Canada Act and informed by extensive consultations, the strategy aims to prepare the public service to lead by example and become a model of accessibility, in Canada and abroad.

A number of promising initiatives are already underway. These include:

  • promoting persons with disabilities through the Employment Opportunity for Students with Disabilities led by the Public Service Commission
  • prioritizing accessibility in the renewal of the Parliamentary Precinct led by Public Services and Procurement Canada
  • supporting innovation, experimentation and research in the critical area of workplace accommodation through the Centralized Enabling Workplace Fund led by the Treasury Board Secretariat

Successfully implementing of the strategy will result in more persons with disabilities employed by the Government of Canada in a barrier-free and inclusive workplace, where every employee has what they need to do their best work. The strategy will be reviewed in 2021 to assess progress.

“By developing Canada’s first accessibility strategy for the federal public service, our government is helping create the most inclusive public service in the world. This is an important step in enabling the Government of Canada to set and meet high standards of accessibility in its policies, programs and services to all Canadians. It’s a strategy that reflects the true diversity of the people it serves and one that will help us achieve our ultimate goal: a barrier-free Canada where everyone is fully included.”
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility

“Diversity is Canada’s strength and we are fully embracing a public service that reflects everything this country has to offer. The strategy laid out in Nothing Without Us comes from listening to more than 7,000 federal employees and disability stakeholders. It will guide our efforts to build an inclusive federal public service that is more innovative, efficient, and productive.”
The Honourable Joyce Murray, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

Original at https://www.miragenews.com/new-strategy-for-a-more-accessible-and-inclusive-public-service/

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No More Excuses for Ignorance: N.W.T. Needs Accessibility Legislation

Therese Estacion became an amputee in 2016, and she’s found Yellowknife tricky to navigate Therese Estacion · for CBC News · Posted: Apr 23, 2019

The idea of creating barrier-free spaces was once novel to me. I was born able-bodied and had the privilege of entering into and out of spaces with little fuss or notice.

However, during the summer of 2016, I contracted a rare bacterial infection that caused my body to go into septic shock. The night everything happened, my partner was told to call my parents and tell them to rush to the hospital to say their goodbyes.

Luckily, my medical team was able to save my life but at a cost. They pumped my body with medication to draw blood from my extremities to my vital organs and brain. It became apparent, as time passed, that my hands and feet were becoming increasingly necrotic and would have to be amputated.

After November 2016, I became a below-the-knee amputee, and in 2018, I became a partial hands amputee.

The surreal nature of how my body metamorphosed is only one part of what I have come to experience in my journey as a person with a disability. The other more tangible part is concerned with accessibility.

‘The events that make Yellowknife distinctly ‘Yellowknife’ like the winter festivals held on a frozen lake became less cool as I noticed how inaccessible they are,’ writes Therese Estacion. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Inaccessible Old Town

When I first came to the North last year I was just a tourist, and I immediately became enamoured with this snowy expanse. Having lived in Toronto, the spaciousness I encountered in Yellowknife remedied my cramped lifestyle and I seized the opportunity to go on as many adventures as I could.

Now that I live here, and have prosthetic limbs, it has become apparent that people with disabilities face daily obstacles in Yellowknife.

The eclectic allure of the city’s Old Town neighbourhood, for example, waned as I noticed how the icy steps and poorly maintained parking spots excluded persons with physical disabilities from entering businesses.

Similarly, the events that make Yellowknife distinctly “Yellowknife” like the winter festivals held on a frozen lake became less cool as I noticed how inaccessible they are.

The rights of people with disabilities will continue to take a backseat until accessibility legislation is enacted here in the Northwest Territories.

One may argue that business owners and event planners are doing their best. But how can they do their best when there are no benchmarks or standards to live up to? And if there are no timelines to work toward?

The Accessible Canada Act, introduced in Parliament last year, aims to create more consistent accessibility in organizations under the federal government’s responsibility, like the RCMP, the Senate and Crown corporations. But it’s becoming more about rhetoric for change than an actual agent for change, so it is up to the individual provinces and territories to make Canada barrier-free.

A couple of Yellowknife winter festivals are held here, on frozen Great Slave Lake. Estacion notes how inaccessible that is for people like her. (Katherine Barton/CBC)

Disability legislation

In the Northwest Territories, buildings must meet the requirements of the National Building Code. The territorial government told CBC it is updating its Good Building Practices for Northern Facilities, which has guidelines on accessible design for building developers.

But currently only three provinces have accessibility legislation in place: Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Accessibility legislation would provide clarity for everyone.

In Ontario, the goal of its disability legislationis to have the province be barrier free by 2025. It also sets standards for things like customer service, transportation, and the design of public spaces. How long will businesses in the N.W.T. continue to “try” without any real guidance, direction or accountability?

Accessibility legislation would provide clarity for everyone. It would also create awareness regarding the principles of universal design, which is the design of buildings, products or environments accessible to all people.

There would be no excuses then for benign ignorance, and individuals with disabilities would know their rights and be able to advocate for themselves.

Just like we enacted laws that require drivers wear seat belts, so must we evolve as a generation that will no longer set cruise control on the issues concerning accessibility and the people that need it.

About the Author

Therese Estacion is a teacher from Toronto who came to Canada from the Philippines when she was 10 years old. She is currently working on a book of poems that explores the issues she faces as a person with a disability, after recently becoming a bilateral below-the-knee and partial hand amputee.

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/therese-estacion-disability-yellowknife-legislation-1.5098658

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