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Submission regarding the Proposed Guidance and Template for Preparing Accessibility Plans

Submission of ARCH Disability Law Centre to the Accessible Canada Directorate, Employment and Social Development Canada Regarding the Proposed Guidance and Template for Preparing Accessibility Plans

November 30, 2021

Introduction

ARCH provides this submission to the Accessible Canada Directorate, Employment and Social Development Canada, regarding the proposed Guidance and Template for Accessibility Plans.

ARCH’s submission draws upon our legal knowledge of and experience with the Accessible Canada Act (ACA),[1] the Canadian Human Rights Act, dispute resolution processes and decisions of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal, and the federal courts that review those decisions. In addition, our submission is informed by the experiences of persons with disabilities. It also draws upon our work on ARCH’s Meaningful Participation in Regulation Making Project, funded by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component. This project identified barriers in regulation-making processes under the ACA, and proposed recommendations to make these regulation-making processes more inclusive and accessible.

ARCH Disability Law Centre is a specialty legal clinic that practices exclusively in disability rights law. Since incorporation in 1979, ARCH has been dedicated to defending and advancing the equality rights, entitlements, fundamental freedoms and inclusion of persons with disabilities. ARCH provides a range of legal services directly to persons with disabilities in Ontario. ARCH’s work extends nationally as well. ARCH represents persons with disabilities and disability organizations in precedent setting cases at various provincial and federal tribunals, including the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, and the Canadian Transportation Agency, as well as appellate courts, including the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. ARCH has an extensive law reform practice, working on a variety of initiatives to advance the rights of persons with disabilities. ARCH provides public legal education to disability communities, and conducts community development projects to support our law reform work.

ARCH’s Submissions on the Proposed Guidance and Template for Accessibility Plans

A. Guidance Document for Preparing Accessibility Plans

1. General Heading

The general heading of the accessibility plan must “include the manner by which the public can communicate with the regulated entity, namely the civic address of its place of business that is available to the public, a telephone number or an email address”.[2] As such, the guidance document should recommend that organizations include multiple ways to contact the organization to account for accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. It should also recommend that organizations include information about how to request accommodations for making contact with the organization if they are needed.

Guidance could also recommend that organizations integrate the principles in section 6 of the ACA into their vision statement or executive summary, explaining how these principles relate to their overall accessibility strategy.

2. Areas described under section 5 of the Act heading

Some of the recommended information to include under this heading is helpful; for example, that organizations include “concrete and achievable actions your organization is taking (or has already taken) to identify, remove, and prevent barriers in that area” and “policies, programs, practices and services you intend to change in that area, how you plan to change them, and the results you expect from those changes”.[3]

However, some of the recommended information could be further expanded to ensure that organizations set measurable goals with performance indicators, deadlines, and specific responsibilities to meet them, as described later in the guidance document. [4] Additional bullets could be included on page 12 to reflect this, such as:

  • Timeframes within which specified actions will take place;
  • Performance indicators for measuring whether existing barriers have been successfully removed;
  • The position of the person(s) responsible for ensuring that the entire plan and/or each of these actions is implemented; and
  • For updated accessibility plans: barriers in the previous plan that were not removed, setbacks or limitations that explain why, strategies that address these challenges, and timelines for implementation of these strategies.

As well, the guidance document discusses both short and long-term accessibility goals. It could recommend that organizations explain how they prioritized their short-term and long-term accessibility goals and how they developed their metrics, with reference to the feedback they received from consultations and their feedback process. Where it may not be feasible to entirely achieve certain goals during the length of the plan or to use ideal metrics to measure progress, guidance could suggest that organizations explain why this would constitute undue hardship.

Finally, the guidance document should suggest that organizations explain how their accessibility goals and plans for achieving them reflect the principles described in section 6 of the ACA.

3. Consultations heading

The recommended information to include about consultations [5] could be more meaningful if the recommended content in the guidance document is further developed and expanded. This additional information could account for the diversity of participants during consultations, how barriers to participation were addressed, and how feedback from consultations was used to inform the plan.

For example, with respect to whom the organization consulted, the guidance document could recommend that organizations describe:

  • the diversity of participants, beyond the “range of disabilities represented” [6] to account for intersectional perspectives – for example, whether racialized persons with disabilities, Indigenous persons with disabilities, LGBTQIA2S+ persons with disabilities, and women with disabilities were consulted; and
  • whether people with disabilities who are not affiliated with organizations were consulted, as they may also face additional barriers to participation.

With respect to how consultations were conducted, the guidance document could recommend that organizations describe:

  • How consultations were advertised, including the use of accessible formats and multiple advertising modes;
  • Outreach strategies to engage persons with disabilities who face additional barriers to participation and/or who were underrepresented in previous consultations; and
  • Input from participants about whether they thought the consultations were accessible and recommendations for how to address any remaining barriers for the next consultation.

With respect to where consultations were conducted, the guidance could recommend that organizations explicitly address how they engaged rural persons with disabilities, if they serve persons with disabilities in rural areas. Persons with disabilities who live in rural areas often face barriers to attending consultations if they are held in-person in larger centres.

With respect to results of the consultation, the guidance should be more specific regarding its best practice to explain “what your consultations achieved and how you intend to act on them”[7]. The guidance document could recommend that organizations explain, in concrete terms, how the input from consultations informed the goals, timelines, and priorities outlined in the accessibility plan. The guidance document could also suggest that organizations set out any input that was not implemented in the current plan and why that input was not used.

