Canadian Disability Act Communication and Information Round Table Feedback by David Best

Round Table Feedback

Canadian Disability Act Communication and Information Round Table Carla Qualtrough Response
Mandate letter for Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
Survey for Consulting with Canadians on federal disability legislation
Bringing Canadians With Disabilities Into the Mainstream of Canadian Society, January 2017, By John Rae
Accessible Canada submission – Blinding Grinding Poverty In 2016, By Chris Stark
Honourable Carla Qualtrough, released a report on May 29 entitled, Creating new national accessibility legislation: What we learned from Canadians.

Copied to:
Office for Disability Issues:
Moncton Consultation:
Phillippe Dangerfield:

CDA Round Table Feedback

As a follow up to the Information and Communications round table discussion, that took place in Moncton New Brunswick on Friday October 21, I would like to offer my conclusion for next steps in the Canadians with Disability Act development process. The round table participants openly shared important information about their life experiences and the digital communication challenges that a Canadian with Disabilities Act must address. Once the consultation process is complete, the following next steps need to be considered. My only disappointment was that as I was flying out of Niagara Falls to Moncton Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was flying into Niagara Falls for the Liberal convention, and that Minister Carla Qualtrough did not attend the round table session but possibly the Liberal convention was higher priority. I appreciate the opportunity in having a voice at the table, and can only hope that someone is listening. I congratulate the federal government in taking a bold step with initiating a consultation for developing a Canadians with Disabilities Act.

Round Table Follow Up Steps

  1. Establish an Advisory Council based on a framework of trust and credibility.
  2. Implement the legislation based on a framework of accountability and responsibility.
  3. Create enforcement processes and procedures based on a framework of partnership collaboration.

Step One – Establish an Advisory Council based on a framework of trust and credibility

This historical and major undertaking will take a great deal of time and expertise, but must consider past experiences without repeating the past mistakes. The Advisory Council must provide senior government decision makers with current and accurate information that correctly reflects disability challenges in Canadian society, and must possess the influential power to have impact for real change.

  1. The Economic Action Plan 2012, introduced by the previous government, announced the creation of a Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. The Panel’s report
    Re-Thinking disAbility in the Private Sector
    was publicly released on January 16, 2013. This panel, represented by non-profit service organizations and private business, did not reflect the real life disability challenges and ignored the digital communication needs of blind Canadians. This panel had little influence in the decision making process, and for the most part recommendations have been ignored. Government funding programs have benefited service organizations and employers, with little impact on improving the quality of life for Canadians with disabilities. The unemployment rate remains high, and has actually increased for blind Canadians as the digital transformation revolutionizes economic strategies.
  2. The Ontario government demonstrated global leadership for greater societal inclusion when it passed into legislation the
    Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA)
    in 2005. Since that time, two AODA audit reviews have criticised the Ontario government in the management of implementation and enforcement. The Advisory Council has not been provided with state-of-the-art technology to conduct effective meetings with digital communication tools that allow people with various types of disabilities to engage in dialog. The members represent service organizations and private business, and does not include representation from grassroots consumer advocacy disability groups. The Council has little influence, as there is a disconnect with government policy makers, Minister portfolios, municipal Advisory Councils, and disability groups.
    The Accessibility Directorate Office (ADO)
    has no staff expertise in advancing digital communication infrastructures to support the needs of those with sensory disabilities, and has failed to shift the government internal culture before attempting to implement and enforcing private sector standards. In general, there is a great deal of confusion regarding the responsibilities and accountability for AODA standards.
  3. The Liberal government and the Liberal Party of Canada, must shift their cultural attitudes toward people with disabilities, in order to gain trust and credibility. The
    Prime Minister throne speech
    did not mention the word disability, but did focus on women and aboriginals. The
    Liberal Party of Canada May 2016 policy resolutions
    does not mention the word disability, but does include many other groups. Federal Ministers conducting consultation processes, have refused to engage in an accessibility dialog, and have deflected all discussion to the Minister for Disabilities. The Liberal Party of Canada website is not usable by blind screen reader users, and have ignored all requests for an accessibility dialog. Real change means taking decisive actions, but despite the Disability Consultation, there appears to be little interest in disability issues. The perception is that disabilities are not a priority in the open, accountable, and responsive democratic process.

