Canadians weigh in on planned accessibility legislation
TORONTO — Public consultations on Canada’s first national law for disabled people have identified high unemployment rates, inaccessible buildings and barriers in transportation as some of the key issues that need to be addressed.
The priorities were laid out in a report, released by the federal government Monday, summarizing eight months of consultations held with Canadians from coast to coast.
It says participants wanted to see laws that would help lower stubbornly high unemployment rates for those with disabilities, reduce the number of buildings inaccessible to those with physical and intellectual disabilities, and remove accessibility barriers for the country’s air, rail, ferry and bus transportation systems.
Those consulted also named government program and service delivery, information and communications and procurement of goods and services as key areas of focus.
The report also says Canadians have voiced a strong preference for the government to set up an independent body to oversee compliance with the new laws, which are expected to come before the House of Commons in early 2018.
Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough said the consultations have laid the groundwork for her to begin crafting the legislation.
“It’s definitely marching orders for me in terms of what Canadians want to see in accessibility legislation,” Qualtrough said in an interview. “My goal now is to figure out how we write into law these concepts and these principles and these specific ideas.”
The prospective act, which disability rights advocates have been seeking for years, would govern areas that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, telecommunications, and interprovincial transportation.
The report currently estimates one in seven Canadians has some form of disability and projects that number will increase as the population ages.
Those are not confined to visible conditions such as blindness or paralysis, but include mental health disorders, learning disabilities, and episodic ailments such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
The sweeping new legislation will attempt to eliminate barriers for this growing demographic, taking an equally broad view of what a barrier entails.
“My definition of ‘barrier’ is anything that impairs or prevents access, physically or mentally, to any physical movement, learning and/or acceptance by others,” the report quotes one contributor as saying. “Ergo, ‘accessibility’ successfully counters or eliminates the barriers.”
The report said 6,000 Canadians participated in the consultations between June 2016 and February 2017. An additional 90 organizations also offered input.
Employment issues were the top priority identified by the report.
Data has long shown that Canadians with disabilities are greatly under-employed compared to their non-disabled counterparts. Two years ago, Statistics Canada released figures putting the employment rate for disabled Canadians at 49 per cent, compared to 79 per cent for the general population.
Qualtrough noted that many smaller issues are also contained within the broad categories highlighted by the report, citing immigration as an example.
Current legislation effectively bars many people with disabilities from securing long-term status in the country, and Qualtrough said the government is looking to make changes. Such efforts, she said, would fall under the umbrella of programs and services.
So could policies such as those in place at Passport Canada, which currently forbid staff from helping a person with a disability complete their forms.