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What is Bill C-81, The Accessible Canada Act?

Accessibility in Canada

According to Statistics Canada’s 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, 22% of Canadians (6.2 million people) over the age of 15 have at least one disability that limits everyday activities. People with a disability are more likely to live in poverty and have an employment rate of 59% compared to 80% for those without disabilities.

While Canada already has a strong framework for protecting human rights through the Canadian Human Rights Act, an accessible Canada operates as an inclusive country free of barriers. The focus is on creating communities, workplaces, and services that enable all people to participate fully.

The Government of Canada works together with the provinces and territories and the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to improve accessibility and to promote inclusion across the country.

The Accessible Canada Act

One June 20, 2018, the Minister of Science and Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Kirsty Duncan, proposed Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act: An Act to Ensure a Barrier-free Canada to parliament. The bill aims to benefit all Canadians, especially those with disabilities, by helping to create a barrier-free Canada.  

In preparation for the Accessible Canada Act, the Government of Canada consulted Canadians in July 2016 to find out what an accessible Canada meant to them. The results were published in the report “Creating new national accessibility legislation: What we learned from Canadians”. The key areas for accessibility identified by Canadians were: programs and service delivery, employment, the built environment, information and communications technology, procurement, and transportation. These areas now make up the foundation of the Accessible Canada Act.

The purpose of the bill is to identify, remove, and prevent accessibility barriers in:

  • Built environments, including buildings and public spaces
  • Employment, including job opportunities and employment policies and practices
  • Information and communication technologies, including digital content and technologies used to access it
  • Procurement of goods and services
  • Delivering programs and services
  • Transportation, including air, rail, ferry, and bus carriers that operate across a provincial or federal border

The bill also includes principles that guide future interpretation. These principles are rooted in the understanding that barriers to accessibility are at the core of inequalities between Canadians with and without disabilities. These principles are in alignment with Canadian and international law and help communicate the goals of the bill. These goals include:

  • Inherent dignity
  • Equal opportunity
  • Barrier-free government
  • Autonomy
  • Inclusive design
  • Meaningful involvement

The bill gives the Government of Canada the ability to work with stakeholders and with Canadians with disabilities to create new accessibility standards and regulations for sectors under federal jurisdiction. These sectors include banking, telecommunications, transportation, and the Government of Canada. As a result, more inclusive communications and engagement between the Government of Canada and organizations operating under federal jurisdiction can be expected during interactions with the overall Canadian public.

What are the web accessibility requirements under the act?

Website accessibility falls under the ‘information and communication technologies, including digital content and technologies used to access it’ purpose of the bill. It is expected that the requirements will follow the internationally accepted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are also used for web accessibility in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Who must comply with the Accessible Canada Act?

The bill applies to organizations under federal jurisdiction such as:

  • Parliament, including the Senate, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament, and the Parliamentary Protective Service
  • Government of Canada, including government departments, Crown Corporations, and agencies
  • Federally regulated private sector, including organizations in the transportation sectors, broadcasting and telecommunications services, and the banking and financial sectors
  • Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

Regulated entities also have the following duties:

  1. Accessibility plans – An accessibility plan would need to be created in consultation with people with disabilities. This plan must outline the strategies for improving and meeting legal accessibility duties. These plans would have to be published publicly and updated every three years or sooner, depending on updates to rules.
  2. Feedback tools – There would need to be a system in place to receive and respond to feedback from employees or customers.
  3. Progress reports – Reports outlining how accessibility plans will be fulfilled must be created in consultation with people with disabilities and describe how they will address the main concerns of feedback received.

How will the Accessible Canada Act be enforced?

Enforcement of the bill differs depending on the organization or sector. For example, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission oversees compliance and enforcement for broadcasting and telecommunications services. Similarly, the Canadian Transportation Agency oversees compliance and enforcement for the transportation sector. For all other organizations under federal jurisdiction, an Accessibility Commissioner, appointed by the Governor in Council, will be responsible for compliance and enforcement.

Additional compliance activities will also be used, including:

  • Inspections – Inspections will be held by officers to ensure regulated entities are following the requirements and regulations of the Act
  • Compliance audits – Records and other information deemed relevant could be examined by officers
  • Compliance orders – Officers could order a start or stop to activities until a regulated entity meets its responsibilities
  • Notice of violation with warning – Officers could issue this warning to comply if there is a good reason to believe the entity has violated the law
  • Notice of violation with penalty – Officers could issue this notice and a fine if there is a good reason to believe the entity has violated the law
  • Administrative monetary penalties – An officer could require the entity to pay a fine of up to $250,000 depending on the severity of non-compliance
  • Compliance agreement – Entities could enter into a compliance agreement to agree to address the violation once a notice of violation has been issued.

Regulated entities also have the right to appeal decisions or ask for administrative review to make sure there were no errors.

Current Status

On June 21, 2019, The Accessible Canada Act became law after receiving Royal Assent.

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