Compliance

Accessible Canada Act (ACA): Compliance With Canada’s Highest Accessibility Law

Discover the Accessible Canada Act‘s impact and how to comply with it. The ACA is a critical federal-level disability rights law that aims to create a barrier-free Canada by 2040. This comprehensive guide explores the significance of the ACA in historical context, and discusses concerns that fall under its aegis: physical and digital accessibility, covered disabilities and included areas of concern, compliance essentials, and the broader goals of an inclusive society. In addition, it offers action items and practical steps for organizations to test for and improve accessibility.

 

Canada’s Voyage to Connection & Inclusion

Washed by three boundless seas, Canada is an immense and exuberantly diverse mix of still-untamed wilderness counterbalanced by dynamic human cities. It is the ecological range of innumerable species of flora and fauna, rare and common: the Arctic poppy emblazoned on the coat of arms of Nunavut, the tiny pine vole of Newfoundland and the majestic, patiently hunting polar bear, all illustrate in full color the wide and wild array of nature’s web of life.

 

All these are more than a dramatic backdrop: they are an integral part of forming the character of the societies, cities and cultures that grow there. They form both stage and home for the stories that unfold upon them.

 

Cosmopolitan commerce and tech hubs like Toronto and Vancouver, the urban yet old-world charm of Montreal, and smaller towns and villages from Nova Scotia to the Yukon, are living manifestations of Canada’s multilayered history, built on the bedrock of the land and environment. A complex narrative of many cultures has been woven over centuries here. Canada's history, marked by both conflict and cooperation, has built a national character that is rooted in values such as tolerance and respect. Canadians, perhaps best known today for their friendly demeanor, and their ability to find common ground, have built a multicultural haven where many people can find a place to belong.

 

Canada has persevered through both calm waters and treacherous rapids with resilience and cooperation, forging connections and striving towards a future where diversity is embraced. Canada's voyage towards greater civil rights for all, including people with disabilities, has been shaped by its best as well as its most difficult experiences, and by the recognition that diversity and inclusion are fundamental to creating a just and equitable society.

 

The Canadian odyssey is a story that speaks of a growing communal understanding that everyone, regardless of their abilities, deserves to be fully included and respected. This perspective has had a significant impact on Canadian legislation, including the passing of the Accessible Canada Act in 2019. Canada's conscious dedication to inclusivity reflects a deep-seated belief in the inherent worth and potential of every individual. 

 

diverse ethnically mixed group of people at cafe canadian city

Accessibility: A Movement, And What It Addresses

What is accessibility? Accessibility, as a movement guided by shared principles, has a single-minded focus: its end goal is to build a better world where everyone can fully participate in all aspects of society. Its intent, materially speaking, is to remove barriers that hinder people with disabilities from equally accessing the same opportunities and privileges as those granted to people without disabilities.

 

Within that larger mission, accessibility addresses the problems of physical barriers, such as inaccessible buildings, transportation systems, and public spaces that prevent people with disabilities from moving around freely and safely, as well as obstacles to communication such as inaccessible information and communication technologies (ICT), a category that includes websites, applications, telecommunication, and signage, and negative stereotypes and prejudices that can lead to discrimination against and exclusion of people with disabilities of any kind. While not all methods of communication are electronic, we summarize ICT as more or less grouped under the umbrella of digital communication. After all, not many of us are still using a paper cup and string to get our message across. That being clarified, we can call accessible communication in today’s age a reachable milestone whose time has come.

wheelchair user driving across the string of cup and string communication graphic

Defining Digital Accessibility

Digital accessibility refers to the practice of designing, developing, testing, and adjusting digital products and services so that they are inclusive and usable for people with disabilities. This includes making websites, applications, and other digital documents and content, as well as the technology and equipment they are based on, compatible with assistive technologies, such as screen readers, and making sure that they are easy to use for people with visual or hearing impairments, as well as other disabilities.

