Taking the Accessibility Strategy North, West, and Back Again
Summer has finally arrived, and with it comes heat, sunshine, and a flurry of OPSA-related events.
To my absolute delight, on June 21st, Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, received royal assent in a ceremony that I had the privilege to attend. And did you know the ceremony involves no signing of documents by the Governor General? Royal assent is given with a simple nod of the head. But what a moment it was! This Act will transform how the Government of Canada addresses accessibility around the country, and under the legislation, accessibility standards and regulations in priority areas can be developed. On July 11th, the Act came into force, marking a momentous milestone in the history of accessibility.
Simultaneously, I was gearing up for a tour with stops in several cities, including Redmond Washington, Whitehorse, Vancouver and Victoria (and pondering how lucky I am to be leading accessibility initiatives with partners in all sectors).
My first stop was Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, where I engaged in an enlightening conversation on accessibility with Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie and Ricardo Wagner, Microsoft’s Accessibility Lead for Canada. We spent the day touring their many facilities, including design labs and collaborative spaces while discussing Microsoft’s policies and standards around accessibility.
Then I was off to Whitehorse to host a Northern Town Hall with GC employees. We discussed our federal accessibility strategy, Nothing Without Us, and I had the chance to hear firsthand from public servants across all three northern territories about their day-to-day experiences with accessibility. This was followed by meetings with the Northern Federal Council to work on implementing our strategy and the Yukon public service to share and learn of best practices.
Might I add that no trip to Whitehorse would be complete without enjoying the sunlight at 10 pm! Such beauty.
Vancouver was next, where I had the privilege to meet with the co-chair of the Presidents Group, a coalition of the top private sector organizations in BC working on becoming the most accessible businesses they can be. Kirsten Sutton, VP and Managing Director of SAP Labs Canada gave me a great overview of some of their work. It is exciting to see how the private sector is really stepping up. Following that, there was a special experience waiting for me – a tour of the airport hosted by Cathy Nyfors, Manager of Customer Care, which allowed me to learn about the Vancouver Airport Authority’s accessibility features and how they provide a welcoming and inclusive experience for all travellers.
The next day, I boarded the Vancouver Harbour Helijet for an action-packed day in Victoria. There, I spent time with the lovely CanAssist team at the University of Victoria, who showed me the great work they’ve completed to promote inclusion and accessibility. That afternoon, I met with representatives of the BC public service, who are themselves embarking on creating accessibility legislation, along with very ambitious hiring targets for people with disabilities. It was an amazing day, including the “creative” approach to getting me in and out of a Helijet.
On Saturday, I met with some disability and accessibility leaders in Vancouver. Carmen Papalia is a “non-visual learner,” an artist who incorporates accessibility audits into his practice. Al Etmanski is a social entrepreneur and one of the drivers behind the creation of the registered disability savings plan. We had a stimulating and provocative conversation. It felt like my brain was doing calisthenics! Then on Sunday, I was back in Ottawa again. I am feeling both inspired and encouraged by everyone I have met in the past few weeks and from the positive responses I’ve received for Nothing Without Us.
I welcome your questions and feedback, and I encourage you to share any thoughts here, or follow our conversation on social media by using #LetsTalkAccessibility and #NothingWithoutUs. You can also learn more about accessibility in the public service, including the accessibility strategy, by visiting Canada.ca/AccessibleGC.