Accessibility Laws in Canada: What You Need to Know

Published November 5, 2022

In some areas, Canada leads the way in accessibility laws. The country has protections for people with disabilities in its constitution and is developing digital accessibility guidelines for organizations to follow. However, there are other places where Canada lags behind. 

Some multiple laws and policies aim to protect and support people with disabilities in Canada. Here is a primer with the most widely recognized statutes and some of the most recent propositions to help you understand how Canadian residents are protected and what the legislation covers.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The first line of protection for people with disabilities is in The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to Section 15 of the Charter, every citizen in Canada is protected, regardless of “race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” Canada is the only country to protect disability rights in its constitution.

The Canadian Human Rights Act

The following protection for Canadians with disabilities is the Canadian Human Rights Act, written in 1977. This act aims to prevent discrimination against employees in federal services, including the government, First Nations governments, and private companies that the government regulates. These include banks, broadcasters, and trucking companies.

This Act goes beyond Section 15 in the Consitution and expands who the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will protect. In 2017, the government added an amendment to ban discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The purpose of this Act is to ensure equitable opportunity for all individuals and that they will receive any necessary accommodations regardless of “race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability or conviction for an offense for which a pardon has been granted.” 

Further details provide clear examples of discrimination and how the Act extends the laws in Canada that prevent discrimination. For example, when the ground of discrimination is related to pregnancy or childbirth, the bias is said to be against the person’s sex or gender.

Employment Equity Act

The Employment Equity Act requires employers to create proactive employment practices to increase representation in the workplace. The Act highlights four designated groups employers should strive to engage with and hire: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities. In Canada, a visible minority refers to people who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in color who are also not Aboriginal peoples.

This act applies to federally-regulated industries, federal organizations with more than 100 employees, and Crown corporations (entities owned by the government that operate as legal corporations).

Accessible Canada Act (ACA)

This act, alternatively titled An Act to Ensure a Barrier-Free Canada, was passed in 2019. It took several decades of lobbying from accessibility rights groups to develop the ACA and eventually pass it. As a living bill, the ACA can be amended or added to over time, but there are a few key areas on which legislators were asked to focus during the development of the text:

  • Programs and service delivery
  • Employment
  • The built environment
  • Communications
  • Information and communications technology
  • Procurement and transportation

Along with standards development, the ACA is also meant to promote social change. The Canadian government highlights how less than 60 percent of residents aged 25 to 64 who have disabilities also have jobs. Additionally, Canadians with milder disabilities earn 12 percent less than their non-disabled counterparts, and Canadians with more severe disabilities earn 51 percent less.

The slogan tied to the ACA is “Nothing About Us, Without Us,” to highlight the importance of developing legislation with people with disabilities represented in the drafting process, rather than creating laws without the input of the people who stand to benefit from them.

Canadian Standard on Web Accessibility

Along with standard disability protections, there are also digital accessibility policies in place on a federal level. In 2011, the government passed the Canadian Standard on Web Accessibility. The objective of this document is to “ensure a high level of web accessibility is applied uniformly across Government of Canada websites and web applications.”

In an increasingly digital world, online accessibility is essential. Canadians pay their bills online, register to vote, learn about government services, and even find work. Without accessible online experiences, a large part of the Canadian population can’t access these resources. A lack of digital accessibility also burdens Canadians with disabilities, who have to spend more time and effort securing the same information that non-disabled Canadians access quickly.

Accessibility standards through Roadmap to 2040

The Canadian government recognizes that it must improve and extend its legislation for people with disabilities. It is currently following a Roadmap to 2040 to improve accessibility standards. Legislators not only want to create strong laws that protect and support Canadians but also want to create a roadmap for other countries and governments to follow. By creating standards beyond basic protections, other organizations and regions can ensure that residents with disabilities are fully supported and treated with equity.

Regional laws and guidelines

Alongside national laws, there are also several state and local laws to protect residents with disabilities. These include digital protections in Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia. If you are concerned about specific protection cases, review state and federal laws to learn about your options.

Laws continuously evolve

Legislative acts are used as a baseline to govern Canadian citizens. They are constantly evolving to be more inclusive and effective. If there are gaps in accessibility law today, they may be modified or improved in the future to help residents live equitable, inclusive lives. For people with disabilities to participate fully in society, allies must support and validate their experiences.

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