Learning About

Accessibility & the Law

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In this section, we will review legislation and laws that improve accessibility and prohibit discrimination for people with disabilities in Canada and the United States.

The Accessible Canada Act meets the Canadian Government’s commitment to improve accessibility for all Canadians, across all provinces. In addition, most provinces have their own complimentary accessibility legislation.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications (National Network, n.d.).

Developing an Understanding

The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensure equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination for all Canadians (T-Base Communications, 2017).

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) became law on June 13, 2005. Ontario is the first province in Canada to pass a law that will create mandatory accessibility standards in order to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for people with disabilities in what are considered key areas of daily living. The goal of the AODA is to make Ontario accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.

The Accessible Canada Act proactively eliminates barriers and ensures greater opportunities for Canadians with disabilities. Quoting disability rights activist James Charlton, ‘Nothing about us, without us’, the Accessible Canada Act was implemented in partnership with people with disabilities and the disability community (Government of Canada, Accessible Canada Act Visual Representations, n.d.).

Almost 6.2 million people in Canada (22%) have a disability that limits their daily activity and 40% report that having a disability has limited their career options. (Canadian Human Rights Commission, n.d). Canadians with disabilities earn 44% less and are more likely to live in poverty. Here are some more statistics:

  • In 2017, one in five (22%) of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over – or about 6.2 million individuals – had one or more disabilities.
  • Women (24%) were more likely to have a disability than men (20%).
  • Among those aged 25 to 64 years, persons with disabilities were less likely to be employed (59%) than those without disabilities (80%).
  • Among those with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years who were not employed and not currently in school, two in five (39%) had potential to work. This represents nearly 645,000 people with disabilities.
  • Among those with disabilities aged 15 to 64 years, lone parents and those living alone were the most likely to be living in poverty among any type of household living arrangements. Since eight in ten lone parents were women, the high risk of living in poverty in this group disproportionately affected women.

Source: Statistics Canada-Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017

Canadians with disabilities have the right to live free from discrimination, to enjoy the same quality of service, education, vocation, inclusion and the same quality of life as every person in Canada (Canadian Human Rights Commission, n.d.).

On June 20, 2018, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, introduced the proposed Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) to Parliament. This legislation enables the Government of Canada to take a dedicated approach to ending systemic discrimination of people with disabilities, with the goal of this legislation to realize a barrier-free Canada. The Act requires organizations under federal jurisdiction to identify, remove and prevent barriers to accessibility, including in:

  • the built environment (move freely around buildings and public spaces);
  • employment (access to job opportunities and equal employment policies and practices);
  • information and communication technologies (availability of accessible digital content and technologies used to access it);
  • the procurement of goods and services (ensuring purchases of accessible goods and services);
  • the delivery of programs and services; and
  • transportation (barrier free transportation by air, rail, ferry and bus carriers that operate across provincial, territorial or international borders).

The act strengthens the existing rights and protections for people with disabilities, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act and Canada’s approval of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Canadians with disabilities will no longer be expected to fix the system through human rights complaints. Proactive compliance measures make sure that organizations under federal jurisdiction are held accountable to ensuring accessible practices.

The Accessible Canada Act was developed in consultation with people with disabilities, with over 100 accessibility organizations and 6,000 Canadians sharing their views and ideas about an accessible Canada. The Government of Canada will continue to consult with people with disabilities and lived experience and support the work of First Nations leaders and communities to improve accessibility on reserves. This legislation is a first step in ensuring a barrier-free Canada and help change the way society thinks, talks and acts about disability and accessibility (Employment and Social Development Canada, n.d.).

On May 29, 2019, The Accessible Canada Act was passed unanimously in the House of Commonsand on June 21, 2019, the bill received Royal Assent. The Accessible Canada Act will come into force on a date set by the Governor in Council.

Here is a version of the Accessible Canada Actopens new window written in Plain Language.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) became law on June 13, 2005 and applies to all levels of government, nonprofits and private sector business in Ontario that have one or more employees (full-time, part-time, seasonal, or contract). The AODA sets out a process for developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025. People with disabilities and lived experience and industry representatives worked together with the Ontario Government to develop the standards and the AODA applies to every person and organization in the public and private sectors of the Province of Ontario (Government of Ontario, n.d.).

The AODA includes requirements that all organizations must meet, with deadlines specific to an organization’s type and size. The AODA is made up of five standards and deadlines for compliance began as of January 1, 2010 (Accessibility Ontario, n.d.).

AODA Standards address:

Customer Service: Business practices and training needed to provide better customer service to people with disabilities including policies around service animals, service disruption notices, staff training and document formats.

Information & Communication: Barriers regarding information provided in person, through print, by website or other means including the WCAG 2.0, providing alternative formats, video captioning and audio transcription.

Employment: Paid employment practices relating to employee-employer relationships including policies around job recruitment, hiring and retention practices.

Transportation: Access to transportation for travelling to work or school, shopping, and other aspects of daily life. And if transit is disrupted, the communication about the disruption must be accessible.

Design of Public Spaces: Access into and within buildings and outdoor spaces, directly related to Ontario’s Building Code including policies around counter height, aisles and door width, parking, and signs.

Source: Adapted from Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services AODA Booklet

Illustration of a lit lightbulb

Spotlight: Accessibility Law in the USA -
the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been law since 1990 and aims to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including education, jobs, and transportation. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as all other American citizens. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion (ADA, 2016).

The ADA is divided into 5 sections that relate to different areas of public life including:

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees including any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable an applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.

This section prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all State and Local Government programs, activities, and public services including public transportation.

This section prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities privately-owned, leased or operated facilities (hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, doctor’s offices, golf courses, private schools, day care centers, health clubs, sports stadiums, movie theatres and more).

Regulated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), this section requires telephone and Internet companies to provide a nationwide system of telecommunications relay services that allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate over the telephone and requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.

This section contains a variety of provisions relating to the ADA as a whole.

Source: National Network: Information, Guidance and Training on the Americans with Disability Act

Silhouette of a human face speaking

An interview with Juan Olarte, an Accessibility Consultant

icon of ASL

An ASL Interpretation