Building an Inclusive Canada: National Disability Summit, May 9 to 10, 2019. What We Learned Report
On this page
- Message from the Minister
- Ideas and key findings
- What we can do now
- Annex: National disability summit agenda
Building an Inclusive Canada: National Disability Summit, May 9 to 10, 2019. What We Learned Report [PDF – 2.08 MB]
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Message from the Minister
As Canada’s first Minister dedicated to persons with disabilities, I am pleased to present the What We Learned Report from the Building an Inclusive Canada: National Disability Summit. The Summit took place in the Nation’s Capital over a 2-day period in May 2019. This report summarizes the work done and the experiences and information shared at the Summit, but most importantly it outlines key areas where continued action is needed to realize a truly accessible Canada.
Accessibility is about ensuring that all people in Canada, including persons with disabilities, have equal opportunities to succeed. As I have often said, we are moving from accommodation to inclusion. We are moving from “Nothing about us, without us” to “Nothing without us”, because everything is about us.
The Summit was a great forum that allowed key partners, leaders and persons with disabilities from across sectors to combine their collective expertise to create a strong collaborative network that can make the most of opportunities to advance accessibility, because an inclusive Canada is a stronger Canada.
The Government of Canada’s Accessible Canada Act, which came into force on July 11, 2019, is only the starting point of a new era that will see the inclusion of all people in Canada, including persons with disabilities, and will enable us to realize a Canada that is accessible and inclusive to all. We have made significant progress, but there is much more work to do, and we all have a role to play to ensure the realization of a Canada where barriers for persons with disabilities are eliminated.
I want to thank all the participants, presenters, and panelists who have been advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities for decades and were so generous in sharing their perspectives at the Summit. Learning from each other and working together to strategize on new ways to improve accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities was key to making the Summit a success.
Together, we will build a fully accessible and inclusive Canada.
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough,
Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility
On May 9 and 10, 2019, the Government of Canada hosted the first ever National Disability Summit in Ottawa. The name of the summit was “Building an Inclusive Canada.” About 200 people attended, including persons with disabilities, academics and international experts, and representatives from government and the private sector.
The goal of the Summit was to discuss:
- progress that has been made on issues related to accessibility and disability
- how to work together on challenges so that Canadians with disabilities can be completely included
There were panel discussions, keynote speeches and small group discussions (breakout sessions). (See Annex A for the agenda). There were 3 panel discussions:
- Creating a culture of inclusiveness
- Taking stock
- Disruptive thinking
The rest of the Summit focused on keynote speeches and small group discussions about:
- inclusive employment
- financial security
- human rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities
- social inclusion and intersectionality (the idea that people who have disabilities may be excluded for more than 1 reason, for example, because of their gender or because they are poor)
- creating partnerships
At the end of the Summit, participants were asked to think about what they could do on their own and as a group to make Canada more inclusive.
The speeches and discussions were documented in a number of ways:
- designated note-takers recorded key messages from the panel discussions, the speeches and the breakout sessions
- for the breakout sessions, each table was given a sheet of paper with questions, and everyone at the table was invited to write down answers and comments
This report is a summary of all these notes.
Ideas and key findings
Creating a culture of inclusiveness panel
Panellists discussed real-life examples of the barriers that persons with disabilities face daily and how well Canada is doing in getting rid of barriers to inclusion. Panellists agreed that progress has been made, but there are still challenges.
- Culture plays a powerful role in preventing personal and systemic discrimination
- Being included in employment is one of the biggest challenges for persons with disabilities. Employers lacking information and awareness can make it hard for persons with disabilities who are trying to find and keep work. Sometimes by making small changes and being more flexible, an employer can make it much easier for someone with a disability to get a job and keep it
- Panelist Brad McCannell talked about how his employer easily helped save his job by changing his working hours so he could take transit in his wheelchair in non-peak traffic hours
- Young people need to be included in the discussion on employment. The first work experience is very important, and too often students with disabilities face barriers that prevent them from learning on the job. This makes it hard for them to start their career in their field of study. We must find ways to motivate employers to provide job opportunities for students with disabilities
- It is important for persons with disabilities to be involved in designing and carrying out policies, programs and services in government and the private sector. For example, persons with disabilities were involved from the start in creating the Accessible Canada Act
- Different groups in the disability community may have different priorities, but all groups share the same main goals. By working together more, we could get more done
Taking stock panel
Panellists discussed the latest data, milestones and trends on disability and inclusion in Canada.
