Canadians with Disabilities Act Discussion Paper

Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA)

What Should the Canadians with Disabilities Act Include?
A Discussion Paper, By David Lepofsky, AODA Alliance Chair, August 19, 2016

I would like to congratulate you on your leadership in bringing this discussion paper to the forefront of Canadian politics. I support your CDA recommendations, and urge you to inspire an idle no more campaign within the disability community across Canada. As you know, I champion the digital accessibility barrier solutions for Canadians living with vision loss, and far too often I am disappointed by disability advocates who marginalize blind Canadians. I am sure, you know only too well, what I mean.


The CDA discussion paper recommendations provide a broad baseline for Canada’s inclusion policies, but leave to chance the formation and implementation of the CDA. As you say;

Canada’s Charter of Rights and human rights legislation across the country impose impressive requirements to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities. Yet far too frequently, these exist on paper, not in the lives of people with disabilities.
And I fear the CDA discussion paper does not go far enough in recommending the success criteria for the formation and implementation of a high quality CDA. The CDA policy model relies on good will efforts and a governance strategy of enforcement, which we know from the Ontario AODA experience does not work. Any successful business model must be built upon a clearly defined framework of standards that provide a baseline of expectations, and an integrated governance policy of authority with accountability of responsibility.

In the 2014 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commendably promised to enact the CDA, but he made a lot of commitments and we must ensure the CDA remains a high priority focus for the Liberal government. Although Access to information and Diversity in government are among the many Real Change Commitment there is no explicit commitment in supporting the Canadian disability community. In fact the May 2016 Liberal Party Policy Resolutions make no mention of disability commitment or digital accessibility challenges.

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, has been handed a very challenging task without any specific commitment guidelines. The Prime Minister of Canada Mandate Letter states:

In your role as Minister of Persons with Disabilities, you will support the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
This sets the commitment bar very low, and begs the question, what about accessible Employment, Transportation, and Infrastructure?

The Accessibility Consultation process will open the door for public feedback, but who will be heard and who will have influence? Organizations with financial resources and accessibility consultants seeking financial gain will drown out the real needs of the blind community, as was done in Ontario. An effective CDA cannot be shaped in isolation, and implemented by government Ministries that do not understand the disability challenge. Information is good, but knowledge is power, and I believe blind Canadians have been marginalized with very little influence in the government’s economic strategic growth plans.

The discussion paper suggests, a CDA Standards Development Committee should do its work in three phases:

  • First, it should identify recurring barriers in the area it explores.
  • Second, it should list measures to require for addressing these barriers.
  • Third, the Standards Development Committee should then develop proposals on timelines to be required for these actions, geared to obligated organizations’ size and capacity.

Unfortunately, complaint based compliance enforcement is ineffective and unhelpful in digital industries where adding accessibility after the fact is cost prohibitive. Recalls and retrofit in any industry do not and will not make Canada an international leader in a digital economy. Therefore, compliance and regulatory enforcement measures must factor, at the outset, into a Digital Economic Strategy. That is, a rubber stamp Standards Development Committee with no power, no real influence, and isolated from other government Ministry policy makers will only serve to create CDA window dressing for a government that has no Real Change commitment for Canadians with disabilities. An effective CDA Standards Committee must be an integrated strategic team across all Ministries with the responsibility to craft an action plan with common goals.


A strong, effectively enforced Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA) must be designed from the inside out, with an integrated government strategy based on accountability. An effective CDA will be shaped by Canadians, but responsibility of implementation and delivery will rest with each Ministry and enforced by legislation. It is critical that Information Communication Technologies (ICT) expectations be clearly defined in the CDA proposal. The communication barriers created by modern digital infrastructures was high lighted in the discussion paper introduction, but did not explicitly define the need for an accessibility ICT strategy. The Ontario government lead the way with the AODA comprehensive inclusive legislation, but government leaders failed to understand the paradigm shift in societal responsibility trends.

