Disability Law Will Make History

Vjosa Isai
The Toronto Star , Aug. 24, 2017

As pen hits paper in drafting Canada’s first federal accessibility legislation, disability experts say they want to see independent enforcement and standardized accessibility features in the new law.

Among others, these recommendations were heard by Carla Qualtrough, federal minister of sport and persons with disabilities, at a conference on Tuesday, as the government works to draft its new law following months of public consultations.

“This law, when created, will be very proactive and basically tell employers, and service providers, and programmers, and the government itself, these are the expectations we have on you and we’re going to hold you to account,” Qualtrough said. “I think that we’re going to make history.”

Although the prospective act would govern only those areas under federal authority, such as banks, telecommunications and interprovincial transportation, Qualtrough believes it will also show leadership beyond this jurisdiction and inspire provinces to create similar laws.

Currently, seven provinces do not have accessibility legislation.

Disability advocate and lawyer David Lepofsky has been closely involved in holding the provincial government to account in its goal of being fully accessible by 2025, since it passed its landmark Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005.

Lepofsky commended Ottawa for participating in Tuesday’s conference, which included experts from the U.S. and Israel and was accessibly broadcast online from the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University. However, he said, it’s important for the law to contain features that will make it endure past this government’s time in office.

“We need a national champion,” he said. “It’s great to have a minister, but we need someone who’s not political, but who’s got the mandate to stand up and lead the enforcement, lead making the standards, and also be the one to say where we’re doing well, and call us out.”

Other suggestions from the expert panel include accountability functions from an independent body, detailed and standardized accessibility requirements, and greater enforcement action for non-compliance.

Bila Berg, a lawyer at the Israeli commission on the rights of people with disabilities, said the country has 12 inspectors nationwide tasked with enforcing accessibility laws. There are five with comparable duties in Ontario, Lepofsky said.

The minister also heard about how technology procurement by the government can help steer private companies or vendors to innovate accessibility into their products.

Lucy Greco, an Albertan web accessibility expert based at the University of California, Berkeley, has worked with companies like Google in developing an accessible interface for their web collaboration tools.

“It’s your role to help find experts to help people achieve the accessibility they need … they can’t do this in a vacuum,” said Greco, who has been blind since birth.

For Qualtrough, the law will help to create a consistent accessibility experience for Canadians.

“We’re going to say as a system, and as a society, that we need to remove barriers because you’re entitled to live in a world that thinks of you and includes you as someone with a disability,” she said.

The legislation is expected to be introduced by the end of the year or early 2018.

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