The long-awaited federal law on accessibility for people with disabilities, the Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81), has finally passed in the legislature and will soon be made law.
In addition to the new law, the federal government recently released its Federal Public Service Accessibility Strategy, which aims to improve access and remove barriers for workers with disabilities in the public service.
PSAC supported the Bill and provided its input at committee hearings in both the House of Commons and Senate, making recommendations to make the law stronger. PSAC also provided input into the government’s new Strategy for the federal public service.
“We think the Accessible Canada Act and the Strategy are important first steps,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC National President, “But we must make sure that these are not just documents that sit on a shelf – they must be implemented and make a real difference in the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities.”
Accessibility law will create new federal standards
Under the new legislation, the government will have the authority to work with stakeholders and Canadians with disabilities to create new accessibility standards and regulations that apply to the federal government and to federal sectors including banking, telecommunications, and transportation industries such as air and rail. These new regulated standards also will set out what organizations must do to identify, remove, and prevent barriers to accessibility.
Federal accessibility strategy to improve inclusion in the public service
The new Strategy, prepared by Treasury Board, is meant to set in motion a process to “identify, prevent, and remove barriers in the workplace to persons with disabilities” in the federal public service. This will specifically apply to workers in federal departments.
The Strategy identified five goals as being most pressing to realize the vision of making the public service the most accessible and inclusive in the world:
- Improving recruitment, retention, and promotion of persons with disabilities
- Enhancing the accessibility of the built environment
- Making information and communications technology usable by all
- Equipping public servants to design and deliver accessible programs and services
- Building an accessibility confident public service
The Strategy will be subject to a review in 2021.
Unions still have concerns
PSAC is concerned the Accessible Canada Act remains vague about the specific steps that employers must take to make their workplaces accessible. However, PSAC will be able to provide our input as the government sets new regulations under this law. The regulations are intended to provide more specific requirements and standards.
PSAC and other unions also raised concerns about the Strategy. For example, the government has still failed to create a centralized accommodation fund to ensure accessibility across the public service does not depend on individual departmental budgets. The Strategy also does not provide a clear authority for ensuring that departments are meeting their goals.
PSAC will continue to work with the government and our members with disabilities to ensure that the new legislation and strategy are thoroughly implemented and we will continue to push for improvements.