- Panellists provided an overview of Canadian accessibility legislation, including the Accessible Canada Act and legislation from Ontario and Manitoba. The stronger laws provide opportunities for the disability community to work with different sectors to change thinking and actions on disability
- Jane Badets from Statistics Canada talked about the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability. Some of the main points from the survey:
- An estimated 1 in 5 Canadians (6.2 million) aged 15 years and over had 1 or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities
- The prevalence of disabilities among Canadians tends to increase with age, and women were more likely to have a disability than men
- The most common types of disabilities are related to pain, flexibility, mobility and mental health, with most people having more than one type. For youth, mental health-related disability is most common
- 59% of Canadians with disabilities are employed, compared to 80% of the Canadian population without disabilities
- 2 out of 5 (645,000) persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years who are currently not employed and not in school have the potential for paid employment, but many experience significant barriers to employment and financial security
- James van Raalte from Employment and Social Development Canada talked about the process leading to the passage of the Accessible Canada Act. He emphasized the importance of consultation in developing the legislation, and said that this was the most accessible consultation process undertaken by the Government of Canada
- Discussion with participants highlighted the business value for employers of learning directly from employees and customers with disabilities how to remove barriers and build inclusive workspaces
- Gaps in policy and program development create barriers for specific groups. For example, there are policy gaps related to income and employment for persons with episodic disabilities. To address this, panellists recommended targeted data collection and a better understanding of people’s experiences through a combination of quantitative and qualitative research, using intersectional approaches
- Susan Scott-Parker of Business Disability International said that “equal opportunity” approaches to employment can sometimes create unintended barriers. With these approaches, employers treat everyone the same instead of adapting their systems for persons with disabilities. She also talked about the growing issue of “e-discrimination” bias that can happen when artificial intelligence is used to screen résumés or video job interviews of candidates with disabilities. Artificial intelligence technology, online recruitment and digital employment can provide opportunities for persons with disabilities, but can also create barriers if they are not designed to avoid bias
- Employers need disability expertise and need to develop a more solutions-oriented business case for hiring persons with disabilities. There has been some progress in this area as some global business leaders are increasingly putting disability issues on their board of directors’ agenda when discussing productivity and consumer marketing strategies. Examples of this are the Valuable 500 and the World Bank Disability Inclusion initiative
Disruptive thinking panel
Panellists talked about future opportunities for inclusion and their related risks. The discussion focused on the roles of artificial intelligence, technology, the arts and sports in advancing accessibility and inclusion.
- Robotics, artificial intelligence and the gig economy present interesting opportunities for technology to assist persons with disabilities with certain difficult tasks such as communication
- The changing nature of work allows for more flexible work arrangements and potentially more opportunities to use and showcase unique abilities. However, a more flexible labour market may also reduced access to benefits and supports. It will be important to ensure alternative work arrangements do not create isolation by slowing progress in building accessible workplaces
- Technology can reduce barriers so that persons with disabilities can function on the same level as others. However, technology must use universal design principles to avoid excluding people
- Ricardo Wagner of Microsoft Canada said that disability is an “engine of innovation” for inclusive inventions
- One panellist said that the cause of discrimination is not hate or fear, it is a lack of exposure and understanding
- Panellists said that to reduce barriers, disability needs a stronger cultural push. Sport, media and art can help to give children with disabilities more opportunities
“Companies need to design products and solutions with persons with disabilities in mind, and they can easily do this by simply hiring more persons with disabilities.”
