An Accessible Alberta Act

June 23, 2021 | By

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Having experienced social isolation of various forms and intensity over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Albertans have gained a small glimpse into what millions of people living with disabilities deal with on a regular basis. Our public spaces and facilities are not universally accessible. In fact, the problem extends far beyond our built environment. And while the Alberta Human Rights Act includes physical and mental disability in its list of prohibited grounds for various forms of discrimination, this does not establish an active duty to accommodate people living with disabilities, which is becoming the norm elsewhere in Canada.

In 2019 both the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada unanimously passed Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, the purpose of which is to make Canada barrier-free by January 1, 2040. This involves identifying, removing and preventing barriers in federal jurisdiction in a range of priority areas and creating unifying standards of accessibility, as well as bodies responsible for developing those standards.

In contrast, Alberta’s current disability policy exists as a patchwork of legislation addressing specific aspects of accessibility but with no central principles ensuring a consistent approach and overarching goal. What this means for Alberta is that, as parts of the federal Act come into effect, facilities and services in Alberta that fall under federal jurisdiction will be governed by unifying standards of accessibility, while areas of provincial jurisdiction and the private sector will not.

Other provinces have passed provincial accessibility legislation. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) served as a model for the federal Act and all following provincial accessibility legislation. Manitoba and Nova Scotia have since passed similar acts, and British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador are in the midst of developing something similar.

Alberta should follow suit. An Alberta Accessibility Act would be a major step forward in establishing an enabling framework for greater inclusivity, helping us get closer to the point where everyone can participate with confidence.