4. Length, detail and design

The guidance document sets out some recommendations for how accessibility plans should be in “simple, clear, and concise language” to comply with the Accessible Canada Regulations[8]. Some of the common-sense tips about how to write a clear and easy to understand document may be helpful; for example: focusing on important information, including shorter sentences with only one idea, avoiding jargon and technical terms, and defining acronyms.

That said, while one of the linked resources, the Canada.ca Content Style Guide, provides information about plain language, the guidance document itself seems to specifically avoid the use of the term “plain language”[9]. It may be preferable to recommend that organizations write their accessibility plans in plain language to meet their regulatory obligations. Accessibility Standards Canada is developing a standard on plain language. This standard has the potential to provide clear guidance for all regulated entities as they create their accessibility plans, progress reports, and feedback processes.

5. Alternate formats

With respect to alternate formats, ARCH recommends that the guidance document provide for best practices including:

  • The provision of ASL/LSQ video as a recommended format: Not providing this alternate format will undermine the participation of Deaf people who require ASL and LSQ in order to give feedback to organizations and participate in consultations on accessibility plans and progress reports. Failure to specify ASL and LSQ video as an alternate format in the guidance document is contrary to the section 6 principles in the ACA, including sections 6(e), 6(f), and 6(g), as well as the human rights obligations of regulated entities. The ACA also recognizes that sign languages are “the primary languages for communication by deaf persons in Canada” [10];
  • The explicit recognition of the human rights duty that organizations have to accommodate persons with disabilities who ask for alternate formats and to provide alternate formats unless doing so would cause undue hardship. This obligation exists regardless of what is prescribed in the Accessible Canada Regulations;
  • It is a best practice to provide accessible formats as soon as possible, regardless of the deadlines in the Accessible Canada Regulations;
  • It is also a best practice to create some accessible formats when the accessibility plan is made at the outset, if they are easy to produce. This means that they can be more quickly provided on request; and
  • That certain formats often create barriers to accessibility, such as PDF documents, and organizations should avoid them.

B. Draft Optional Accessibility Plan Template

1. General

As described above, the general heading of the accessibility plan template should also include that organizations may want to include multiple ways to contact the organization to account for accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. It should also recommend that organizations include information about how to request accommodations for making contact with the organization if they are needed.

The template could also suggest that organizations integrate the principles in section 6 of the ACA into their vision statement or executive summary, explaining how these principles relate to their overall accessibility strategy.

2. Areas described under section 5 of the Act

The draft accessibility plan template specifically and clearly outlines that organizations should list:

“Actions: Concrete steps you have taken or will take to remove and/or prevent those barriers, including:

  • Timelines
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Determining and tracking intended outcomes.”[11]

This is consistent with ARCH’s recommendations above regarding the importance of concrete and measurable accessibility goals, with timelines and responsibilities clearly outlined in the accessibility plan. This is a very helpful way of setting this out so that organizations create accessibility plans that are clear, concrete, and meaningful.

3. Consultations

As described above, the consultations section of the accessibility plan template could, as a best practice, recommend that organizations describe the diversity of the participants in the consultation beyond the range of disabilities represented. It could also recommend that organizations explain how they addressed barriers to participation in consultations and how they advertised consultations. Finally, the template could suggest that organizations outline how they used the feedback they received, including feedback they decided not to implement and why.

C. Additional Comments

1. Persons with disabilities as consultants for organizations

The Guidance Materials on Preparing Accessibility Plans describe that “[s]ome disability organizations may also be willing to help evaluate the accessibility of your organization’s service delivery, communications, and both physical and digital environments.”[12] The guidance document should state that persons with disabilities, both affiliated and unaffiliated with organizations, should be hired in a paid consultant role where possible to do this work. Compensation of participants for their time and expertise at industry consultant rates and payment of their related expenses, such as travel expenses, respects the expertise that persons with disabilities bring to the creation of accessibility plans.

2. Additional guidance regarding consulting with persons with disabilities

The proposed guidance document explains at page 13 that additional guidance will be created regarding consulting with persons with disabilities. ARCH Disability Law Centre recommends that the Accessible Canada Directorate take into account ARCH’s findings and recommendations from the Meaningful Participation in Regulation Making Project when creating this additional guidance. ARCH would welcome the opportunity to discuss our findings with staff at the Accessible Canada Directorate and how they could relate to guidance for organizations.

[1] Accessible Canada Act, SC 2019, c 10 [ACA]

[2] Guidance and Templates for Accessibility Plans at 11

[3] Guidance and Templates for Accessibility Plans at 12

[4] Guidance and Templates for Accessibility Plans at 18-19

[5] Guidance and Templates for Accessibility Plans at 13

[6] Guidance and Templates for Accessibility Plans at 13

[7] Guidance and Templates for Accessibility Plans at 13

[8] Guidance and Templates for Accessibility Plans at 14-15

[9] Government of Canada, “Canada.ca Content Style Guide”, online: https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/services/government-communications/canada-content-style-guide.html#toc6

[10] ACA, above, s. 5.1(2)

[11] Sample Accessibility Plan Template at 2

[12] Guidance and Templates for Accessibility Plans at 9

Submission regarding the Proposed Guidance and Template for Preparing Accessibility Plans



Last Modified: November 30, 2021

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