 

Digital accessibility guidelines such as the independently developed, internationally accepted WCAG, formulate and institute specific rules and recommendations to help websites and online content become usable for everyone, including people with disabilities. Meeting WCAG standards, as well as other, more localized criteria and regional government protocols for digital accessibility is a fundamental factor in creating and improving inclusivity in the online and electronic spheres.

 

Why is Digital Accessibility More Important Than Ever?

Digital technologies have become increasingly indispensable as ways to engage in every part of today’s society: in education, employment, commerce, and even basic communication interactions, such as a phone call or message to a loved one. As more activities and services move online, it is absolutely necessary that digital accessibility is not considered as an afterthought, but is rather a core principle of design and development, taken into account from the beginning and implemented very early on in product and content lifecycles.

 

Digital accessibility is very clearly a moral imperative. As well as satisfying the natural human urge to do the right thing, providing equitable access to the digital world welcomes everyone to the table, accommodating full participation. Digital or web accessibility is also a legal requirement in many countries, including Canada. The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) mandates that federally regulated organizations make their websites, applications, and other digital products and services accessible to people with disabilities.

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An Abridged History: Equal Rights Advocacy and Law in Canada

A long and ongoing struggle for equality and inclusion is still underway in Canada, as it is in the rest of the world. Reaching as far back perhaps as 1833 with the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire, including Canada, and hitting its stride in the 1960s, early efforts focused on raising awareness about and challenging discriminatory practices towards minority groups and people with disabilities. Some of these sought-for human rights were made into laws at the federal, provincial or territorial levels, to provide real legal protection to Canadian citizens.

 

Canada was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945. A Canadian scholar and lawyer, John Humphrey, participated in the 1948 writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The first two of its 30 articles, describing human rights in the context of equality and nondiscrimination, became the basis of the Canadian Human Rights Act, first passed in 1977. This Act protects against discrimination based on criteria including age, race, or disability. Canada has since ratified seven covenants and conventions around human rights, including the 2010 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

 

Section 15 of the The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, added in 1985 to the Constitution Act of 1982, explicitly protects equal rights under the law for all people in Canada, including people with physical or mental disabilities. Because the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, all other laws must follow its guidelines and keep consistent with its rules.

 

The Charter applies only to government bodies, and not to private sector organizations or individuals. It also allows for programs or laws that are intended to improve conditions for groups or persons who have been denied opportunities or who have suffered disadvantages. Subsection 15(2) refers to programs to improve employment and career opportunities for groups including women, First Nations or Indigenous peoples, minorities of other types, and individuals with disabilities both physical and mental.

 

The ‘In Unison' report (1998 and subsequent updates) laid out metrics and established a thorough approach for advancing Canadian inclusivity by removing obstacles blocking people with disabilities from participating fully in society. The ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) by Canada in 2010 marked a turning point and reaffirmed this resolve.

In a landmark move towards a more inclusive Canada, in June 2019 Canada's House of Commons and Senate passed the Accessible Canada Act (ACA). This groundbreaking legislation, which came into force in July of 2019, represents the first national-level law to address accessibility across federal and private organizations, including banking, transportation, and telecommunications.

 

universal declaration of human rights

An Equitable Objective: The ACA’s Raison d'être  

What is the primary function of the Accessible Canada Act? The ACA has a bold mission: creating a barrier-free Canada by 2040. To achieve this ambitious purpose, the ACA enjoins Canadian businesses to proactively remove barriers in seven key areas: employment, the built environment, IT and communication technology, non-IT communication technologies and equipment, procurement and acquisition, program delivery, and transportation.

 

Canada's journey toward accessibility is a testament to its dedication to diversity and inclusion. As the nation continues to champion an equitable world, it serves as a trailblazer, demonstrating practical ways that compassion, understanding, and a steadfast support for human rights can bring about a more just and inclusive society. The ACA reflects Canada's commitment to cultivating a culture where everyone can participate fully and equally.

 

The ACA's comprehensive framework is reshaping Canada's architectural and electronic landscape, making buildings, services, and technologies more accessible to people with disabilities. This legislation is making a more equitable Canada not just possible but actual: a country where everyone can contribute their unique skills and talents.