Minister Carla Qualtrough
The Minister talked about her own experiences of living with a disability and how accommodations enabled her to be included as a child. Through sport, she learned that systems could be made inclusive so that persons with disabilities did not need to ask for accommodations. This is the intent of the Accessible Canada Act, to focus on eliminating barriers. There will always be a need for some individual adjustments, but the future must be inclusive by design.
At the end of her speech, she challenged participants to change the adage “nothing about us without us” to “nothing without us, because everything is about us.”
Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Global Disability Advisor for the World Bank, congratulated Canada in being a world thought leader in the area of intersectionality. She said that intersectionality is not well explored and other countries are looking to Canada for leadership.
She spoke about the importance of having a strong legal framework to reinforce that disability is a human rights issue. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a global foundational block for laying out the rights of persons with disabilities. It has been translated into graphics and into several languages, including sign languages and local languages, and has influenced the global Sustainable Development Goals.
She stressed the power of partnerships and of building the evidence base. The disability community itself needs to make sure that no one is left behind, including persons with intellectual, episodic and invisible disabilities.
“The time is now—we are at the tipping point in history where we can really make a difference.”
1. Inclusive economy and job market
“Every time we fail to match an educated and skilled worker with a job opening, our economy loses—Canada loses. We lose great ideas, dedicated employees, and we lose opportunity.”
Maureen Haan, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, talked about ways to speed up cultural change and increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. She said that business leaders need help in looking to the future and knowing what kinds of talent they need to reach their goals. Employers also need tools to analyze skill gaps and to reach out to non-traditional pools of talent. Employment success requires: internships and mentorships for persons with disabilities; recognition of talent and support for career advancement; and training for human resource professionals on disability issues in the areas of accommodation and accessibility. This requires employers to think differently.
According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, among persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years not employed and not in school, 645,000 had potential for paid employment in an inclusive labour market.
Participants highlighted the following key points in their small group discussions:
- Changing attitudes
- Changing systems
- Investing to increase employment
- Developing a national employment strategy
Employer discrimination is still one of the main barriers to employment. Media campaigns or organizational champions are ideas that should be explored to help Canadian employers develop a more open attitude towards persons with disabilities.
Participants cited AMI and TVO’s award-winning documentary series, Employable Me, as a promising practice. Compelling stories about talented individuals with a disability in the workplace can raise awareness of potential employers.
Participants discussed how policies in the government and private sectors can result in more persons with disabilities getting and keeping jobs. Suggestions included:
- better recruitment processes
- coaching and supports to help individuals with disabilities get jobs
- rehabilitation, focusing on job retention and return to work programs
- flexible work arrangements, including job carving (customizing), part-time and flexible hours and remote working
Investing to increase employment
Participants discussed ways for new investments to create employment opportunities, including:
- pre-employment supports, with a focus on skills and training
- employer incentives, such as offsetting the costs of accommodation
- providing start-up capital for social enterprises
Developing a national employment strategy
Federal/provincial/territorial governments should take an active leadership role and work together to develop a strategy to improve employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. A strategy could include:
- improving transition planning for youth
- supporting ongoing education
- improving workplace practices
- improving employment services and supports
- streamlining and modernizing current employment programs
- measuring labour market outcomes
“We have to find a way to integrate personal accommodation into broader organizational policies.”
2. Financial security
Al Etmanski of the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network talked about the Registered Disability Savings Plan and the importance of financial security in inclusion of persons with a disability. Many Canadians with disabilities are working poor and often they live alone, putting them at risk of dropping out of the labour market. Income security benefits can be very complex and difficult to access, with differing eligibility, generosity and limits for asset testing across provinces and territories. He suggested that it would be possible to design a successful national program to end poverty for persons with disabilities, similar to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Canadian seniors. He identified a number of areas for consideration, including:
- examining lessons learned from basic income programs in other countries and impacts on achieving better outcomes for persons with disabilities
- bringing together representatives from federal, provincial and territorial governments and individuals with lived experience to discuss poverty among persons with disabilities
- including disability issues in broader policy discussions about poverty in Canada. This is key to ensuring that responses take into account the specific income security and inclusion challenges faced by persons with disabilities
“People with disabilities should feel financially secure and encouraged when they seek opportunities to fully participate in society.”
