Accessible Canada Act

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The Accessible Canada Act (long title: An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada) presently known as Bill C-81) (ACA) (the Act) received Royal Assent on June 21st, 2019. The Act builds on the Canadian Human Rights Act focusing on the prohibition of discrimination based on disability.[1] This is a Canada-wide accessibility act that applies to the federal public sector, as well as all federally regulated organizations.

Included in the ACA is the position of an Accessibility Commissioner and Chief Accessibility Officer. The Accessibility Commissioner has the authority to fine organizations up to $250,000.00 per violation. Accessibility standards required for the ACA will be developed by the newly created Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO).

As defined, it will require the public sector to:

  • hire 1 thousand new employees who identify as people with disabilities for 5 years;
  • review anything which may be a barrier for the public or the public sector;
  • create an initial accessibility plan within a year of the Act receives royal assent;
  • publish an updated accessibility plan, and notify the Accessibility Commissioner, on an annual basis outlining progress to-date. This plan must be made available to people on request.
  • consult persons with disabilities in the preparation of its accessibility plan and include the manner of consultation in the report.

The Accessibility Commissioner has broad powers to conduct investigations of complaints. If the complaint is substantiated, they have the power to order the appropriate corrective measures and pay compensation to the complainant.

In the Backgrounder on Accessible Government[2] provided by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), several other items have been outlined which pertain to the public sector. Perhaps the most immediate will be the five-year commitment for the public sector to hire a thousand employees per year who identify as people with disabilities.

The government will be investing $53 million over six years[3], in support of a new Strategy for an Accessible Government of Canada. An “Accessibility Hub” will also be established to provide leadership, coordination and oversight. The details of this strategy and “Accessibility Hub” will be developed and released to the public within one year of the passage of the legislation.

Procurement Canada will establish an accessible procurement resource centre[4]. The government will adjust its policies to ensure that goods and services procured by the Government of Canada are accessible.

The Bill named National AccessAbility Week as the week starting on the last Sunday in May. This is part of an effort to change the public sector’s culture, and celebrate Canadians with disabilities.

The vision of the Act is to be the most accessible and inclusive public service in the world[5]. The guiding principles are:

  • Nothing without us: Persons with disabilities are involved in the design and implementation of the strategy.
  • Collaboration: Departments and agencies work in collaboration with each other as well as with bargaining agents, and other public, private, and not-for-profit organizations.
  • Sustainability: The strategy prioritizes actions that will have a long-term impact.
  • Transparency: The strategy is developed and implemented in a transparent manner and departments will report openly and transparently on their efforts to remove barriers.

These principles are important to reflect on throughout the process. Are people with disabilities involved in the decision and implementation? Is there an effort to collaborate beyond the department, project or government? Have root issues of accessibility been addressed, or is this a temporary fix? How are successes and failures being communicated to those affected?

The five most pressing goals defined in the act include[6]:

  • 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

Many of the details of this are still being developed, the current strategy is[7] available. The purpose of the bill is to make Canada barrier-free in areas under federal jurisdiction.


  1. ^ "Summary of the Accessible Canada Act". Equidox.
  2. ^ "Backgrounder: Accessible Government". Government of Canada.
  3. ^ "Backgrounder: Accessible Government". Government of Canada.
  4. ^ "PSPC establishes centre of expertise for accessible procurement". Buy & Sell. Government of Canada.
  5. ^ "New strategy for a more accessible and inclusive public service". Government of Canada.
  6. ^ "New strategy for a more accessible and inclusive public service". Government of Canada.
  7. ^ "Services - Accessibility strategy for the Public Service of Canada". Government of Canada.

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