 

Guiding Principles of the Accessible Canada Act

 

dignity

Dignity

Treat everyone respectfully and with dignity, no matter who they are.

opportunity

Opportunity

Everyone should have opportunities. No one should be left out or left behind.

access

Access

Everyone must have barrier-free access to full participation in society.

choice

Choice

Everyone must have meaningful options and the freedom to choose.

law policy

Law/Policy

Laws, policies & programs must take disability into account.

involvement

Involvement

People with disabilities must be part of creating laws/policies, services & structures.

aim high

Aim High

Accessibility standards & regulations must strive to achieve the highest level accessibility.

Consider these ACA principles. They should act as moral guideposts and practical reference points for preparing an ACA-mandated accessibility plan, and for every step along the way to creating new environments.

 

ACA Requirements: A Rapid Run-Through

ACA Compliance for Physical Accessibility

 

For full functional accessibility in physical surroundings, the focus is on creating barrier-free environments. This applies to all federally regulated facilities and public spaces. For ACA compliance in the built environment, buildings, transportation, and other physical infrastructure must be made accessible to people with disabilities.

 

Digital Accessibility Under the ACA

 

Under the Accessible Canada Act, federally regulated organizations must make their websites, applications, and other digital products accessible to people with disabilities. This aligns with international standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).


icons showing intersection of digital physical accessibility and connectedness emphasizing comprehensive scope of ACA

What Are Priority Areas That Must Be Made Accessible?

 

Priority areas is a term used to designate spaces that are required to be in ACA compliance. This term can refers at times to a wider type of priority space that may include sectors, or to priority areas within sectors and organizations.

The areas listed below are considered the seven key ACA areas of obligation for accessibility, physical and digital. Each one describes a service, product, or environment provided to the general public, or internally to obligated bodies.

In order to make these priority areas fully accessible under the Accessible Canada Act, Accessibility Standards Canada consults and works with persons with disabilities, other accessibility and area experts, industry representatives, and other impacted stakeholders.

 

While most public and private sector organizations that fall under Canadian federal jurisdiction are included, there are exceptions and exemptions. In some cases, other legislative bodies, such as the Canadian Transportation Agency, or lower-level government, provincial, or territorial bodies or agencies will make more specific regulations, to allow for fuller coverage and more defined laws. These seven areas are broad categories; we’ll start by listing them.

What Products, Services, Devices, & Equipment Must Be Accessible?

What Disabilities Are Covered Under the ACA?

The ACA covers a wide range of disabilities, including visual, hearing, mobility, cognitive, and neurological impairments, in the categories of physical, sensory, intellectual, permanent, and episodic impairments, along with mental health conditions. ACA compliance requires that all of these disabilities be considered and addressed in the design and development of digital and physical products and environments.

Awareness Note

⏺ It is important to remember that disabilities are not always visible.
⏺ Do not assume that someone does or does not have a disability.

When is a disability included in ACA regulations?

 

ACA disability inclusion is based on the sum of the situation, rather than a disability alone. When a person with a disability meets a barrier while interacting with an environment, and is thus prevented from fully participating in society, that is what makes a disability fall under ACA compliance requirements.

 

assistive tools and disability symbols

Disability Examples

 

A person using a wheelchair cannot access a building because it has no ramp.

An individual with a mental health condition has anxiety in large crowds.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes mental and physical impairments and the Supreme Court of Canada found that disability should be given an extensive and liberal interpretation following the Charter; for more information, refer to the Mercier case, Quebec v. Montreal City v. Boisbriand (City).

 

It has been widely agreed by higher Canadian courts, overruling lower courts with more pinpointed labeling of disabilities, that discrimination, limitation or barriers that arise because of an impairment are factors that contribute to whether the impairment is included under the ACA.

 

Although other Canadian legislation, including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) do pinpoint more specific criteria for disability, higher courts nevertheless are highly likely to follow the Mercier case and rule in favor of the individual with disabilities.

 

What Is a “Barrier” Under the ACA?