Participants said there is an urgent need to increase financial security for persons with disabilities in Canada. They came up with ideas to help lift the most vulnerable groups out of poverty and reduce employment discrimination.
Persons with disabilities need to be viewed as important contributors to Canada’s social, economic and cultural fabric. Attitudes need to be changed to move disability issues away from the deficit/burden/charity model. Attitude change could be achieved through initiatives emphasizing ability, including:
- using sport as a way to bring people together, particularly youth
- working with comedians or celebrities with disabilities to challenge stereotypes by communicating their experiences through humour and storytelling
- creating opportunities to celebrate diversity and differences
Removing barriers within existing programs
When governments review benefit and income support programs for persons with disabilities, they should:
- remove disincentives to work
- reduce red tape and other barriers to qualifying for and/or maintaining benefits and income supports
- make it easier for eligible people to access benefit and income support programs, for example, through automatic enrolment
- consider widening eligibility criteria and increasing support
Encouraging federal, provincial and territorial discussions on poverty among persons with disabilities in Canada
Participants stressed the importance of governments working together to reduce poverty among persons with disabilities, for example, through a national action plan to improve the coordination of benefits and income supports. They also discussed the need to consider overlooked groups, such as Indigenous persons with disabilities.
Involving the disability community
Participants discussed the role of advisory groups in consulting the disability community about gaps and policy responses. For example, the Disability Advisory Committee, which advises the Canada Revenue Agency, provided the disability community’s perspectives on improvements to the Disability Tax Credit.
3. Human rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Steven Estey is with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and is a Senior Fellow at Syracuse University. He talked about his early involvement in the international movement to advance disability rights, the development of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its ratification. Mr. Estey welcomed the Accessible Canada Act as a strong first step, but stressed that there remain many barriers to full inclusion in existing and emerging legal frameworks, and throughout Canadian society.
He also stressed that legal frameworks are important, but will not change society on their own. The disability community must be involved in developing policies and legislation.
“This is our moment to identify and explore collaborative strategies that could build on potential opportunities started by the Accessible Canada Act and the CRPD.”
The discussion covered challenges in the areas of transportation, language, communication, employment and legal capacity. Participants focused on key strategies to advance the inclusion and rights of persons with disabilities, including:
- Communicating about the Accessible Canada Act
- Responding to the CRPD
Communicating about the Accessible Canada Act
Participants agreed on the need to build on momentum created by the Act to create a broader culture change so that no Canadian is left behind. A communication plan was recommended to raise awareness of the Act and give persons with disabilities a say in its implementation.
Responding to the CRPD
Participants recommended responding to the international call to look beyond social assistance to improve independence and inclusion for persons with disabilities by:
- providing better quality public services that reach all individuals with disabilities
- allowing choice and control over decisions about their lives
- providing the necessary supports to live independently in their communities
- having structured meetings with stakeholders to discuss progress and address challenges highlighted by the work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur
Participants stressed that all legal frameworks should consider the additional barriers a person with a disability may experience, such as poverty, racism, sexism, or cultural and historical barriers.
4. Social inclusion and intersectionality
Bonnie Brayton, DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) Canada, and Neil Belanger, BC Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, co-presented on incorporating intersectionality into disability issues. The unique identity of every person with a disability must be considered, which means considering, among other things, their gender, race, culture and religion.
“Through the process of trying to learn and understand the role of other elements, you might be able to engage more effectively and make a real plan.”
Participants agreed that we must find ways to support diverse persons with disabilities. Some suggestions from participants:
- Sharing real-life stories about persons with disabilities
- Building understanding of inclusion and intersectionality
- Disaggregating data
Sharing real-life stories about persons with disabilities
To help raise awareness, shift attitudes and inspire action, find innovative ways to share stories about persons with disabilities from diverse backgrounds and the barriers that they face.
