Before you begin: key concepts to keep in mind

Before you begin: key concepts to keep in mind

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The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) and the Accessible Canada Regulations (regulations) do not require you to follow any one particular approach to your consultations. Whatever approach you choose, the key concepts described in the following guidance will help ensure your consultations are effective. They will also show how effective consultations can support your organization’s efforts to identify, remove, and prevent barriers.

Different kinds of disabilities

The ACA defines a disability as:

“Any impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment – or a functional limitation – whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, or evident or not, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.”

The ACA defines a barrier as:

“Anything – including anything physical, architectural, technological or attitudinal, anything that is based on information or communications or anything that is the result of a policy or a practice – that hinders the full and equal participation in society of persons with an impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment or a functional limitation.”

Persons with disabilities encounter different kinds of barriers. What is accessible for one person may not be accessible for everyone. Each person with a disability is unique.

The 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability identified the following types of disabilities:

The survey also allowed people to describe other long-lasting health problems or conditions that involved impairments.

Many disabilities fit into one of these categories, while others fit into more than one category (such as mobility, flexibility, or dexterity disabilities). Some disabilities do not fit neatly into any of these categories at all. This might include disabilities like epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, or deafblindness.

People can have multiple disabilities. For example, a person with a mobility impairment could also have a learning or hearing disability. Having multiple disabilities may affect someone’s ability to participate in consultations, as can other factors like age, neighbourhood, gender, and so on. If you are not sure about how to address or include someone, the best thing you can do is ask them.

You should think about different types of disabilities when planning your consultations. Consult the annex on key disability concepts for definitions, resources, tips and best practices.

Cultural and intersectional factors

Persons with disabilities, like all people, have multiple intersecting identity factors. This means that many different factors go into who they are and how they interact with the world. Intersectional identity factors may be biological (such as sex) and socio-cultural (such as gender). They may also include age, race, ethnicity, religion, and more.

Many persons with disabilities also identify as belonging to other traditionally marginalized or underserved groups. This can increase the barriers they encounter.

You should think about these factors when planning your consultations. Consider including a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant in your planning process. You can also consult the annex on cultural factors for definitions, resources, tips, and best practices.

Inclusive language and communication

Every step of your consultation process should respect and uphold the dignity of persons with disabilities. This is especially important when it comes to language. The words you use can be very powerful, both to help and to harm. Some words can make people feel welcome, included, and respected. Other words can make people feel excluded, ignored, or disrespected.

There are many things to consider in choosing your words, such as whether they are gender-neutral and culturally sensitive. There are also specific things to keep in mind when it comes to disability and accessibility.

Keep these factors in mind when planning your consultations. Consult the annex on inclusive language for definitions, resources, tips, and best practices.

Respecting privacy and confidentiality

Participants may say or write things during your consultations that they would not want you to quote, or share publicly.

This might include personal information such as their identities, medical histories, or experiences facing barriers or discrimination. It is important to recognize that many attitudinal barriers still exist, including misunderstandings and stigma surrounding disability. Some participants may not be comfortable publicly identifying themselves as having a particular disability, or any disability at all. This may be true especially for participants with “hidden” or “invisible” disabilities.

In addition, specific topics could involve particular sensitivities. For example, participants in an engagement session on accessible employment might make constructive comments about accessibility issues. They might be worried about facing repercussions for these comments, or for disclosing they have a disability.

It is important that you reassure participants who may have these concerns, but also that you ensure the process is open and accountable. With this in mind, we recommend the following:

Above all, ensure that you follow all relevant laws in your jurisdiction regarding the handling of private and personal information.

Avoiding “consultation fatigue”

Stakeholders can feel overloaded with activities like consultations. This can affect their willingness to participate, and limit the amount of input they have time or energy to give. A common name for this is “consultation fatigue.”

Consultation fatigue can occur when consultation events:

There are a number of things you can do to avoid contributing to consultation fatigue:

Above all, remember that even volunteer participants are sharing their time, expertise, and experience with you. It is important not to ask more from them than they have agreed to provide.

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