When we discuss making a barrier-free Canada, it is important to know what that means. The ACA defines a barrier to accessibility as anything that “hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with an impairment”. This is quite a broad definition. While examples are provided, other accessibility statutes at the provincial level define barriers more specifically, and this may be used as a guideline as well.

 

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act section 3(2) offers high-level barrier categories that reflect ACA definitions:

Barrier Examples

Barriers to Employment

Barriers in Architecture & the Built Environment

Barriers in Information & Communication Technology

Barriers to Communication: Non-ICT

Barriers to Acquisition & Procurement: Buying or Renting Services, Goods, or Spaces

Barriers to Programs & Services

Barriers to Transport

The Importance of ACA Accessibility Compliance

Accessibility is legally required under the Accessible Canada Act (ACA). Noncompliance with ACA regulations can result in severe legal consequences, including financial penalties and reputational damage.

 

For individuals with disabilities, the consequences of noncompliance are far more profound. Inaccessible digital and physical environments create barriers that limit their access to education, employment, healthcare, and other essential services.

The ACA is pivotal legislation aimed straight at accessibility barriers, with the intention of making Canada and Canadian society more welcoming for all. By securing both digital and physical accessibility as part of equal rights for individuals with disabilities, the ACA protects their means of living independently, contributing to society, and enjoying equal opportunities.

 

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ACA Compliance Enforcement

 

The following ACA regulations and standards are enforced by the Accessibility Commissioner:

Enforcement Areas

All priority areas
Specific priority areas (e.g., employment)

Sectors & Entities

  • Government of Canada
  • Parliamentary entities
  • Banks
  • Federal transportation network
  • Broadcasting
  • Telecommunications

Several tools may be used by the AC to enforce ACA compliance: a thorough inspection; requiring organizations to produce reports and records (production order); mandating that an organization remediate a violation and take corrective action as well as preventative measures to avoid repeated violations (compliance order); giving notice, that is, warning an organization or setting a penalty of up to $250K for each violation (notice of violation); or defining an agreement with the organization wherein they outline how they will remediate the violation (compliance agreement).

 

For broadcasting and telecoms, the responsible body is the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. It is their task to ensure ACA compliance for these priority areas that fall under their jurisdiction.

 

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Assess & Identify Obstacles

Remediate or Remove Barriers

Plan Ahead & Prevent Issues

  • Get audited
  • Define problem areas
  • Monitor & review assets
  • Fix accessibility issues
  • Remove obstacles
  • Improve difficult areas
  • Start with accessibility
  • Build in & plan for access
  • Create roles for review

ACA Organizational Compliance

Who’s Obligated?


Bodies and agencies of the Canadian federal government including parliamentary entities, Crown corporations, and the Canadian Forces and the RCMP, as well as any organization that is federally regulated. Such regulated organizations in the private sector include banks, the federal transit network (air, rail, road and marine transport when they cross borders, whether provincial or international), telecoms and broadcasting.

What’s Required?

All obligated organizations must:

  • Involve and consult with people with disabilities.
  • Compose and publish accessibility plans detailing how they intend to identify, remediate or remove, and prevent barriers to accessibility.
  • Build systems for accepting, processing and responding to accessibility feedback.
  • Write up and release progress reports.

 

3P: Planning, Processes, Progress

 

This three part process helps move accessibility ahead and keep it front of mind.

Planning

Processes

Progress

Accessibility planning must include consulting people with disabilities (PwD) early on and throughout planning.

Plans must set a considered and defined path for priority areas:

policies, programs, services & practices.

These plans must be updated every third year, or as per regulation specifications.

Feedback options must be put in place from the beginning.

Accessibility-related comments or complaints must have a response mechanism that includes a process to actively and practically deal with fixing problems in accessibility.

Regularly published updates on building, implementing, and improving accessibility create accountability.

Updates must answer:

  • What actions have you taken to implement your accessibility plans?
  • What feedback have you received?
  • How have you taken feedback into consideration?
  • Have you consulted PwD while preparing your reports?

