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July 22, 2019

Overview of ACA Compliance

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What is the Accessibility Canada Act?

The Accessibility Canada Act (ACA) is a federal law in Canada mandating accessibility rules for various industries. The ACA came into force on 11 July 2019. 

The ACA is the product of years of effort on the part of disability activists and other advocacy groups. Authorities in Canada, in turn, conducted months of surveys to determine what legislation would most positively impact Canadian society. Proponents of the Act and similar legislation see ACA as a major milestone in the government’s “Accessible by 2040” program, a country-wide effort to make all facilities in Canada open to disabled people over the next two decades.      

“With this legislation now in place, we can begin a journey that will lead us to a society that treats all people with the dignity they deserve,” Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough said in a statement following the bill’s passing. 

To Who and What Does the Law Apply?

Unlike other similar legislation in Canada such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the ACA is a federal-level law, applying to nearly all geographic areas of Canada.  

In terms of industries and businesses to which the rules apply, the law does have its limits. The ACA looks to prevent barriers to accessibility in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction. 

Federal jurisdiction includes three types of entities: 

Governmental organizations - federal government departments and agencies, Canadian Armed Forces, Police, and Parliament.

Sectors that are regulated at the federal level - this includes industries such as banking, interprovincial transportation, and telecommunications.

State-owned enterprises - known as Crown corporations, these are companies that are nationally owned while still enjoying mostly private management and administration. 

In its opening sections, the ACA states unequivocally that the new law applies to “technological” platforms as well as any medium based on “information or communications.” Thus websites connected to any of the above industries are also affected by the ACA.   

Who Implements the Law 

The Accessible Canada Act establishes new structures and positions, mostly for the purpose of the laws administration and implementation. These include

  • The Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO), led by a board of directors comprised of a majority of persons with disabilities that will develop accessibility standards in collaboration with the disability community and industry
  • A Chief Accessibility Officer, who will advise the Minister of Accessibility and monitor systemic and emerging accessibility issues. 
  • An Accessibility Commissioner, who will spearhead compliance and enforcement activities under the legislation.

From a compliance perspective, the office of the Accessibility Commissioner is the most important institution of ACA. the Commissioner is a member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a powerful entity in Canada with substantial legal enforcement powers. The Commissioner’s responsibilities for ACA include:

  • Inspections of groups for compliance
  • Receiving of violation accusations
  • Audits of companies suspected of violations
  • Compliance orders and notices of violation
  • Monetary penalties for failure to comply

Enforcement and Compliance

The ACA lays out strong powers for authorities to prosecute violators. 

The law allows authorities to classify each violation as either “minor”, “serious”, or very “serious”, and charge penalties of up to $250,000 for each infraction. 

A specific process for investigating and charging for violations has not yet been formulated. The new legislation is built on a whole-of-government approach to accessibility. Existing regulators and complaints bodies—such as the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Radio-television, and Telecommunications Commission, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board—are required to collaborate to put in place a mechanism for the efficient and expeditious referral of accessibility-related complaints.

Similarly, on the issue of standards, the ACA contains barely any specific regulations. Any rules that are listed are extremely generic such as “removing barriers” to disabled people.  

The next phase policymakers planned for from the outset will include the development of standards and regulations by the CASDO. But in the meantime, there are very few guidelines on accessibility requirements. 

Despite this, the law mandates companies submit reports on the state of their organization’s accessibility standards. These include: 

  • Accessibility Plans - reports published “in consultation with people with disabilities”  describing company strategies for improving accessibility and meeting their legal duties. They would have to publicly publish these plans (and let the Government of Canada know when and where they are published) and update them every three years. 
  • Progress Reports - documents detailing the company's implementation of its Accessibility Plan
    A timeframe for when these reports must be submitted still hasn’t been set. The ACA requires regulators to determine such a time with a year's notice to the public. It is likely that the deadlines will not be codified until after accessibility standards for the ACA are drafted.    

A timeframe for when these reports must be submitted still hasn’t been set. The ACA requires regulators to determine such a time with a year's notice to the public. It is likely that the deadlines will not be codified until after accessibility standards for the ACA are drafted.   

It should be noted, other laws in Canada such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)--a provincial law that until ACA was the most important accessibility regulation in the country--are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It is very likely that ACA’s standards will also be based on the latest version of WCAG  

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