  1. The federal Minister for Disabilities must take the lead to establish disability educational requirements for all government Ministers and Deputy Ministers.
  2. All government Ministries must appoint a Disability Deputy Minister responsible for creating an accessibility action plan strategy and producing an annual progress report.
  3. The Minister for Disabilities must establish a government Action Plan Council, represented by all Disability Deputy Ministers, to create and sustain an integrated common goal accessibility strategy.
  4. The Minister for Disabilities must create a council of partnerships represented by disability sector expertise, to advise and oversee the government Accessibility Action Plan activities.
  5. The Treasury Board of Canada, in support of the Chief Information Officer of the Government of Canada, must create a Cheif Accessibility Officer (CAO) job position to establish authority in integrating accessibility across the government.
  6. The government must create an independent Canada Accessibility Commissioner, reporting to Parliament, to serve as a disability advocate.

Lessons Learned

Lesson 1: Advisory Committee Expectations

Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC)
Despite the availability of digital technologies the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO) has not provided the ASAC team with effective communication tools. There is no online document sharing or text messaging service. Deaf members cannot remotely participate in meetings, blind members cannot effectively communicate with deaf members or those with speech impediments, and the ADO is not obligated to share information with ASAC members as was seen with the Deloitte Accessibility Certification contract. An advisory team must be given the power to communicate effectively, and have confidence in their influence, so as to make real progress and build trust. The expectations of the CDA Standards Committee must be clearly defined. The CDA Standards Committee must consist of knowledgeable people with the power to effect real change.

Lesson 2: Advisory Committee Knowledge And Expertise

Ontario Government Partnership Council on Employment for People with Disabilities
The Council report findings were disappointing, and based on authoritative public sources that were already readily available to the Government. The report is a reflection of general workplace disability barriers, and does not identify the digital communication infrastructure barriers of a modern society. How will the CDA ensure we look to the future and not over our sholder to resolve accessibility issues? It has been said, we need to look where the puck is going and not where it is, but to do this we must know the direction and momentum of the puck. We are no further ahead in Ontario in resolving unemployment barriers for blind persons, than when the AODA was established. The CNIB has no employment or innovation strategy in supporting blind people in a digital world, but this continues to be the authoritative source for the government. Business leaders understand that we are moving toward a global digital economy by seamlessly integrating machines and people:

  • Machines connecting together through vast internet networks, provide big data analytics and artificial intelligence, for economic growth, and
  • People connecting together through vast social networks, are closing the gap in cultural differences and levels of education.

Lesson 3: Advisory Committee Due Diligence To Get It Right The First Time

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
U.S. laws were passed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, designed to ensure that telecommunication services would be accessible to all Americans with disabilities. However, these laws were not able to keep up with the fast paced technological changes. The new law contains groundbreaking protections to enable people with disabilities to access broadband, digital mobile innovations, and the emerging 21st century technologies. How does the proposed CDA framework intend to ensure the integration of emerging technologies and digital accessibility requirements are included in the ongoing government digital infrastructure Implementation Roadmap? We know that third party accessibility bridging solutions are currently available that can resolve many of the workplace digital communication barriers confronted by blind professionals. However, the Ontario Public Service (OPS) has adopted the policy of waiting for major manufacturers to implement accessibility solutions in their products. This forces blind employees to put their career on hold, and is a policy that private sector businesses cannot afford to adopt. It appears that the Treasury Board of Canada has also adopted this wait and see attitude; So the CDA Standard Committee must consider current government infrastructure strategies. For the most part, organizations investing in costly digital communication infrastructures today have no accessibility strategy, and may face enormous retrofit lawsuits in the future.