Accessibility Plan Example

 

 

The Canadian Government Public Services and Procurement Department's Accessibility Plan for 2023 to 2025 is a thorough example of how accessibility plans should be structured, and what should be included. This plan also offers alternate formats for the plan itself and for the feedback process on demand.

 

 

ACA Compliance Requirements: Level Up

Physical or Built Environment Accessibility: Are There Different Levels?

 

Accessibility compliance for the built environment is required at a pass/fail level, and it is measurable, but complex.

 

In the built environment, accessibility relies on precise location and functionality (the exact width of an elevator, or the direction a restroom entrance door swings) in tandem with spatial and functional factors that often interact.

 

 

It is advisable to check standards thoroughly at the Accessibility Standards Canada’s Centre of Expertise for Standards and Research on Accessibility. More specifically, we suggest that you review the ASC page on accessibility standards for the Built Environment.

 

 

Keep in mind that these standards are structured by areas of focus, such as outdoor spaces and emergency exits, and are very specific rather than level-based. Consult with a built environment accessibility expert if possible.

 

 

accessible toilet

Canadian ICT & Web Accessibility Compliance Levels: Are They WCAG-Aligned?

 

Short answer, yes, indirectly. Under the ACA, CAN-ASC-6.1 Information and Communication Technology Products and Services is a standard that began development in February of 2022, with a review in the third quarter of 2023. Its completed publication is expected to be in winter 2024. With that being said, the technical committee dedicated to working on ICT accessibility requirements aims to require alignment with, and adoption of, the EN 301 549 harmonized European accessibility standard for ICT Accessibility, under ETSI , in compliance with the Web Accessibility Directive (WAD), and in association with the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), part of the W3C.

 

Let’s look at the structural order of these accessibility bodies and guidelines, with a reminder that all of this works as a reference point for Canadian accessibility laws and standards. However, neither the EN 301 549 nor the WCAG are officially set as obligated compliance standards for Canadian law yet. Nevertheless, this is the hierarchy of accessibility regulations, and it is used in courts and in litigation to determine whether an entity is in ACA compliance.

WCAG Levels

 

Within the WCAG, there are three progressive levels: A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the most basic layer of accessibility, bare minimum. Level AA builds on Level A, and makes more things usable for more people. AAA is advanced, and while it is the most inclusive, it is not always possible, in part because some features may contradict each other.

Important Note

WCAG Level AA is the law for most accessibility regulations around the world.

WCAG Releases

 

WCAG 2.2, the most recent WCAG release came out in October of 2023, and is still not fully required by most accessibility regulations and laws. It is a standard to strive for, and it should be incorporated into accessibility planning and improvement as soon as possible. It will become a compliance obligation at some point in the near future, so it is best to begin with it immediately, if possible.

Important Note

WCAG release 2.1 (Level AA) is the current accessibility standard for most legal purposes.

ACA Legislative Leaders & Decisionmakers 

Below are summaries of the roles and responsibilities within the ACA. This is a good resource for finding the correct entity to address for complaints and appeals.

 

Complaints & Appeals

 

Accessibility is legally required under the Accessible Canada Act (ACA). Noncompliance with ACA regulations can result in severe legal consequences, including financial penalties and reputational damage. In the table below, note the appropriate bodies where complaints should be addressed. However, it is also clear that these types of complaints are relatively rare, and it is wisest to engage an experienced advisor to help with a complaint, if needed.

Role

Responsibilities

Minister

The Minister is responsible for making sure Canada reaches the ultimate ACA no-barriers goal by or before the January 1, 2040 deadline. This is the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, currently Carla Qualtrough.

In addition, the Minister:

  • Supplies accessibility information
  • Advises and assists on accessibility matters
  • Fosters, supports, and advances accessibility research

AC

It is the Accessibility Commissioner’s responsibility to ensure that all Canadian federal organizations and all federal services are in compliance with the ACA.

Complaints regarding the ACA may be addressed to the AC, among other entities.

The AC is commissioned by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Currently, this is Michael Gottheil.