Step One Recommendations

  1. Establish an Advisory Council with the responsibility to draft the Canadian with Disability Act (CDA) legislation recommendations.
  2. The Advisory Council members should represent the various disability groups, and have expertise in Canadian constitution law and Human Rights issues.
  3. Council members must be given the technology that will enable them to engage in onsite and remote dialog, must have the ability to engage policy makers in dialog, and must be able to host discussion forums.
  4. Each Council member should lead a subcommittee with the focus on a specific federal ministry, to understand objectives and regulations in that sector.
  5. The Advisory Council should report to the federal Minister of Disability issues, and have the full cooperation of all federal government Ministers, during this drafting process.

Step Two – Implement the legislation based on a framework of accountability and responsibility

The purpose of legislation is to raise the social standards in expectations and behaviours, to achieve greater safety, health, and economic prosperity for all Canadians.
The Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA)
will improve the quality of life for all Canadians by raising the social standards for inclusion expectations. The intent of the CDA is to protect the rights of disabled Canadians, but if constructed with a focus on Canadian values and Ministry responsibilities, then the benefits will extend to all Canadians. That is, the CDA must be developed in line with a supporting framework of Ministry accountability. The measure of CDA success will depend upon the strategic processes of integrating accessibility solutions and disability collaboration into all government Ministries. As we transition into the digital age, accessibility standards will establish a new level of societal expectations for inclusion, and the government information technology infrastructure must support the CDA demands.

  1. The Ontario experience, since introducing the AODA in 2005, has been slow progress and a great deal of confusion. The Ontario Accessibility Directorate Office (ADO) has been given little influential power, minimal resources, and no digital accessibility expertise staff management; Resulting in distrust from the disability community and lack of credibility from the business community. The Ontario government struggles with AODA implementation and enforcement because no framework of accountability and responsibilities was developed in concert with the legislation requirements. Ontario Ministries have no mandate to implement a disability strategy and report on their progress. The Ministry of Education has no strategic directive on making schools more inclusive and making core curriculums more disability aware. Business and computer science graduates are entering the Ontario job market with little understanding in how to integrate disability inclusion. The Ministry of Innovation has no strategic directive to integrate technology innovators and disability collaborators to ensure social innovation is usable and inclusive. Legislative standards without bold leadership and processes of accountability will have minimal impact on a society wanting to achieve full inclusion.
  2. In 2005 Ontario took a bold step in becoming a global leader by legislating new standards of social inclusion. This action was applauded, but ten years later we have little evidence of greater inclusion in the Ontario job market for people with disabilities. An unregulated sector of accessibility consultants with no rules of engagement, and pressure for businesses to comply with the AODA laws, has turned disabilities into a marketable commodity in Ontario. Despite good will and best intentions, organizations have struggled to implement digital communication products and services that are AODA accessible compliant, but unfortunately in many cases are not usable by people living with vision loss. Any economic opportunity in a free market system will quickly be grabbed up by eager entrepreneurs hoping for revenue gains, but unfortunately without checks and balances the deliverables are disappointing and those with disabilities suffer from the consequences. Without knowledgeable government leaders guiding the processes of digital innovation, the focus will remain on technology solutions rather than disability inclusion. Ontario is focused on funding assistive technology programs, rather than building accessible information technology infrastructures. The Ontario focus has been on offering financial incentives to employers for hiring disabled people, rather than on offering enabling resources to people with disabilities.
  3. Accessibility policies, designed to make societies more inclusive for people with disabilities, vary from country to country but most countries have adopted standards based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the
    World Wide Web Consortium.
    The U.S. Section 508,
    an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, is a federal law mandating that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.
    The Ontario AODA legislation
    is based on government enforcement, whereas the
    U.S. Americans with Disability Act (ADA) Section 508
    is based on voluntary compliance. That is, U.S. companies need to demonstrate product and service Section 508 compliance by posting a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) on their website, that describes exactly how the product or service does or does not meet Section 508 standards, to provide government officials and consumers with access to the information. The scope of Section 508 is limited to the federal sector. It includes binding, enforceable standards, as well as compliance reporting requirements and a complaint procedure. Section 508 does not apply to the private sector, nor does it impose requirements on the recipients of federal funding. The enforcement of the Section 508 law is dependent upon the actions of individuals to launch a lawsuit to challenge the validity of the VPAT accessibility statement. This is an adversarial and costly approach to implementing disability inclusion.
    The Section508 government Best Practice Library
    provides directives and guidance on building and managing effective Section 508 Programs, with Internet Accessibility Policies that include roles, responsibilities, technical requirements, and other stakeholder resources. To aid in this dispute resolution process, a new approach has been introduced;
    Structured Negotiation: A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, by Lainey Feingold.
    The Ontario government enforcement strategy, which applies to both government and private sectors, has no formal disability complaint process, and no government Ministry directives. Individuals with a disability must launch a complaint through the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal process, and companies found to be noncompliant may be charged with a financial penalty.