Lesson 4: Advisory Committee Prospective On Global Trends

Canada’s Information Technology Strategic Plan 2016-2020
Canada’s Information Technology services, through the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), supports the government in delivery of programs and services in Canada and abroad, but the 2016-2020 Implementation Roadmap has no Accessibility Strategy. The TBS, through the Chief Information Officer, is expected to provide clear direction to departments and agencies on IT roles of responsibilities, but has no Chief Accessibility Officer guidance. Despite the federal government Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities report Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector and Ensuring Accessibility in Canada’s Digital Economic Strategy, Digital Canada 150 the government has no action plan to integrate accessibility requirements. The CDA discussion paper must include accountability expectations to ensure the government takes action and is held responsible for progress. The CDA discussion paper must clearly define accessibility expectations for the implementation of the Internet Of Things (IOT) through the government and public information technology infrastructures. We already know what the accessibility barriers are, but yet the government has continued to ignore its own recommendations. We know the global digital economic trends, and Canada’s need for an effective innovations strategy, and yet the disability community is not a fully inclusive participating partner. The CDA Standard Committee must mainstream government policies and procedures for effective legislation.

Lesson 5: Advisory Committee Concept Of Mainstream Inclusion

Consulting with Canadians on federal disability legislation
Although there is no explicit Liberal government commitment to Canadians with disabilities, The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities has launched the disability legislation consultation process. Meanwhile, for the most part, other government consultation processes remain inaccessible to blind Canadians. The Canadian Transportation Agency consultation and The Innovation Canada consultation use social media and inaccessible websites to get feedback from Canadians, and have no accessibility inclusion policy. Accessibility considerations must be part of any government consultation process, and not a separate forum. Government consultation strategy requires a fundamental change to methodology, technology foundation, data insights and how we all connects together. While the CDA consultation consumes our attention, other government consultations have marginalized disability concerns. It will take years, as experienced by Ontario; to gather, analyze, develop, and implement a CDA. Mean while blind Canadians will be told, as we now experience in Ontario, to wait for workplace accessibility solutions. This is unacceptable when we know the challenges are not technology based. The global economy will not wait for a CDA, and we cannot afford to be left behind. As we know, Ontario organizations must comply with website accessibility standards, but sadly very few do, despite their bold statement of WCAG certification. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) is the organization that manages Canada’s .CA domain name registry, develops and implements policies that support Canada’s Internet community, and represents the .CA registry internationally, but has no accessibility strategy to govern the .ca ecosystem. The .ca website hosting services is one of the world’s leaders in propogating inaccessible website design. The CDA discussion paper does not address the ongoing digital transition challenges, and the need to mainstream inclusion. Following Ontario’s Demand and Enforce inclusion strategy will only result in complete chaos. Each government Ministry must be made accountable for accessibility consultation, action plan development, and reporting to a central CDA committee. This not only enforces responsibility, but starts the process of internal government education immediately.
Learn all about the history, strategies, goals, gains, and future priorities of Ontario’s vibrant and tenacious grassroots disability accessibility movement, from the Late 1970s to Early 2014. In January and early February 2014, David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, served as a visiting Roy McMurtry Clinical Fellow at the Osgoode Hall Law School at Toronto’s York University. As part of this Fellowship, he delivered a series of 12 lectures in different classes at the Law School and elsewhere around the University, on a full range of different topics concerning the long campaign up to early 2014, to make Ontario fully accessible to all persons with disabilities. From 1994 to 2005, David Lepofsky chaired the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The ODA Committee led the non-partisan province-wide campaign in Ontario from 1994 to 2005 to win the enactment of new accessibility legislation. From 2009 to the present, he has chaired the successor Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. The AODA Alliance is the non-partisan community coalition that campaigns to get the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act effectively implemented and enforced. For many of these lectures, the audience was comprised of law students. However the lectures’ content is designed to be easily and readily enjoyed and used by anyone, whether or not you are in Ontario or Canada, whether or not you have studied law, and whether or not you know anything about disability accessibility issues.
Learn all about the history, strategies, goals, gains, and future priorities of Ontario’s vibrant and tenacious grassroots disability accessibility movement.