CAO

The CAO (Chief Accessibility Officer) acts as special advisor to the Minister on accessibility issues, both endemic and developing. This advisory role is within the department of Employment and Social Development (ESDC). The position is currently vacant.

CASDO

Created to help build a truly barrier-free Canada, the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization:

  • Develops and revises accessibility standards
  • Works to prevent new obstacles to accessibility from forming
  • Recommends standards for accessibility conformance that apply to the majority of organizations

CRTC

Covering broadcasting, telecoms and internet providers and their services, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission sets standards for accessibility in telecommunications, as for example mobile wireless service plans that meet disability needs.

Complaints on these matters may be directed to the CRTC, among other entities.

FPSLREB

Accessibility-related grievances from Canadian federal employees, including the RCMP, may be addressed to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations & Employment Board (FPSLREB).

CHRT

Complainants and regulated entities may file appeals before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal:

  • When they are directly affected by a substantiated ACA complaint
  • With regard to complaints that have been dismissed

ACA Obligated Sectors & Entities: Who Must Comply?

While the ACA applies to nearly all government departments and agencies at the federal level, as well as to federally regulated organizations, it has had, and will continue to have, a reverberating impact on accessibility, flowing outward and down to other governmental and non-governmental institutions in a ripple effect. With regard to digital accessibility, it has precipitated major changes in policies, directions, and attitudes.

 

It is also noted by experts that there is a strong possibility that litigation could arise regarding private sector operations acting in a sphere regulated by the federal government. These may fall within ACA obligations.

Exemption: Territories

Because of their historical separation from the general government of Canada, the ACA does not apply in any sense to the governments of the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, or Nunavut, nor to any corporation performing functions or duties on their behalf.

These particular territories are not part of the Canadian Constitution. Rather, their legislative assemblies make their own laws, including those regarding human rights and accessibility rights. There are, of course, individually applicable laws and human rights complaint processes for each such territory.

snowy canadian peaks

As well as the territories mentioned above, there are other provincial and territorial laws that can apply to certain institutions and locales. These may expand on or parallel ACA regulations.

Exemption: Military & Police

Under the principle of universality of service, all members of the Canadian Forces, must be able to perform their duties. Similarly, all members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police must meet standards under the RCMP Act.

Universality of service in the Canadian Forces has been addressed as a barrier in itself in Chua v. Canada and other cases, and exceptions may at some point apply to a person serving in a non-combat role.

canadian mounties

What is a regulated entity?

 

This expression refers to individuals or organizations that:

ICT

If your organization’s website is connected to any of the entities under federal jurisdiction, that website must be in compliance with ADA requirements.

Graphic Suggestion: Network image, connecting to government icons.

Essential Services, Higher Responsibility for Access

Some sectors or industries that may not seem to have a direct obligation to comply with the ACA do, however, have a responsibility to comply with accessibility standards, including but not limited to the ACA, because of the nature of their services or products, and because they are in many cases federally obligated to do so.

 

Education

 

Students with disabilities must be provided with equal educational opportunities by educational institutions, including fully accessible learning materials, websites, and facilities.

 

While some Canadian schools and universities may be privately run, especially religious-based institutions, most education in Canada is public, that is, provided for and funded by government agencies and policies.

 

Education

 

Students with disabilities must be provided with equal educational opportunities by educational institutions, including fully accessible learning materials, websites, and facilities.

 

Healthcare

 

In the “Certain Circumstances” reports (2001), accessibility is described as a fundamental principle in Canadian health care, per the Canada Health Act.

 

Accessible healthcare facilities, services, websites, and communication tools are essential for providing adequate medical care to individuals with disabilities.

 

Financial

 

Financial services are indispensable for accessing income, managing finances, and participating in the economy. Denying access significantly impacts people with disabilities, creating barriers to independence and equality.

 

Financial institutions often control access to critical resources like accounts, loans, and benefits. This creates a power imbalance, and any lack of accessibility can disproportionately harm individuals with disabilities.