Step Two Recommendations

  1. Allow public feedback on the proposed CDA draft before passing into legislation.
  2. Appoint a Disability Commissioner as a representative in the Canadian parliament to oversee disability concerns.
  3. Create a Chief Accessibility Officer job position in the Treasury Board of Canada to oversee the digital accessibility challenges.
  4. Establish a HRSDC CDA educational program to shift cultural attitudes across all government departments.
  5. Create a parliamentary Disability Oversight Committee to monitor government CDA progress, and a disability service centre to handle all public questions and concerns.

Step Three – Create enforcement processes and procedures based on a framework of partnership collaboration

Enforcement can be handled through voluntary or legal processes. As seen from the U.S. and Ontario disability legislative inclusion experience, people for the most part want to do the right thing but need guidance. The U.S. structured negotiation settlement process has revealed that organizations are very willing to comply and that lawsuits are not necessary. the U.S. federal government Department Of Justice (DOJ) recognizes that access to information and electronic technologies is a civil right and a vital employment issue for individuals with disabilities. As of May 2016, DOJ has entered into 167 information communication technology (ICT) accessibility settlement agreements, and has provided
rules and guidance for proactive ADA compliance.
It is estimated that more than 60 percent of Ontario private organizations fail the AODA compliance requirements and have not filed their disability strategy report. Despite this knowledge, the Ontario government has reduced the number of annual organization audits. Since AODA began applying to the public sector in 2010, we have seen about a half dozen disability complaint cases involving both public and private organizations. In all cases the penalty has been minimal or dismissed.
The Ministry of Economic Development and Growth
is responsible for enforcing the AODA regime, as define by the statutory framework for Director’s orders and administrative penalties set out in the AODA. However, individuals must take their complaint to
the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO),
but the HRTO has no power to enforce the AODA. Thus, only those Ontario organizations that are audited may be held accountable, and there is no formal AODA individual complaint process.

