Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility Carla Qualtrough was honoured recently by BC & Alberta Guide Dogs for her efforts in getting the Accessible Canada Act signed into law.
On Friday, July 26, the Delta-based charity hosted a luncheon to congratulate Qualtrough on advancing the rights of people with disabilities, and presented the minister with a plaque and a cake commemorating the historic legislation.
“Minister Qualtrough is a tremendous supporter of BC & Alberta Guide Dogs and we just wanted to in an informal way recognize your support. We know you go to bat for us and often we don’t know where you’re batting, but we know you’re out there doing it,” BC & Alberta Guide Dogs CEO Bill Thornton told the small gathering of staff, volunteers and service dog recipients. “It’s just a small token of our recognition for all the work that you’ve done.”
BC & Alberta Guide Dogs is a registered charity that breeds, raises and professionally trains guide dogs for individuals who are blind or visually-impaired, autism support dogs for children aged 3 to 10 with moderate to profound autism and their families, and PTSD service dogs for military and RCMP veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder. It takes two years and upwards of $35,000 to produce one certified dog, which is then provided free of charge to the recipient.
“You all know what a fan I am of the work you do and how very clearly I understand the difference you make in people’s lives every day. And I want to say thank you, I’m so proud that you’re here in our community because it gives us incredible bragging rights, both locally and regionally and even across the country,” Qualtrough said. “As someone who is legally blind, I know the feeling of independence and what that feels like, and this is what your gift is to people and families and individuals and we’ve got so many people here who can attest to that personally.”
The Accessible Canada Act, which passed in both the House of Commons and the Senate with unanimous support and received royal ascent on June 21, aims to help create a barrier-free Canada by proactively identifying, removing and preventing barriers to accessibility and by putting in place new mechanisms to address the systems that uphold these barriers, according to a government press release. It will apply to Parliament, Crown corporations, the federal government and private sector businesses under federal jurisdiction, such as banking, telecommunications and transportation.
Under the legislation, the federal government will develop accessibility standards and regulations in priority areas such as employment, the built environment, and the design and delivery of programs and services.
Organizations under federal jurisdiction will be required to follow accessibility regulations and to develop accessibility plans describing how they will identify, remove and prevent barriers across their operations. They will also be required to establish processes for receiving and dealing with feedback about the implementation of their accessibility plan and about any barriers that a person may have encountered in dealing with the organization, and will have to publish regular progress reports describing the implementation of their plans, feedback received, and how that feedback has been taken into consideration.
“The Accessible Canada Act has been a labour of love and I’m very proud that we got it past the goalpost in time before the House rose and it was again thanks to the work of champions across the country, including yourselves, that it has become the most significant piece of disability rights law since the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms], and nobody can take that away from us,” Qualtrough said.
The minister used the federal government’s plan to ban single-use plastics by 2021 as a “small example” of how the Accessible Canada Act is already changing how policy is set in Ottawa.
“We came out with a government policy to ban single-use plastics — straws, forks, spoons, that kind of stuff — and the disability community very quickly came out and said many Canadians with disabilities use straws and single-use plastics as adaptive devices and they were very concerned. But because of the ACA, when we brought forward this plan to cabinet, it had to have a plan to address the needs of the disability community baked into it from the start. It wasn’t, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, we know you’re going to need straws; don’t worry, we’ll figure it out,’ it was cabinet wouldn’t approve it until we made a commitment in the policy to ensure that everyone with a disability who needed a straw or needed another adaptive device that was single-use plastics got it without having to be an afterthought.
“And that’s fundamentally a shift in the way we do public policy. So imagine now every time we do an infrastructure policy or we do anything — like procurement — we aren’t going to buy things that aren’t accessible as a government. We buy $20 billion worth of goods every year; imagine if they’re all accessible now because of this law.”