Building understanding of inclusion and intersectionality
Governments, disability organizations and other institutions should clarify what intersectionality means in practice by working with diverse groups of persons with disabilities and including them in developing strategies and tools. Participants stressed the need for more meaningful participation from diverse groups on boards and committees and in meetings.
To develop more responsive policies, governments and organizations should disaggregate (break down) data to create a more representative picture of the challenges faced by groups of persons with disabilities. The Canadian Survey on Disability could be strengthened to focus on the intersection of race, class and gender with disability and be expanded to include Indigenous people living on reserve and people living in collective dwellings.
5. Mobilizing partners
Presenters Kory Earle of People First of Canada and Lenore MacAdam of the National Inclusion Advisory Council, Deloitte Canada talked about how their organizations became leaders in advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in the public and private sectors. They noted that it is challenging to identify and mobilize partners, but they have found it possible.
“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”
Participants highlighted successes in crossing jurisdictional lines, including breakthroughs in the publishing and transportation sectors, and community involvement in developing the Accessible Canada Act. The following key areas were mentioned byparticipants:
Technology improvements are needed to allow persons with disabilities to communicate and access information. Participants were excited about product features like Microsoft Surface screen and Apple’s voice control. These products will make it easier to interact and create partnerships outside of the disability community. Progress in product development would be faster with more persons with disabilities involved in design and testing of products.
Promoting inclusive participation
Inclusion happens through participation in education, employment, and in decision-making processes, between individuals and groups focused on disability issues. The Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance is a promising example of a step forward in collaboration. It includes a wide range of national and regional disability organizations in the decision-making process. However, participants stressed it needed to go further.
Recognizing and rewarding collaborative success
Participants talked about finding ways to recognize leaders and organizations that facilitate partnerships and inclusion, for example, by working with chambers of commerce.
In keeping with the Marrakesh Treaty, the Government of Canada has worked with other sectors to make books in accessible formats (such as braille and audiobooks) more available. Participants cited this collaboration as a best practice in mobilizing partners.
What we can do now
The Summit closed by asking participants what could be done to make things better right now. Here are the immediate actions suggested:
- Inclusive economy
- Financial security
- Human rights and CRPD
- Social inclusion and intersectionality
- Mobilizing partners
- Start a campaign to raise awareness among employers and Canadians of the advantages of accessibility and disability inclusion. Use concrete examples of how companies have successfully mainstreamed disability inclusion practices in customer service, marketing and product design
- Find ways to encourage hiring of persons with disabilities, including recruiting human resources experts with disability expertise, focusing on youth and offering mentorship and internship opportunities
- Give employers awards for accommodating and reintegrating employees with disabilities in the workplace
Stakeholders, including all levels of government, need to work together to explore ways to improve financial security for persons with disabilities.
Human rights and CRPD
Provide opportunities for disability organizations and other rights-based advocacy groups to connect virtually or in person to exchange information, best practices and ideas for the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in all sectors, and to coordinate advocacy efforts.
Social inclusion and intersectionality
Create an information hub that is easy to access and navigate to exchange information and deepen understanding of the available programs, emerging models and success stories of social inclusion.
Provide initial funding and supports for academics, the private sector, governments, disability organizations and other organizations to exchange ideas and analysis. Create channels for this, for example, Facebook, GCcollab, Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, an information hub and websites.
All Canadians benefit from a more inclusive Canada and everyone has a role in shaping it. Participants expressed a shared determination to build on the current momentum and to make the most of opportunities to eliminate barriers for persons with disabilities; to ensure that the disability community has a seat at the table; and to build a Canada that is inclusive by design.