  1. Enforcement is best managed by creating a collaborative framework of stakeholder ownership. Government Ministries must take the lead, as part of their mandate, in developing and implementing an integrated disability strategy as defined by the Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA) requirements. The CDA legislation will simply be a guideline, defining the levels of social expectations for
    disability inclusion
    in Canada, based on Canadian constitution and human right laws. Each Minister, as a CDA stakeholder, will assume ownership of supporting organizations within their sector for implementing CDA best practice CDA compliance strategies. The Minister will appoint a Disability Champion, responsible for integrating CDA requirements into all Ministry sector regulations, provide sector organizations with information, and submit an annual CDA progress report. The Disability Champion could choose to form a Disability Advisory Committee. Unlike the U.S. and Ontario, the federal Ministers will be given clearly defined CDA implementation responsibilities and held accountable for CDA progress; Giving them a partnership role of ownership. A parliamentary Disability Oversight Committee, lead by a Disability Commissioner, could serve as a central point for accountability. This group, as a CDA partner given the ownership of accountability, would be responsible for monitoring Ministry CDA progress, issuing CDA noncompliance notices, and soliciting public feedback on CDA concerns. A framework of collaboration will minimize CDA implementation confusion, identify CDA accountability, and maximize disability inclusion. If a CDA noncompliance challenge is unresolvable, then individuals and organized groups can turn to the courts.
  2. A disability
    is a human condition that effects all people to some degree, either temporary or permanent. The purpose of the CDA is to ensure, through product and service standard guidelines, that people with more severe physical, cognitive, and sensory disabilities can live an independent and meaningful quality of life. However, as seen in other jurisdictions, disability legislation has little impact, on those citizens living with a disability, without a positive cultural shift in understanding of disabilities. The Canadian Mental Health Society reported that about 1 out of 5 working age Canadians live with workplace mental stress, resulting in about 40 percent of the long term disability claims. The digital revolution has changed the workplace environment, and has had a negative impact on employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. The implementation of the CDA, through a clearly defined enforcement policies and procedures, will shift workplace strategies from technology centric to people enablement. The 2010 Martin Prosperity Institute
    The Martin Prosperity Institute report Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario,
    Projected economic impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario; A more accessible Ontario, will accelerate the growth of prosperity in the province, by increased efficiency, productivity, and creation of new intellectual property enhancing the province’s global competitiveness. That is, shifting disability from segregation to integration, from institutionalization to mainstreaming, from the medical model viewed as a condition to be treated to the social model of removing disabling barriers in the environment, will have a positive economic impact on Canadian prosperity for all Canadians. To achieve full inclusion through cultural acceptance, the CDA drafting, implementation, and enforcement must be a collaborative partnership effort. Hosting consultations and inviting persons with disabilities as members of advisory committees, is not necessarily inclusive collaboration. A collaborative partnership requires active participation in policy and procedure engagements, and ownership of defined deliverables. People with disabilities must have an active role of accountability in the CDA enforcement processes. Caution, a person with a disability does not necessarily represent that disability sector. Far too often advisory committees consist of people with various disabilities that represent companies and service organizations, rather than the grassroots disability sector. When you consider that statistics indicate about 21 percent of blind Canadians live below the poverty line, about 80 percent are unemployed, and about 1 percent are professionally employed, the advisory committee is probably represented by the 1 percent of blind Canadians.
  3. The understanding of the definition of
    has a very broad scope, and if not clearly defined, will have little meaning in setting product and service CDA standard guidelines. Accessibility is a universal right and not just a disability issue. Accessibility should be viewed as a measurement of productivity; Products and services that enable all people, with or without a disability. We are crossing a new frontier in the evolution of computing and entering the era of cognitive systems; Where scientists and engineers around the world are pushing the boundaries of science and technology to create machines that sense, learn, reason, and interact with people in new ways to provide insight and advice. Instead of having a positive impact on Disabled Canadians, new and significant
    have been created. The ability to use new emerging technologies is currently at the heart of social inclusion, with those excluded being left out of many work, entertainment, communication, healthcare and social benefits. There are two major accessibility barriers for blind Canadians; digital Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructures and mobile technologies. Enterprise ICT infrastructures are for the most part inaccessible to
    assistive technologies,
    and management attitudes have restricted employment opportunities due to insufficient accessibility solutions knowledge support. Current disability legislation in Ontario focuses on
    disability accommodations
    rather than digital ICT infrastructure strategies. That is, financial incentives are offered to employers for disability accommodations, rather than to the disabled person, and no incentives are offered for integrating accessibility ICT infrastructure solutions. Government has delegated accessibility ICT solutions to the large technology vendors, and have completely excluded small entrepreneur innovators and third party disability providers. The introduction of miniaturization, wireless, and cloud-sourcing technology offers tremendous potential opportunities for blind Canadians, but sadly Canadian wayfinding and wearable innovations include no accessibility integration strategy. Recent Canadian economic reports show that an ineffective innovation strategy and low productivity has stagnated prosperity growth in Canada. The CDA legislation can set accessibility standards and mandate all Ministries to implement an integrated accessibility strategy. Offering financial incentives to entrepreneur innovators and getting emerging technology into the hands of blind Canadians, will have a huge impact on shifting the disability cultural attitudes. The level of CDA enforcement will depend upon the effectiveness of the Ministries disability strategy. Ministry of Transportation must implement a digital ICT infrastructure strategy that includes accessible transit service infrastructures. The Ministry of Innovation must create collaborative partnerships between innovators and the disability community. The Ministry of Employment must support employers with digital ICT infrastructure accessibility solutions and support disabled Canadians with assistive technologies. It should be noted that most of the digital technologies we all enjoy today had their roots in the research and development for solving disability challenges and in stimulating innovation.

Step 3 Recommendations

  1. Mandate all federal government Ministers to appoint a Disability Champion for their Ministry sector.
  2. Mandate all Ministry Disability Champions to develop a disability strategy that is fully integrated into the Ministry regulatory policies.
  3. Each Minister must submit an annual disability strategy progress report to the parliamentary Disability Oversight Committee, led by the Disability Commissioner.
  4. Mandate the Chief Accessibility Officer to submit an annual accessibility review, to the parliamentary Disability Oversight Committee, on the status and future plans of the government information technology infrastructure.
  5. Mandate the parliamentary Disability Oversight Committee to manage a public complaint process, and issue letters of noncompliance to both government and federal companies.