The Accessible Canada Act (the “Act”) came into force on July 11, 2019.[1] The objective of the legislation is to achieve a barrier-free Canada on or before January 1, 2040.

The legislation applies to federally regulated entities, including the federal public administration, federally regulated private sector, Canadian Forces, and Crown Corporations. The Act mirrors provincial accessibility statues, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, by requiring organizations to remove barriers to full and equal participation of all persons in society.

The Act establishes new structures and positions for the implementation and compliance of accessibility standards, including:

  • the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO), which will be led by a board of directors comprised of a majority of persons with disabilities and will develop accessibility standards in collaboration with industry and the disability community;
  • a Chief Accessibility Officer (CAO), who will provide advice to the Minister of Accessibility and monitor systemic and emerging accessibility issues; and
  • the Accessibility Commissioner, who will lead compliance and enforcement activities under the legislation.[2]

The Act sets out specific requirements for entities that carry on broadcasting undertakings, Canadian carriers or telecommunications service providers, or in the transportation network. This blog post contains discussion of the general requirements set out under the Act.

Here are 5 things federally-regulated entities should know about this new legislation:

1. Entities are required to prepare and publish accessibility plans.

The Act requires federally-regulated entities to prepare and publish an accessibility plan regarding their policies, programs, practices and services in relation to the identification and removal of barriers, and the prevention of new barriers. The Act imposes a duty to consult persons with disabilities in the preparation of the accessibility plan, and in every updated version of the plan, as well as to include the manner of the consultation within the plan itself.

The initial plan will need to be prepared and published within one year after the day fixed or determined under the regulations of the Act, and plans must be reviewed and updated at least every 3 years.

The Act contains requirements to provide notice respecting the accessibility plan to the Accessibility Commissioner.

2. Entities are required to establish feedback tools.

In addition to the requirement to publish and regularly update an accessibility plan, federally-regulated entities are required to develop a feedback plan.

The feedback plan must set out a process for the entity to receive and address feedback regarding the implementation of the accessibility plan, and the barriers encountered by persons that deal with the entity.

The Act contains requirements to provide notice respecting the feedback plan to the Accessibility Commissioner.

3. Entities are required to prepare and publish progress reports.

Federally-regulated entities will also be required to prepare and establish progress reports regarding the implementation of the accessibility plan.

Entities have a duty to consult with persons with disabilities in the preparation of their progress report, and to set out the manner in which the consultation occurred.

Progress reports must also set out information concerning the feedback received by the entity though its feedback process, and how that feedback was taken into consideration.

The Act contains requirements to provide notice respecting the feedback plan to the Accessibility Commissioner.

4. Entities could be fined up to $250,000 for non-compliance.

The Act provides the Accessibility Commissioner and enforcement officers with a number of enforcement and inspection powers to address non-compliance by most federally-regulated entities.

Enforcement officers have the power to enter and inspect any place for a purpose related to verifying compliance or preventing non-compliance of the Act and its regulations. Officers can conduct audits by examining records and other relevant information from entities to make sure they are following the Act and its regulations.

If any officer believes that a federally-regulated entity is not meeting its obligations under the Act, the officer could issue an order to stop or start any activity to meet the requirements of the Act and its regulations. If an officer has good reason to believe that a federally-regulated entity has violated the Act, the officer could issue a notice with a warning to comply with the Act and its regulations, or issue a notice and fine to the entity for the violation.

The maximum penalty in respect of a violation of the Act is $250,000.

5. Entities may be required to pay monetary compensation to complainants.

The Act provides the right for individuals to file a complaint to Accessibility Commissioner if they have suffered physical or psychological harm, property damage, or economic loss or are otherwise adversely affected as a result of contraventions of the Act and regulations by a federally-regulated entity. Complaints involving federally-regulated entities in certain specified industries or in the public sector will be addressed by other regulatory bodies.

Where a complaint is substantiated, the Act provides that the Accessibility Commissioner may order the entity to, among other things, pay compensation to the complainant for lost wages, expenses, additional costs associated with obtaining alternative goods, services, facilities or accommodation and up to $20,000 for pain suffering experienced as a result of the contravention and/or where the contravention is the result of a wilful or reckless practice.