On the Eve of Toronto Public Consultations, Canada’s Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough Offers a Glimpse Into What the Promised Canadians with Disabilities Act May Include

February 6, 2017


The February 5, 2017 Global News reports on an interview that the Canadian Press conducted with Canada’s Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough. It offers a glimpse into the Federal Government’s thinking on what the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act should include. (See the article, below) Minister Qualtrough is leading the Federal Government’s development of this legislation, which was promised in the 2015 federal election.

Minister Qualtrough is reported as saying that employment for people with disabilities will be a core focus of the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act. She has not ruled out the possibility of establishing a Canada Accessibility Commissioner to play a lead role in the law’s implementation and enforcement.

We in Ontario have learned from ample experience that key functions like the development and enforcement of accessibility standards should be assigned to an arms-length independent agency. They should not be left to the Government. Only last week, the Wynne Government showed the incredible lengths it would go to impede timely public access to important public records on the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. For more detailson the battle AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has been waging since June 2015 to get access to needed information on the AODA’s implementation and enforcement.

The article quotes the Minister as follows:

“Everything impacts employment,” Qualtrough said in an interview. “If you don’t have a building environment that’s accessible, you can’t work there. If you don’t have the transportation that gets you there, you can’t work there. If you don’t have technology that’s accessible, you can’t work there. All roads lead back to employment in some way. So in that regard, absolutely employment will be impacted quite significantly by this law.”

Ontario has important experience from which Canada should learn. We have had Government promises, an advisory  Partnership Council that has rendered two reports, and a promised Government disability employment incentive program. We also have five years’ experience under an employment accessibility standard which needs to be substantially strengthened. So far, from those actions, we have seen no significant progress on increased employment for people with disabilities. Prompt concrete new action is needed. We don’t need more advisory councils or reports.

According to the Minister, this federal law’s focus will be removing accessibility barriers. The minister also said that the Government heard from the consultation that the law must have strong enforcement powers.

Minister Qualtrough told Canadian Press she is aiming to get her bill before Parliament by the end of next year. We had hoped for this law to be enacted by July 1, 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday. However, while we wish it was coming sooner, it is more important to get the law right.

The news report refers to one individual in the community who said that laws can only go so far towards including people with disabilities in jobs. The individual’s view was there expressed that: “The sort of change required is more rooted in attitudes and cultures rather than government rules…”

That perspective has been advanced in the past. Of course, legislation alone is never the entire solution. However, it would be wrong to conclude that “raising awareness,” “culture change,” “attitude change,” and “public education” are the main solutions. Decades of efforts in that direction have been proven inadequate.

Legislation can require measures that will ensure that the workplace is a barrier-free one, so that inclusion of employees with disabilities is far easier to do. Now, workplaces are overwhelmingly designed and operated as if people with disabilities are not there. That means more workers with disabilities need to press for individual accommodations, to get around the many workplace barriers that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

The workplace of five years from now has not yet been designed. Effective legislation can go a long way to ensure that it is designed to be barrier-free.

If you are in the Toronto area, be sure to come to the final round of Federal public consultations on the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at the Chelsea Hotel, 33 Gerrard, Toronto, in the Churchill Room. Have your say. The AODA Alliance will be there to press for strong legislation.

Points you might wish to raise are found in Barrier-Free Canada’s 2 page leaflet and more detailed 12-page tip sheet. Find these resources.

Points you might wish to present at the February 8, 2017 Federal public consultation could include these:

* Learn from Ontario that it is essential that the legislation have the purpose of ensuring full accessibility, not merely “improving accessibility.” It must set a deadline for reaching this goal, not just a deadline for making progress.

* The law must clearly tell organizations what barriers they must remove and by when.

* The law’s implementation and enforcement must be assigned to an independent public agency, that is arms-length from the Federal Government, a Canada Accessibility Commissioner who will be our national champion and watchdog for accessibility, with the power to make it stick.

* The law should ensure that when the Federal Government gives out money to any organization, that money can never be used to create or perpetuate accessibility barriers against people with disabilities.

* The law should put the Federal Government in charge of leading Canada to full accessibility, including leading provinces to all establish strong, effective provincial accessibility laws.

You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at aodafeedback@gmail.com

Have you taken part in our “Picture Our Barriers campaign? If not, please join in! You can get all the information you need about our “Picture Our Barriers” campaign by visiting www.www.aodaalliance.org/2016

To sign up for, or unsubscribe from AODA Alliance e-mail updates, write to: aodafeedback@gmail.com

We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.

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Why not subscribe to the AODA Alliance’s YouTube channel, so you can get immediate alerts when we post new videos on our accessibility campaign.