 

Retail & Hospitality

 

These sectors cater to basic human needs like food and accommodation. Denying accessible access to grocery or clothing shopping or to hotels can severely limit mobility and independence for people with disabilities.

 

Retail and hospitality also offer public spaces for social interaction and participation in community life. Lack of accessibility in retail and hospitality spaces excludes individuals with disabilities, hindering their social integration and access to essential services.

 

ACA Deadlines for Compliance

For the following entities and organizations, check the level of compliance below that applies for various deadlines set. These are relative to entity function and size. Be aware that all obligated organizations and entities must be in full up-to-date compliance by 2040, regardless of size.

 

Deadlines for Accessibility Plans

 

These deadlines below are not for full accessibility compliance; they refer to the required accessibility plan publish date as part of planning and reporting requirements set by the Accessible Canada Regulations. As you’ll note, some deadlines are in the past, thus requiring full compliance by the present.

Government

Large fed. reg. private sector

Small fed. reg. private sector

December 31, 2022

June 1, 2023

June 1, 2024

Government entities (e.g., government departments & agencies), Crown corporations, government-related entities (e.g. military) or Parliamentary entities.

Larger private sector organizations with 100+ employees, when they are federally regulated.

Smaller private sector organizations with 10 to 99 employees, when they are federally regulated.

Truth & Consequence: Ramifications of ACA Noncompliance

Noncompliance with the ACA can lead to significant consequences, including:

Fines


Financial penalties of up to $250,000 per violation may apply to any federally regulated bodies, in some cases including private sector organizations.

 

Reputational Damage

 

Noncompliance with accessibility standards can tarnish an organization's reputation and lead to negative publicity and loss of customer trust.

 

Legal Challenges

Individuals with disabilities who experience barriers due to noncompliance may take legal action against organizations.

 

ACA Noncompliance Fines

 

 

Organizations that are federally regulated / under federal jurisdiction must comply with the The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) by their listed deadlines or face a fine of up to $250,000. This may apply to each compliance violation, not as an overall cap on penalties.

 

 

Regional fines

 

The ACA promotes accessibility and equal opportunities. By following ACA regulations and aiming for WCAG AA compliance or better, organizations can be a part of creating a more inclusive society for people with disabilities.

 

Testing for ACA Compliance: Website and Business Accessibility

 

To assess for ACA compliance, organizations can employ a combination of automated and manual testing methods.

 

Verifying ACA Compliance for Physical Accessibility

 

Qualified Accessibility Professionals (QAPs) are trained individuals who can be hired to conduct comprehensive assessments of your physical environment, identifying areas that may hinder accessibility for people with disabilities. They utilize various tools and techniques, from measuring doorways to simulating different disabilities, to check if your space meets ACA standards.

 

Built Environment Areas of Testing Focus

expert checking building area for functional accessibility

Choosing a QAP

 

Some architectural and design firms offer accessibility consulting services as part of their portfolio. And, many cities and provinces have accessibility committees or organizations that can connect you with local certified QAPs.

ACA Testing for Digital Accessibility

 

Fully and partially automated web accessibility testing tools are useful for gauging accessibility levels of digital assets. They can scan websites and applications to identify potential accessibility barriers. These tools can detect issues related to accessibility criteria such as color contrast, alternative text for images, keyboard navigation, and other accessibility guidelines.

 

Manual accessibility testing for ICT and digital content, products, and services involves real people with disabilities using websites, applications and technology to identify any issues they encounter. This method provides valuable insights into the user experience of individuals with different abilities.

 

Practical Implementation: Simple Steps to Digital Accessibility

 

Beyond checking off compliance requirements, creating accessible digital and web content means building and improving online and technological interfaces so that everyone can effectively use them, regardless of abilities.

 

7 Minute Review: 7 Digital Accessibility Action Items

 

Start as early on in the process as you can, but be reassured that although it is not always a quick fix, accessibility can be substantially improved at any stage in the lifecycle of your digital content.

bind person using computer with assistive technology

 

 

Overlays: Digital Accessibility Allies

 

 

While overlays have gotten a bad rap with some accessibility advocates, we believe that when properly used and leveraged rather than seen as a magic wand, overlays do deserve a re-evaluation within the broader context of web accessibility strategies. Rather than dismissing them as mere “quick fixes,” we can view them as valuable tools offering distinct advantages in specific situations.

