Introduction and discussion questions by Gabrielle Peters and Alex Haagaard.
When it comes to disability-focused legislation, Canada has lagged behind the United States. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, and created requirements for accessibility of public and commercial spaces, provision of reasonable accommodations by employers, as well as broadly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. Even though the ADA is American legislation, Canadians have benefited from the resulting changes in design standards and innovations it brought about. As companies on the other side of the border created products to comply with ADA regulations and as other companies brought their own practices in line with it, the results traveled northward. While American disability activists point out numerous flaws with the ADA especially around its enforcement, the impact of this legislation is difficult to overstate. The first disability rights legislation to be passed in Canada was the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA), which was passed in 2005. The AODA created requirements and guidelines on how to remove and prevent barriers within public and commercial spaces and services. Manitoba passed similar legislation in 2013, and Nova Scotia followed suit in 2017. Canada’s other provinces and territories have not passed any comprehensive disability rights legislation.
Canada’s first federal disability legislation, the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) received royal assent in June 2019—this is the final step toward a bill becoming law in this country. Unlike the ADA or AODA, the ACA does not apply broadly to the private sector, because the licensing and regulation of most businesses is under the control of the provincial governments.
The ACA applies to organizations under federal jurisdiction such as:
Government of Canada, including government departments, Crown Corporations, and agencies
Federally regulated private sector, including organizations in the transportation sectors, broadcasting and telecommunications services, and the banking and financial sectors
Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
For those hoping for a better version of the ADA, the ACA is not it. At the same time legislation is a beginning and can be expanded and improved as it is further defined and interpreted. One very significant problem with the ACA is the federal government failed to link the legislation to receipt of federal funding. The government failed to use the big stick it has at its disposal - namely making receipt of federal funds conditional on compliance with the ACA. This would have expanded the reach of the legislation as well. We also will have to see whether the language of ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’ will make this legislation more of a wish list than something that is enforced.
Those governed by the ACA are supposed to create accessibility plans, have tools for feedback and create progress reports. One of the concerns is that oversight of it has been broken up so some will be under the CRTC, some under the Canadian Transportation Agency and the remainder under the Accessibility Commissioner who will be appointed by the Governor General.
While recognizing the specific failures of the ACA, it is also important to consider the limitations of accessibility legislation more generally. DJNO co-founder Sarah Jama has spoken about the difference between typical conceptions of accessibility, and disability justice:
““When people talk about accessibility, it’s usually around how we build a world around this pre-existing society that fits people with disabilities.” Disability justice, though, involves building a society “that’s free and fits everybody,” she says, and asking “How do we interact with our justice system? How do we interact with our education system? How has our health-care system hurt us in a variety of ways that attack our bodily autonomy?””
In this online town hall, we will be discussing:
the ways in which accessibility has historically been a project of whiteness
how to think about accessibility within a disability justice framework
how legislation can be informed by disability justice and what that might look like
what policies and standards you would like to see implemented in future federal disability rights legislation
This discussion will be co-hosted by @djnontario, @alexhaagaard and @mssinenomine who will be tweeting questions every ten minutes starting at ten past the hour. You can see the questions by navigating to the profile of any of these accounts.
@alexhaagaard and @mssinenomine will be retweeting the responses that people post, so you can follow their accounts to see the rest of the discussion. You can also search Twitter for the #CripTheVote hashtag, and set the search page to "Latest", to see everything that is being tweeted to the hashtag.
We realize that Twitter chats can be hard to follow for some people. While the chat is taking place, @djnontario will be tweeting the chat questions only. If you are having trouble keeping track of the chat, you can click on the @djnontario profile and check that account's feed to find out which questions have been posted.
You can also find the chat questions at the bottom of this post.
After the discussion takes place, we will be posting a summary of it to the DJNO blog.
This chat is about accessibility and it is also about disability justice. We will be discussing how the marginalization of disabled people intersects with other forms of oppression including racism, colonialism, poverty, cissexism and heterosexism.
Racism, trans antagonism, homophobia, misogyny and lateral ableism are not welcome in this discussion and will not be amplified by the host accounts.
Remember to use the #CripTheVote hashtag when you tweet, so that others can see what you are saying!
If you respond to a question such as Q1, your tweet should follow this format: “A1 [your message] #CripTheVote"
Please introduce yourself! If you’re comfortable with sharing, where in Canada do you live?
Like disability, there is confusion about what accessibility is and who requires it. How would you define accessibility? Do you ever hesitate to use the word?
Are there accessibility needs you have that you wish were more understood? What are some examples of inaccessibility that you encounter?
Disability rights is characteristically white and middle class. How has this affected the way people understand accessibility? What are some ways you see other parts of your identity or lived experience impact your accessibility?
How would your life be different if accessibility standards were universally upheld and you could reliably count on your needs being met?
What are some of the ways that you routinely encounter inaccessibility in public and commercial spaces? How does this affect you?
Do you have any way of filing a formal complaint or seeking a solution to these kinds of inaccessibility? If so, what does that involve? Is the process of filing a complaint accessible to you?
Accessibility is often thought about as a way of retrofitting the world to meet the needs of disabled people. What kinds of barriers and injustices tend to get ignored when we focus on accessibility in this way?
If you were given the task of writing legislation to meaningfully change the lives of disabled people in Canada for the better what would you call it and what are some things it would include?