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InsightSept 19, 2023

Accessibility in Canada: Quebec & PEI

In this edition, Ruth Farrugia RGD tells accessibility regulations in Québec and Ashe Green RGD emphasizes the need for legislation in Prince Edward Island.

Through this series, the RGD highlights the extent of the application of accessible design regulations in provinces across Canada.

Quebec

Quebec has had an accessibility law since 1978, when the Loi assurant l’exercice des droits des personnes handicapées en vue de leur intégration scolaire, professionnelle et sociale (the Act to secure handicapped persons in the exercise of their rights with a view to achieving social, school and workplace integration) was passed.

The purpose of the law was "to secure handicapped persons in the exercise of their rights and… to help them integrate into society to the same extent as other citizens by providing for various measures to apply specifically to handicapped persons and their families, their living environments and the development and organization of resources and services for them" (L.R.Q. c. 31 s. 2). In 2021, The Quebec Government also issued Décret 655-2021, which added elements to the law that further take into account the characteristics and needs of disabled people and reduce barriers to their integration.

The province has an Office des personnes handicapées du Québec that produces various publications outlining best practices, carries out assessments of social participation of the disabled community, advises governments on public initiatives to be more inclusive and provides direct services to people with disabilities and their loved ones.

Each year, the city produces an Action Plan for the Disabled Community, which includes an annual review, along with an action plan for further improvements. A working group of people from multiple departments and city management are involved. Producing this document is in keeping with the law, which requires municipalities with over 15,000 inhabitants to create an annual action plan. This includes various aspects of accessibility, including:

  • the built environment
  • programs, services and communications
  • policies, training and consultation

Progress is slow, but it is being made. Limited budgets and resistance to change are often barriers to quick progress. Retrofitting is always more difficult than having an accessibility-first mindset in the planning stages.

Much of the law is made up of recommendations, which allows for companies and institutions to have some time and flexibility, but that may also lead to them not taking accessibility seriously. I don’t believe fines and disincentives would be the way to go, but more public awareness and positive incentives might encourage businesses and service providers to have accessibility front of mind. It is often left to the disabled community to advocate for themselves when they encounter barriers to access.

We all need to recognize that making our world more accessible is good for everyone. An inclusive world is a better world.

Prince Edward Island

But what happens when you live and work in a place where accessibility legislation isn’t in place?

Designers in Prince Edward Island face some challenges. Without legislation, accessibility can take a backseat in formative project discussions. It can be difficult to add accessibility to the project scope without specific laws in place to lean on. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the conversation with clients. We have the opportunity to be advocates and educate our clients and peers about the benefits of accessible design.

Without legislation, we have to self-impose guidelines that lead our design choices. Simple additions to our workflow such as testing websites, colour palettes, checking for accessible contrast ratios, adding alt tags to photographs, considering appropriate typefaces for web or print and making choices with accessibility in mind makes all the difference. Building some of these practices into our processes regardless of legislation will make our work better as a whole.

In PEI, accessibility initiatives are still in their infancy. It’s difficult to find information specific to Prince Edward Island in regard to web and design accessibility. The Province’s own Website Accessibility Policy leaves much to be desired.

While PEI does not have specific accessibility legislation, other provinces like Ontario and Nova Scotia have established accessibility standards that have ripple effects on designers, organizations and the community. Designers in these provinces have had to adapt to new guidelines, and this experience can offer valuable insights for PEI designers.

While PEI may not have specific accessibility legislation, the responsibility to make our designs accessible is ours. We have the opportunity within our community to lead by example, educate our clients and peers and advocate for change. In doing so, we not only design better and increase reach, but also create a more inclusive and equitable society.

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