Skip to main content

Is accessibility legislation coming to Alberta?

Is accessibility legislation coming to Alberta?
Confirmation hasn’t come yet that the UCP will introduce legislation in 2024 to align Alberta with much of the rest of Canada.
Confirmation hasn’t come yet that the UCP will introduce legislation in 2024 to align Alberta with much of the rest of Canada.
IMAGE: George Lee
The province is one of only three without its own accessibility legislation.
IMAGE: George Lee
The province is one of only three without its own accessibility legislation.

Is accessibility legislation coming to Alberta?

By George Lee
By George Lee
Local Journalism Initiative | The Macleod Gazette
Shootin’ the Breeze Local Journalism Initiative | The Macleod Gazette
February 5, 2024
February 5, 2024

Improving accessibility for people with disabilities remains on the government’s radar, but confirmation hasn’t come yet that the United Conservatives will introduce legislation in 2024 to align Alberta with much of the rest of Canada.

Marie Renaud, the NDP critic for community and social services, told her legislature colleagues last month that accessibility legislation is long overdue in her province. “Alberta is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada without accessibility legislation, which means we have not even begun our journey to barrier-free,” she said Dec. 4. “That needs to change. We need accessibility legislation right now.”

A provincial spokesperson said the government is working on accessibility. “Alberta’s government is committed to working with the disability community to make sure we are providing appropriate supports to help Albertans with disabilities live healthy, successful lives,” said Heather Barlow, press secretary for Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon, the member for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. In an email statement, Barlow said that the minister hosted roundtables across Alberta last fall to discuss accessibility with disability stakeholders.

Renaud, the third-term member for St. Albert, said others are blazing the trail with the help of clear national guidance. “The feds have laid a path and established benchmarks.”

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

In 1978 Quebec became the first province in Canada to enact accessibility legislation. Six other provinces—British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador—have since passed their own versions. The most recent of those is Saskatchewan, which enacted legislation in December.

“Accessibility cannot be an afterthought. We have to plan for it, invest in it, protect it by enshrining it in law,” Renaud said.

About a quarter of Canadians live with at least some level of disability, but definitions vary of what constitutes a disability in the first place. Canada’s Employment Equity Act classifies a person with a disability as “any person who has a long-term or reoccurring physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric, or learning impairment and who considers themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment.”

The Canadian Human Rights Act says “any previous or existing mental or physical disability” qualifies, adding that disability includes “disfigurement and previous or existing dependence” on alcohol or drugs.

Person with a disability “refers to a person whose daily activities are limited as a result of an impairment or difficulty with particular tasks,” says the Statistics Canada website.

In 2022 Statistics Canada found that about eight million Canadians, or 27 per cent of the population 15 or older, reported having at least one disability. That’s about twice the percentage reported 10 years earlier. In 2022, the province said that the percentage for Alberta was more than 21 per cent.

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

Through the Accessible Canada Act of 2019, the federal government is pushing for a barrier-free Canada by 2040. Part of the process is removing and preventing barriers to access in areas under federal authority.

The law covers the federal government’s own services, facilities and responsibilities, such as federal buildings, banking, air travel, and television, radio and telecommunications. If Alberta follows the example of other provinces, its legislation will drill down to provincial, municipal and educational properties and services, along with the other organizations and businesses it regulates.

Legislation of this type typically paves the way for further actions over time, like the creation of standards and regulations, planning and strategic documents, reporting and monitoring structures, and even new bodies.

Saskatchewan’s law calls for the creation of the Saskatchewan Accessibility Office, which will be responsible for education, public awareness, and monitoring compliance and enforcement of the act’s requirement. In B.C. the law requires that 750 public-sector organizations establish an accessibility committee and plan, and a tool to receive public feedback on accessibility.

In Alberta the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities has been researching what accessibility legislation could look like here, including what other federal and provincial jurisdictions have done, said the ministry spokesperson. The advocate has “engaged with persons with disabilities, disability groups, and the general public to hear their views on the state of accessibility in the province,” Barlow said.

 

 

The advocate office, created by Rachel Notley’s NDP government in 2018, is operating under a strategic plan that says a priority is to “champion and mobilize stakeholder outreach work toward accessibility legislation.”

The advocate strives to “champion and promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Alberta’s social and economic fabric,” the strategic plan says. It also seeks to “represent the rights, interests and viewpoints of persons with disabilities” and “provide information and advice to government to address the challenges and opportunities to enhance the lives and well-being of Albertans with disabilities.”

Advocate staff build partnerships with community groups, other advocacy organizations and people with disabilities “to better understand issues and changes in disability supports in Alberta,” says the Alberta government website. “Ongoing input from the public is used to provide information and advice to the government with respect to the rights, interests and well-being of persons with disabilities.”

Creation of the advocate position followed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UN adopted in 2006 and Canada ratified in 2010. Among the convention’s principles are full and effective participation and inclusion in society for persons with disabilities. The document calls for respect, acceptance and equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities, saying they should be recognized as representative of human diversity.

 

Ad for Ascent Dental in Pincher Creek

 

Renaud said the province needs better information to work from. “The government of Alberta does not collect data on accessibility in a meaningful way; nor does it collect and share data on the accessibility of employment, communication, transportation, technology, and so much more.”

The ministry did not address data collection in its response to an email inquiry. Data in the most recent annual report of the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities centres mostly on its public interactions and cases.

The advocate heard from 1,038 individuals in 2021-2022, and their contact generated 1,360 cases. Of those cases, 89 per cent related to individuals seeking support for themselves or someone close to them for specific challenges. The number of cases was up 7.5 per cent over the year before and 26 per cent over 2019-2020.

