In any discussion of disability rights, we must first know what is already in place. Legislation varies by country and region, of course, but we must consider each other’s rules, laws, bills, etc. so that we can advocate and share with one another. Our discussion today centres on existing legislation in Canada and the United States.
What is the situation in Canada?
There is Canada-wide legislation as well as provincial legislation that addresses discrimination against protected populations like age, race, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and others. Accessibility standards in such legislation cover areas of employment, housing, transportation, etc.
Recently, the Government of Canada passed The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) which creates a framework for the identification, removal, and prevention of Federal barriers and systematically address accessibility. They want to “to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, working towards a Canada without barriers and a brighter future for persons with disabilities.” They set out accessibility standards for areas such as employment, housing, built environment, information and communication, and transportation.
Bolstering the ACA; there is recent disability rights legislation in all 13 individual provincial and territorial governments. Just to highlight a few of the earliest and their target dates:
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act—very thorough–requires the public and private sectors to address accessibility standards when dealing with the public, by 2025.
The Accessibility for Manitobans Act—removes barriers affecting persons with disabilities, making Manitoba more inclusive for everyone, by 2023.
The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act—make Nova Scotia inclusive and barrier-free, by 2030.
What is the situation in the US?
There is US-wide legislation as well as state legislation.
In the US, several major Federal laws covered sweeping minority protections such as age, race, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. or were limited to a certain category.
Initially, disability legislation covered specific areas and/or a number of protected groups like age, race, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and others.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973—provides grants to States for vocational rehabilitation services, research & and training, and coordination of special programs, with special emphasis on people with disabilities and those with the most severe disabilities.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 (also called the Civil Rights Act)–prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing nationwide.
The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986—ensures consistent and nondiscriminatory treatment in air travel for people with disabilities and requires accommodation of the needs of passengers with disabilities.
None of these is comprehensive, however. These acts address multiple protected groups and/or a narrow accessibility standard, so implementation and enforcement are inconsistent.
Finally, the US-wide Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was passed. It is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in many areas such as employment, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the public. The law (act) guarantees that persons with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as the general public.
For more about the ADA, read “The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Brief Overview.”