Accessibility is an important quality that every business or company should strive to meet for its services and products. Several countries recognize the significance of accessibility especially when it comes to people with disabilities, and Canada is no exception.
To make sure that all companies and businesses operating in the country will prioritize accessibility features, Canada created the Accessible Canada Act (ACA).
- The ACA aims to make Canada barrier-free by 2040. This involves identifying and removing barriers in several areas including employment, environment, and information and communication technologies, among many others.
- The ACA is a federal level law that covers governmental organizations, federally-regulated sectors, and state-owned enterprises.
- Violators of the ACA might be fined depending on the level of non-compliance. There are assigned regulators and complaint authorities for each sector that will handle accessibility-related concerns and use their own procedures to investigate and hand out proper judgement.
What is the ACA?
The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) is a federal law in Canada that enforces accessibility rules on different industries in the country. The Canadian government introduced Bill C-81 in 2018 to ensure a barrier-free Canada in 2040. In July 2019, the bill was implemented as a law.
The passing of the ACA was not met without resistance. Disability activists and other advocacy groups worked hard for years in order to get the ACA into action. To make sure that the law would cover the proper needs of its target audience, the government consulted with its citizens from July 2016 to February 201, until the ACA was finally enforced two years later. The ACA is recognized as an essential part of the Canadian government’s “Accessible by 2040” program.
Important Definitions from the Act
The summary of the ACA highlights the importance of the following terms:
This means that anything physical, technological, attitudinal, or architectural that hampers the complete participation in society of people with physical, mental, intellectual, communication, or cognitive impairment or limitations.
This means any physical, mental, intellectual, communication impairment that deter a person’s equal participation in society.
The Purpose of the ACA
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of the ACA is to make Canada barrier-free by January 1, 2040. This involves identifying, removing, and preventing barriers in federal jurisdiction in these areas:
- environment (referring to buildings and public spaces)
- information and communication technologies
- obtaining goods, services, and facilities
Communication is also considered a priority area and it includes the use of:
- American Sign Language
- Indigenous sign languages
- Quebec Sign Language
The Act is an instrument to recognize that everyone must be treated fairly and with dignity; that everyone must have the same opportunity to build the life they want regardless of their disabilities; and that everyone must enjoy the same options in society to freely practice their own choices.
The government alone cannot find success with this law. Persons with disabilities must actively be involved in developing new policies and programs to make this endeavor successful. They have responded favorably by helping define Bill C-81 when it was first introduced, and they continued to provide helpful feedback until the ACA was passed. However, consistent assessment is necessary since the Act may still be flawed and there are currently a few vague areas that need to be revised as the implementation continues.
Who Has to Comply with ACA?
As a federal-level law, the ACA is applied to almost all geographic areas of Canada. However, in terms of industries and businesses, the ACA affects only areas that fall under federal jurisdiction. This includes 3 types of entities:
- Governmental organizations, including federal government departments and agencies. Parliamentary entities are also covered by the Act, including the House of Commons, Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Protective Service, and the Senate.
- Sectors that are federally regulated, including industries such as telecommunications, banking, and interprovincial transportation. This also includes the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Forces.
- State-owned enterprises, which include nationally-owned companies that are under private management and administration.
The ACA unequivocally highlights that it applies to any “technological” platform connected to “information or communications.” Simply put, the ACA also extends to websites and online resource pages related to any of the industries stated above.
What Happens if a Company Doesn’t Comply with the ACA?
If a company or an organization did not comply with a regulation under the Act, individuals can file an accessibility complaint if they experience physical or psychological harm, property damage or financial loss, and other adverse consequences. The complaints will be received by an Accessibility Commissioner, who will deal with complaints in all the areas for which they are responsible.
The Canadian Transportation Agency handles complaints related to accessibility in the federal transportation network, such as airlines, and rail, road, and marine transportation providers. The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board is responsible for complaints related to accessibility for most federal public servants and parliamentary employees. For complaints related to accessibility in the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will be the ones to assess the situation.
A violator of the ACA could be fined for each infraction, depending on the gravity of the non-compliance. Since the exact process of investigation and indictment for violations has not been fully established yet, the existing regulators and complaint authorities mentioned earlier are all obliged to establish their own procedures for handling accessibility-related complaints.
The Accessibility Commissioner could use different methods in ensuring that companies and organizations are complying with the ACA. These methods include inspections, compliance orders, and production orders. Compliance orders mean that an organization must correct all violations they incurred, while production orders are for asking an organization to provide reports and records related to its accessibility plans and implementations. The commissioner can also send out a notice of violation in case these methods reveal that there was a non-compliance in accessibility standards.
It should be noted, however, that accessibility complaints under the Accessible Canada Act are not similar to discrimination complaints under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Companies or organizations that comply with the Accessible Canada Act could still be subjected to discrimination complaints under the Canadian Human Rights Act, making it essential for businesses to make sure that they adhere to both laws to avoid potential lawsuits.
What Should I Do to Comply with the ACA?
Organizations and companies are advised to do the following in order to comply with the ACA:
1. Formulate accessibility plans.
Organizations and companies should provide reports on how they identified, removed, and prevented barriers in relation to their own policies, programs, services, practices, and even facilities. They are also required to share updates after three years, or less depending if there were revisions within the Act. Ideally, the organizations can consult with people with disabilities in creating or updating their plan to better assess their areas of improvement.
2. Provide a response process.
Companies and businesses should be able to provide multiple methods to get feedback from their customers, particularly from people with disabilities.
3. Publish progress reports
Progress reports are necessary to outline the implementation of accessibility plans and show how a company or organization responded to feedback it received after the enactment of their plans.
A Final Word on ACA Compliance
Accessibility is a crucial feature for any business or organization, and the Canadian government recognizes the need for more accessible options for people with disabilities in every industry. Through the ACA, the government is able to mandate all companies and organizations to follow accessibility standards as determined by persons with disabilities to improve accessibility for everyone.
The ACA covers any extension of the business or company, which includes websites and any resource pages found online. Designing a website that is fully accessible can be tricky, especially since there are several types of disabilities that you’ll need to adjust your site for. If you need assistance in creating a fully accessible website, you can always rely on AccessAPal.
AccessAPal uses top-notch machine learning strategies and advanced navigation techniques to make sure that people with disabilities are able to enjoy your website to the fullest. If you want to ensure that your website is in compliance with your government’s accessibility regulations, contact AccessAPal now for more information.