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Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario by visiting http://www.www.aodaalliance.org

Please also join the campaign for a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act, spearheaded by Barrier-Free Canada. Sign up for Barrier-Free Canada updates by emailing info@BarrierFreeCanada.org


Global News February 5, 2017

Originally posted at http://globalnews.ca/news/3228515/canadians-with-disabilities-act-to-focus-on-employment-minister/

Canadians with Disabilities Act to focus on employment: minister

By Michelle McQuigge
The Canadian Press

TORONTO – The minister tasked with crafting laws to make Canada more accessible to people with disabilities says employment will be a key focus of her efforts.

Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, says removing accessibility barriers will be crucial to tackling long-standing low jobless rates among the country’s disabled population.

Qualtrough says most aspects of the anticipated Canadians with Disabilities Act will address employment issues in some way, citing examples such as targeted programs or improving building standards that might make future workplaces more accessible.

Data has long shown that Canadians with disabilities are greatly under-employed compared to their non-disabled counterparts, with multiple studies finding that only half of disabled Canadians have found work.

Qualtrough says details of the Canadians with Disabilities Act are still in the works, adding a series of 18 consultations across the country will play a key part in shaping the new laws.

She says she hopes to have the act before parliament by this time next year.

The prospective act, which disability rights advocates have been seeking for years, would govern areas that fall under federal jurisdiction. Major examples include financial services such as banks, telecommunications, and interprovincial transportation.

Only Ontario and Manitoba currently have provincial accessibility legislation on the books, though other provinces including Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland have all expressed interest in addressing accessibility strategies. Qualtrough said the federal act has to be written to work alongside existing provincial laws without encroaching on their areas of jurisdiction.

The sweeping legislation, which may tackle everything from building codes to customer service standards, all have potential to improve Canada’s stubbornly low unemployment figures for people with disabilities, she said.

“Everything impacts employment,” Qualtrough said in an interview. “If you don’t have a building environment that’s accessible, you can’t work there. If you don’t have the transportation that gets you there, you can’t work there. If you don’t have technology that’s accessible, you can’t work there. All roads lead back to employment in some way. So in that regard, absolutely employment will be impacted quite significantly by this law.”

Two years ago, Statistics Canada released figures putting the employment rate for disabled Canadians at 49 per cent, compared to 79 per cent for the general population. An online poll commissioned by CIBC last month reached a similar conclusion, saying only half of respondents living with a disability have a full- or part-time job.

Qualtrough said employment barriers were a recurring theme in the 17 consultations already held across Canada in a bid to seek input on the new act. The last such session is slated to take place in Toronto this week.

The issue has long been recognized as a pressing concern for the disabled community, but some advocates are skeptical that it can be handled through legislation.

Joe Dale, executive director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network, said laws can only go so far towards including people with disabilities in the workforce.

The sort of change required is more rooted in attitudes and cultures rather than government rules, he said, adding laws can’t necessarily do much to dispel misconceptions about people with disabilities or argue the business case for exploring a largely untapped talent pool.

“To build legislation that has an employment focus where one of the biggest barriers is attitudinal and bias is a tough thing to do in legislature and it’s a tougher thing to sell,” he said. “Typically all these types of things end up getting people to the point of interview … but it can’t necessarily guarantee they’re going to get through the door.”

Qualtrough said Ottawa is keenly aware of the business advantages of hiring people with disabilities, saying research has shown such candidates are frequently well educated, inclined to remain loyal to an employer and highly innovative after years of navigating societal systems that can leave them at a disadvantage.

She said the consultation sessions have illustrated the need to take a direct approach with the new act and think beyond simply accommodating would-be employees.

“We really need to change the conversation around disability generally from one of need and inabilities and retrofitting and accommodation to one of inclusion,” she said. “It’s time we started looking at people as contributing members of society instead of burdens on society.”

Another key message to emerge from the consultations, she said, is the need for the federal act to have strong enforcement powers.

Canadians have been clear that an act without teeth will fall short of the mark, she said, adding the government has not yet decided how enforcement mechanisms would look.

Qualtrough did not rule out the idea of introducing an accessibility commissioner who would oversee complaints related to the new law.

Nor did she eliminate the idea of maintaining the current system, which sees complaints of discrimination based on disability come before provincial and federal human rights commissions.

She acknowledged that the current system leaves something to be desired.

“The fundamental flaw with our current system is that it’s for the most part reactive,” she said. “You have to wait until someone’s discriminated against, you have to wait until someone’s denied … a service, a house, whatever.

“Then people swoop in and two to three years later we tell you, ‘you’re right, you shouldn’t have been denied.'”

Eliminating that flaw is one of several demands made by Barrier-Free Canada, an advocacy organization that has been crusading for federal legislation.

“(The act) should not simply incorporate the existing procedures for filing discrimination complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission or under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as these are too slow and cumbersome, and can yield inadequate remedies,” the organization writes on its list of principles.

Other demands include strict timelines for the country to comply with the new laws and a call for all provinces to enact accessibility legislation of their own.

Qualtrough said it’s too early to speculate on timelines or other particulars of the act before the law is drafted. She said she hopes that process will be complete by the end of the year.