Annex: National disability summit agenda
Day 1: Thursday, May 9, 2019, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
8:00am to 9:00am: Registration and continental breakfast
9:00am to 9:45am: Welcome and context-setting
- Elder Claudette Commanda, Executive Director of the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres
- Chantal Maheu, Deputy Minister of Labour and Associate Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development Canada
9:45am to 10:30am: Armchair discussion: Creating a culture of inclusiveness
- Setting the vision on moving toward the full inclusion of Canadians with disabilities: Learning from real life examples
- Craig Oliver, Chief Political Commentator, CTV News
- Brad McCannell, Vice President, Access and Inclusion, Rick Hansen Foundation
- Roxana Jahani Aval, Chairperson, National Educational Association of Disabled Students
- Gary Malkowski, Vice President, Stakeholder and Employer Relations at the Canadian Hearing Society
10:30am to 11:00am: Break
11:00am to 12:00am: Panel: Taking stock
- Examining the latest data, policy developments and trends on disability and accessibility in Canada and internationally: key accomplishments and remaining challenges
- Yazmine Laroche, Deputy Minister for Public Service Accessibility, Treasury Board Secretariat
- James Van Raalte, Director General, Accessibility Secretariat, Employment and Social Development Canada
- Susan Scott-Parker, CEO and Founder, Business Disability International
- Jane Badets, Assistant Chief Statistician, Statistics Canada
12:00am to 1:00pm: Lunch
1:00pm to 1:30pm: Keynote: Moving from accommodation to inclusion
- Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility
1:30pm to 1:50pm: Introduction to breakout sessions
1:50pm to 3:05pm:
- Breakout session 1, option 1: Inclusive economy and job market
- Identifying key areas where there are opportunities for change in addressing employment-related barriers experienced by persons with disabilities in Canada, and exploring ideas and novel approaches for how various actors could work together in new ways to make progress in this area
- Maureen Haan, President and CEO, Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work
- Breakout session 1, option 2: Financial security
- Identifying key areas where there are opportunities for improving the financial security of persons with disabilities in Canada, and exploring innovative practices, policies and how various actors could work together in new ways to make progress in this area
- Al Etmanski, Co-Founder, Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network
3:05pm to 3:35pm: Break
3:35pm to 5:00pm
- Breakout session 2, option 1: Human rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Identifying and exploring collaborative strategies that could build on the potential opportunities that the Accessible Canada Act and the CRPD provide
- Steven Estey, National Coordinator, Council of Canadians with Disabilities
- Breakout session 2, option 2: Social inclusion and intersectionality
- Exploring obstacles and opportunities for organizations to work together across identities and disabilities, and innovative practices and policies for advancing social inclusion
- Bonnie Brayton, Executive Director, DisAbled Women’s Network
- Neil Belanger, Executive Director, British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society
Day 2: Friday, May 10, 2019, 8:30 am to 3:00 pm
8:00 am to 8:30 am: Continental breakfast
8:30 am to 9:15 am: Agenda review and breakout session share-backs
9:15 am to 10:15 am: Panel: Disruptive thinking
- What opportunities does the future present and how to harness that potential for disability and inclusion
- Rodney Ghali, Privy Council Office
- Ricardo Wagner, Accessibility Lead, Microsoft
- Juan Pablo Salazar, Governing Board Member, International Paralympic Committee
- Lenore MacAdam, Inclusion Lead, Deloitte Canada
10:15 am to 10:45 am: Break
10:45 am to 12:00 am: Breakout sessions: Mobilizing partners from across sectors
- How to leverage partnerships effectively to shift the conversation and make meaningful, sustainable progress
- Kory Earle, President, People First of Canada
- Lenore MacAdam, Inclusion Lead, Deloitte Canada
12:00 am to 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 pm to 1:30 pm: Keynote: International perspective and experiences in partnerships on disability and inclusion issues
- Charlotte V. McClain-Nhlapo, Global Disability Advisor, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice of the World Bank Group
1:30 pm to 2:00 pm: Discussion: Where to from here?
- Reflecting on the plenary and dialogue sessions throughout the summit and sharing thoughts on how stakeholders can work towards an inclusive Canada
- Kate Young, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility
2:00 pm to 2:30 pm: Closing remarks
- Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility
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