Many separate accessibility standards development processes exist in Canada. Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia all have laws that mandate creation of provincial accessibility standards. In addition, the Accessible Canada Act mandates accessibility standards that apply to organizations under federal jurisdiction. However, the government of Canada intends to coordinate federal and provincial accessibility laws. Moreover, the third review of the AODA recommends that the Ontario government should support this aim by aligning its accessibility law, the AODA, with the laws of other provinces and the country. If the governments work together to make these laws more similar, the AODA standards development process may change to align with laws in other places across the country. In this article, we explore accessibility best practices across Canada.
Accessibility Best Practices Across Canada
The creation of accessibility standards is a long process. First, standards development committees or organizations must consult about what rules and guidelines a standard should contain. This consultation includes diverse perspectives from the many people and groups whose lives and businesses the standard will impact, including:
- People with disabilities
- Representatives from the industries or sectors that a standard will one day apply to
- Members of government organizations responsible for those industries or sectors
When the committee or organization has drafted a standard, the public often has the opportunity to view this draft. In addition, members of the public can offer suggestions to improve the draft. The committee or organization then has the chance to revise the proposed standard based on those public reactions. After revising the draft, the committee or organization resubmits it to the minister in charge of the accessibility law. The minister must recommend that the standard be accepted in whole, in part, or with modifications.
After a standard becomes law, organizations must learn what the standard’s guidelines are and how to comply with them. For example, current standards in the AODA require organizations to buy, create, or use accessible:
- Web content
- Hiring processes
- Customer service training
- Service counters, line areas, and waiting areas
As a result, many years may pass between the time committees identify barriers needing removal through standards and the time those barriers are removed.
Creating Accessibility Best Practices
In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley notes that there are three standards development committees currently in the process of creating standards for education and healthcare. The terms of reference for these committees allow them to recommend best practices for workers in both sectors. These best practices could support education and healthcare workers to make their fields more accessible. Moreover, best practices can reach the public before standards, because they take less time to develop than standards. As a result, workers in both fields can start implementing best practices while they are waiting for the standards.
Moreover, the Accessibility Directorate of Nova Scotia has published guidelines to help organizations improve their accessibility. Although Nova Scotia does not yet have any accessibility standards, these guidelines allow organizations to gain experience with identifying, removing, and preventing barriers. As a result, organizations may be better prepared to comply with standards in a more timely manner when those standards become law.
As governments work together to align their accessibility laws, some AODA standards may change so that law in Ontario corresponds more closely with standards in other provinces, or with the Accessible Canada Act. If Ontario follows the example of Nova Scotia, as well as the recommendation in the third review of the AODA, the province may become more accessible in less time.