It is important to acknowledge that overlays are not a comprehensive accessibility solution. They cannot address all accessibility issues, and their integration with existing code requires careful consideration. However, when used strategically, overlays can be powerful allies in the quest for a more inclusive web.

 

 

Canada’s Accessible Future

 

Standing where we are, we can look both behind us and forward to what lies ahead, understanding the past and deciding on how to move with what we know to our hoped-for destinations. Following the long trail of accessibility advocacy through the tangled thickets of history up to this legislative mandate, the Accessible Canada Act is a bright beacon that shows a path forward. It illuminates the way to a possible world where everyone can be an equal participant in a shared Canadian experience, online and off, in the areas of life that are important to us all.

 

The ACA offers a chance to rewrite the ways we’ve sometimes skimmed past each other’s needs, in larger historical context and in our day to day. Now, there’s a new story that we can tell, and it’s a better one, a more thoughtful tale.

 

 

Recognizing accessibility as a fundamental human right that everyone deserves is an important first step. As the structure of the ACA and its related laws and regulations are developed into policy, procedure, and particulars, as these details and to-dos are mandated and implemented to bring more digital and physical domains and tools to a usable level of accessibility compliance, it is becoming clearer that the vision of a Canada without barriers is not a dream. It’s a future that we can contribute to creating right now, with every brick and every byte that we assemble into more accessible environments. When we include everyone, when we welcome all talents and engage all spirits, our collective potential knows no bounds.

 

FAQs

The ACA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, promotions, training, and accommodations. Employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities to enable them to perform their job duties effectively.

The ACA mandates that all federally regulated buildings and facilities be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes accessible entrances, ramps, elevators, restrooms, and other features that allow people with disabilities to move around and use all facilities safely and independently.

The ACA requires federally regulated organizations to provide alternative formats of communication for people with disabilities, such as Braille, sign language interpretation, and large print documents. This provides equal access to people with disabilities to information so they can communicate effectively with others.

Preventing and eliminating accessibility barriers before they arise. Respecting all Canadians, including those with disabilities, by providing equal access to opportunities and participation in society. Integrating accessibility considerations into the design and development of products, services, and environments from the outset. Recognizing that the responsibility for accessibility is shared among all levels of government and the private sector.

The Accessibility Commissioner of Canada provides a range of resources to help organizations comply with the ACA, including plain-language guidance documents that explain the requirements of the ACA and provide practical advice on how to comply, online tools that can help organizations assess their current level of accessibility and identify areas for improvement, and training and support programs to help organizations develop their accessibility expertise.

The ACA has a vast scope. Organizations need to consider accessibility in everything they do, from their websites and applications to their buildings and transportation. This can be a daunting task, especially for organizations with limited resources. Another challenge is the constantly evolving nature of accessibility standards. As technology advances, new requirements emerge. Organizations need to keep up-to-date on changes to stay compliant.

People with disabilities have greater access to goods, services, and opportunities. Organizations are less likely to face legal challenges related to accessibility. Organizations demonstrate their accessibility commitment and leadership, which can improve their public image and attract new customers. Employees with disabilities are likely to feel valued and supported, which can lead to increased productivity and morale.

Start with a self-assessment of your current level of accessibility to identify areas for improvement. Develop an accessibility plan that outlines your goals for accessibility and how you will achieve them. Consult with experts in accessibility to get guidance and support. Train your employees on the importance of accessibility and how to implement accessible practices. Regularly monitor your progress towards your accessibility goals.

Search for reputable consultants who can provide expert assessment and advice on accessibility issues, and find companies that offer training on accessibility topics. Make good use of available software tools that can help organizations identify and fix accessibility problems., And, look into accessibility advocacy organizations that can provide accessibility information to the public as well as offering support to people with disabilities.

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