By Dinah Wisenberg Brin
May 22, 2023
Many federally regulated businesses in Canada with at least 100 employees must publish an accessibility plan by June 1 detailing how they will remove barriers for employees and members of the public with disabilities.
The date marks the first compliance milestone for the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), which seeks to make the country barrier-free by Jan. 1, 2040.
The Canadian government is pursuing this goal “so that individuals with disabilities can feel more comfortable using public services and working for federally regulated organizations,” said Lisa Goodfellow, an attorney with Miller Thomson LLP in Toronto. “The Accessible Canada Act and the Accessible Canada Regulations strive to achieve this by identifying, removing and preventing barriers in employment, buildings and other public spaces.”
Noncompliance can lead to steep penalties for employers.
The act, which took effect in 2019, defines a barrier as anything that “hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with an impairment,” Goodfellow said.
The ACA is based on seven principles, including the beliefs that everyone must be treated with dignity, be able to participate fully and equally in society, and have the same opportunity to make for themselves the life they are able and wish to have, according to a government summary.
The law applies to Canadian government entities and to federally regulated private industries and workplaces, such as airlines, banks, broadcasters, courier services, grain elevators, railroads, telecommunications companies and uranium mines.
Accessibility Plans Require Consultation, Audits
Organizations must consult with people with disabilities as they develop their accessibility plans, which they will need to update every three years.
If a business subject to the upcoming June 1 deadline hasn’t started preparing its accessibility plan, “it should do so without delay, in consultation with their legal counsel,” said Trevor Lawson, an attorney with McCarthy TÃ©trault LLP in Toronto.
Preparing such a plan requires a company to conduct an audit and review of current accessibility practices, Lawson said. He noted the Canadian government has developed resources to help organizations perform audits and reviews and write accessibility plans.
Publishing an accessibility plan that addresses a company’s policies, programs, practices and services “is both a substantive and procedural requirement,” said Stuart Rudner and Geoffrey Lowe, attorneys with Rudner Law in Markham, Ontario, in a joint e-mail. “An employer to whom this applies must â¦ take steps toward identifying and removing barriers and preventing any further ones from being erected in the future and list these in its accessibility plan.”
Rudner and Lowe said the specifics of an accessibility plan may differ by industry.
Legal experts noted the following compliance dates:
- Covered businesses that had at least 100 employees in 2021 must publish their first accessibility plans by June 1 of this year.
- Covered businesses that had between 10 and 99 employees in 2021 or were founded or became regulated in 2022 must publish their plans by June 1, 2024.
- Covered businesses with at least 10 employees that are founded or become federally regulated this year must comply by June 1, 2025.
Lawson said an organization’s accessibility plan must describe how it will identify, remove and prevent barriers in seven key areas: employment; built environment; transportation; procurement of goods, services and facilities; information and communications technologies; other communication; and the design and delivery of programs and services.
However, the ACA doesn’t apply to businesses with nine or fewer employees, Goodfellow noted.
Each federally regulated organization must describe on its website how it intends to collect ongoing feedback about its accessibility plans and about the barriers that people in the organization face, she said. A company may receive feedback by mail, telephone, e-mail and other ways it communicates with the public, and it must confirm to the sender that it received the feedback.
The law also imposes annual obligations on federally regulated organizations, Goodfellow said. By the first and second anniversaries of the accessibility plan deadline, each covered organization must publish a progress report describing how it is carrying out its plan. These reports must be prepared in consultation with people with disabilities and state how the business implemented the feedback it received. By the third anniversary, organizations must publish an updated accessibility plan.
Similar Legislation and Standards
The law, which is similar to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in effect in Ontario since 2005, “can be an important impetus for employers to really think about what barriers may exist within their organizations for those with disabilities and what they can do to reduce or eliminate them,” Goodfellow said. “Only a small number of employees fall under federal jurisdiction, but I expect we may see other provinces roll out similar legislation in the future, as it really is an important issue for our society.”
Manitoba and Nova Scotia have similar laws as well.
Another part of the ACA is the creation of Accessibility Standards Canada, a government agency. The new standards developed by the agency will be established by regulation-subject to public review-and phased in between now and 2040, Lawson said.
Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a reporter and writer based in Philadelphia.