Individuals and governments around the world marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3. The Legislative Assembly of Alberta, however, does not host a formal event in its rotunda to recognize the day, Renaud pointed out.

On the positive side, the legislature does provide American Sign Language during Question Period. Renaud said she’s thankful for that but wants to see ASL extended to other proceedings.

 

 

Improving accessibility for people with disabilities remains on the government’s radar, but confirmation hasn’t come yet that the United Conservatives will introduce legislation in 2024 to align Alberta with much of the rest of Canada.

Marie Renaud, the NDP critic for community and social services, told her legislature colleagues last month that accessibility legislation is long overdue in her province. “Alberta is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada without accessibility legislation, which means we have not even begun our journey to barrier-free,” she said Dec. 4. “That needs to change. We need accessibility legislation right now.”

A provincial spokesperson said the government is working on accessibility. “Alberta’s government is committed to working with the disability community to make sure we are providing appropriate supports to help Albertans with disabilities live healthy, successful lives,” said Heather Barlow, press secretary for Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon, the member for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. In an email statement, Barlow said that the minister hosted roundtables across Alberta last fall to discuss accessibility with disability stakeholders.

Renaud, the third-term member for St. Albert, said others are blazing the trail with the help of clear national guidance. “The feds have laid a path and established benchmarks.”

 

Ad for Aurora Eggert Coaching in Beaver Mines

 

In 1978 Quebec became the first province in Canada to enact accessibility legislation. Six other provinces—British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador—have since passed their own versions. The most recent of those is Saskatchewan, which enacted legislation in December.

“Accessibility cannot be an afterthought. We have to plan for it, invest in it, protect it by enshrining it in law,” Renaud said.

About a quarter of Canadians live with at least some level of disability, but definitions vary of what constitutes a disability in the first place. Canada’s Employment Equity Act classifies a person with a disability as “any person who has a long-term or reoccurring physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric, or learning impairment and who considers themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment.”

The Canadian Human Rights Act says “any previous or existing mental or physical disability” qualifies, adding that disability includes “disfigurement and previous or existing dependence” on alcohol or drugs.

Person with a disability “refers to a person whose daily activities are limited as a result of an impairment or difficulty with particular tasks,” says the Statistics Canada website.

In 2022 Statistics Canada found that about eight million Canadians, or 27 per cent of the population 15 or older, reported having at least one disability. That’s about twice the percentage reported 10 years earlier. In 2022, the province said that the percentage for Alberta was more than 21 per cent.

 

Ad for Shadowbar Shepherds Training in Pincher Creek

 

Through the Accessible Canada Act of 2019, the federal government is pushing for a barrier-free Canada by 2040. Part of the process is removing and preventing barriers to access in areas under federal authority.

The law covers the federal government’s own services, facilities and responsibilities, such as federal buildings, banking, air travel, and television, radio and telecommunications. If Alberta follows the example of other provinces, its legislation will drill down to provincial, municipal and educational properties and services, along with the other organizations and businesses it regulates.

Legislation of this type typically paves the way for further actions over time, like the creation of standards and regulations, planning and strategic documents, reporting and monitoring structures, and even new bodies.

Saskatchewan’s law calls for the creation of the Saskatchewan Accessibility Office, which will be responsible for education, public awareness, and monitoring compliance and enforcement of the act’s requirement. In B.C. the law requires that 750 public-sector organizations establish an accessibility committee and plan, and a tool to receive public feedback on accessibility.

In Alberta the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities has been researching what accessibility legislation could look like here, including what other federal and provincial jurisdictions have done, said the ministry spokesperson. The advocate has “engaged with persons with disabilities, disability groups, and the general public to hear their views on the state of accessibility in the province,” Barlow said.

 

 

The advocate office, created by Rachel Notley’s NDP government in 2018, is operating under a strategic plan that says a priority is to “champion and mobilize stakeholder outreach work toward accessibility legislation.”

The advocate strives to “champion and promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Alberta’s social and economic fabric,” the strategic plan says. It also seeks to “represent the rights, interests and viewpoints of persons with disabilities” and “provide information and advice to government to address the challenges and opportunities to enhance the lives and well-being of Albertans with disabilities.”

Advocate staff build partnerships with community groups, other advocacy organizations and people with disabilities “to better understand issues and changes in disability supports in Alberta,” says the Alberta government website. “Ongoing input from the public is used to provide information and advice to the government with respect to the rights, interests and well-being of persons with disabilities.”

Creation of the advocate position followed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UN adopted in 2006 and Canada ratified in 2010. Among the convention’s principles are full and effective participation and inclusion in society for persons with disabilities. The document calls for respect, acceptance and equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities, saying they should be recognized as representative of human diversity.

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

Renaud said the province needs better information to work from. “The government of Alberta does not collect data on accessibility in a meaningful way; nor does it collect and share data on the accessibility of employment, communication, transportation, technology, and so much more.”

The ministry did not address data collection in its response to an email inquiry. Data in the most recent annual report of the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities centres mostly on its public interactions and cases.

The advocate heard from 1,038 individuals in 2021-2022, and their contact generated 1,360 cases. Of those cases, 89 per cent related to individuals seeking support for themselves or someone close to them for specific challenges. The number of cases was up 7.5 per cent over the year before and 26 per cent over 2019-2020.

Individuals and governments around the world marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3. The Legislative Assembly of Alberta, however, does not host a formal event in its rotunda to recognize the day, Renaud pointed out.

On the positive side, the legislature does provide American Sign Language during Question Period. Renaud said she’s thankful for that but wants to see ASL extended to other proceedings.

 

Ad for Sara Hawthorn, Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass realtor

 

Leave a Reply