A Quick Guide to the Accessible Canada Act


When it comes to breaking down barriers for people with disabilities, there’s no such thing as “too accessible.” Just ask Canada.

Brown bear holding Canadian flag.

Canada recently passed the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), a new accessibility law that aims to make the country barrier-free by 2040.

This article will bring you up to date with the most recent ACA developments. It will also brief you on the changes that this act will bring to the entire nation.

Accessible Canada Act Overview

In June of 2018, Carla Qualtrough, the Canadian Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, proposed the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) to Parliament. Prior to the proposal, Canada’s Office for Disabilities performed a consultation campaign to solicit feedback from the public on what the accessibility law should include.

The bill, formally known as Bill C-81, was unanimously passed on May 13, 2019, and sent to the House of Commons for Royal Assent, which will put the ACA into full effect. On June 21, 2019, just over a month after the bill passed, it underwent Royal assent. Royal Assent took place on Jun 21, 2019, and the new law will come into full force at a date set by the Governor in Council. The main goal of instituting the ACA is to make Canada barrier-free by the year 2040.  This new accessibility legislation, which extends to all of Canada, is a testament to the country’s commitment to improving access for people with disabilities.

Proposing an Accessibility Framework for All of Canada

The Accessible Canada Act aims to prevent barriers to federal jurisdiction across Canada. Canada’s provinces have some of the most progressive accessibility laws in the world, including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). However, up until now, Canada has not had any country-wide accessibility legislation.

Cityscape sketch illustration

The bill proposes a framework for developing, implementing, and enforcing accessibility standards starting in priority areas. Those priority areas include:

  • Employment
  • Built environment
  • Information and communication technologies
  • Procurement of goods and services
  • Delivery of goods and services
  • Transportation

Creating New Roles, Organizations, and Committees

There will be many moving pieces involved in the integration of the Accessible Canada Act. New roles, committees, and organizations will be created to ensure proper oversight of the new legislation. Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization

The Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization will be responsible for developing the new accessibility standards to be integrated into federal regulations. A board of directors will lead the organization, the majority of whom will be people with disabilities.

Within this organization, technical committees will be formed to help develop accessibility standards. These committees will include accessibility experts, persons with disabilities, and representatives from organizations that would be required to meet the new standards.

Chief Accessibility Officer

The Chief Accessibility Officer will advise the Minister presiding over the ACA and oversee the implementation of the act across all organizations and sectors to which the act applies.

Accessibility Commissioner

The Accessibility Commissioner will join the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a commission that is in place to ensure the protection of human rights for Canadians.

The Accessibility Commissioner will be supported by an accessibility unit which will help to perform compliance measures under the ACA. Compliance activities will include:

  • Inspections
  • Audits
  • Compliance orders
  • Notices of violation
  • Monetary penalties

The ACA Covers All Canadian Federal Organizations

The big question is, to what exactly does the Accessible Canada Act apply? The simple answer is that it applies to any federal organization or any private organization that is under federal jurisdiction such as banking, telecommunication, and transportation.

someone carries a briefcase

A federal organization refers to:

  • Departments
  • Agencies
  • Crown organizations
  • Parliament
  • Private sector businesses under federal jurisdiction

The ACA is in effect for all Canadian provinces.

Under the ACA, federal organizations would be required to create an accessibility plan with strategies to improve their organization’s accessibility. They would then need to publish the plans, respond to any feedback from their stakeholders, and post annual progress updates available to the public. These plans must be made in consultation with individuals with disabilities.

Where to Report an ACA Violation

Any grievances and complaints due to an ACA violation may be filed with the Accessibility Commissioners Office, the Canadian Transportation Agency, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Federal public servants should continue to file complaints due to an ACA violation with the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Employment Board.

Remedies for complaints include:

  • Reimbursement of expense and lost wages
  • Compensation for pain and suffering

What’s on the Horizon?

In the coming months and years, appointed individuals and committees will work to create accessibility standards. Once created, these standards will be implemented and integrated into current systems.

The Canadian government’s goal is to demonstrate the implementation progress of the Accessible Canada Act. Any organization that is involved in implementing the ACA will be required to report annually on their progress and activities to the public.

In addition to the yearly progress reports, a parliamentary review will take place in five years to assess the progress that the ACA has made since being instituted.

The Canadian Federal Cabinet has declared that the Accessible Canada Act is in force. The ACA will likely reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which requires videos to be made accessible with captioning and audio description.

If you know that the ACA applies to your organization, be sure to get ahead and make your videos accessible today.

This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.