Built environment: Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada

Enhance the accessibility of the built environment

Where we are

Current state

The Treasury Board Accessibility Standard for Real Property:

  • establishes the minimum requirements for accessibility of the government of real property
  • references the CSA Group’s Accessible Design for the Built Environment (CSA B651-18)

Public Services and Procurement Canada’s (PSPC’s) last assessed federal real property portfolio against accessibility specifications between 2006 and 2010, based on the 2004 version of CSA B651. At the time, PSPC estimated that it would cost approximately $70 million (not adjusted to present day) to bring federal real property assets up to accessibility standards in place in the mid-2000s. These assessments did not take into consideration:

  • the input of client and/or tenant disability networks
  • improvements that could be made immediately by changing the way property and facility management services are delivered on a day-to-day basis

“I think that all of our spaces and all projects should be thought of as being for the client, which means our employees.” (translation)

Participant in Montréal town hall (January 2019)

Persons with disabilities report challenges in their workplaces, such as a lack of automatic door openers and poor signage and way-finding. In the first survey on the development of the strategy, several respondents noted that the physical workspace does not account for invisible disabilities, such as:

  • environmental sensitivities
  • chronic pain
  • anxiety
  • autism

Desired state

  • Clients and employees of the Government of Canada have barrier-free access to and use of the federally owned and leased built environment.

What we are doing

Conduct an accessibility assessment of a portion of government buildings and establish a process to determine the feasibility of accessible built environment adaptations, the cost implications and a mechanism for prioritizing actions

As the custodian of one of Canada’s largest built environments, PSPC is responsible for managing and providing government organizations and parliamentarians with federal property and accommodation services. It is undertaking an evaluation of the physical accessibility of federal buildings in consultation with persons with disabilities.

Pilot initiatives in consultation with persons with disabilities to improve accessibility

PSPC will examine innovative ways to improve accessibility. For example, it has established a partnership with CNIB BlindSquare for a one-year pilot project to assess, install, create messages and maintain messaging for several accessibility beacons at three locations.

Update policies, directives and guidance relative to the built environment

The new Treasury Board Policy on the Planning and Management of Investments has recently been approved, which will require deputy heads to consider opportunities to advance accessibility objectives. Standards and guidance are being updated to improve the accessibility of the Government of Canada’s built environment.

“Some people with invisible disabilities may need more access to quiet spaces to concentrate and do their work.”

Participant in Persons with Disabilities Chairs and Champions Committee meeting (December 2018)

What each department and agency can do now

  • Review the built environment in consultation with persons with disabilities (employees, clients and other people who regularly conduct business in the building) to identify how it could be more accessible and inclusive.
  • Ensure that any new builds or retrofits within their organization are accessible, in accordance with accessibility best practices and standards:
    • as defined by the criteria set for federal buildings
    • in collaboration with persons with disabilities
  • Actively promote accessibility features and services offered in their workspace and public-facing spaces.
  • Ensure that events and meetings are accessible to all employees and, where applicable, the public.
  • Consult with persons with disabilities on an emergency evacuation plan, and prepare or revise the plan according to the specific needs of employees with disabilities.

“The fact that the code is the minimum standard is something that we need to be keeping in mind. I found it interesting when you were told, when you were having trouble accessing just entering the building, the response was, well, it’s built to code. When I hear a response like that, I think, well, you’re operating in a certain paradigm.… So I think…in order for something like this to be working, we need to first break the paradigms and continuously ask ourselves why were we doing the things in the way we were doing them, and can we do [them] differently and better.”

Participant in Halifax town hall (March 2019)

Where we want to be

What we will do next

  • Based on the findings of the accessibility assessment, develop an action plan to address accessibility in the existing federal portfolio.
  • Ensure that future service contracts for managing large facilities include high standards for accessibility.
  • Improve the accessibility of the leased portfolio by developing new lease clauses that ensure compliance with the latest standards, and continue to work with the landlord community.
  • Ensure that the Government of Canada’s workplace fit-up meets or exceeds accessibility requirements, in consultation with persons with disabilities.
  • Launch a procurement tool to seek services from third-party stakeholders to conduct technical assessments of buildings’ accessibility.

“In built environments, we often overlook barriers that are intentional. One that comes to mind frequently is security barriers or physical things to stop people from getting into the work space. But I haven’t seen very many security barriers that have push-buttons or electric motors…. I’m a cane user, so I usually have at most one hand, and if I’m carrying anything, it makes it really, really difficult to get into those doors. I can imagine anyone who is in a wheelchair or [who] otherwise has mobility or dexterity concerns would have even more difficulty.”

Participant in Halifax town hall (March 2019)

Where we expect to be in 2021

  • Employees with disabilities will have been engaged in making their workplace more accessible.
  • Guided by employee survey results on the state of accessibility of their physical workplace and by consultations with their employees, custodian and tenant departments will have an understanding of the state of accessibility within government real property.
  • Employee survey data will serve as a baseline for future improvements and as a guide to help prioritize improvements in the physical workspace.
  • Starting in 2020, all new designs are accessible and have incorporated the feedback of persons with disabilities (employees, clients and others who regularly conduct business in the building) and, starting in 2021, all new builds or retrofits are accessible and incorporate the feedback of persons with disabilities.
  • The PSPC audit of a portion of Crown-owned buildings will be partially complete.
  • Employees with disabilities will report greater satisfaction with their work environment.
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