Services: Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada

Equip public servants to design and deliver accessible programs and services

Where we are

Current state

The consultations that led to the proposed Accessible Canada Act found that:

  • many persons with disabilities report that they do not receive equal quality of service
  • there are numerous barriers to communication, such as:
    • documents in formats that are not accessible
    • the lack of sign language interpretation
    • people who have difficulty speaking or who use a communication device are often not understood
    • service staff do not always know how to serve persons with disabilities
  • persons with disabilities would like more opportunities to report service issues and suggest improvements

“If we do not start thinking about accessibility for employees in the federal public service, we cannot really think about accessibility for our clients. If someone comes to Service Canada, is that person able to say, ‘I am a person with a disability and need to have an accommodation’? If the employer cannot provide that accommodation, then think about what that client’s reaction would be.” (translation)

Participant in Montréal town hall (January 2019)

There is limited data on the accessibility of the Government of Canada’s programs and services to clients. However:

  • findings from Employment and Social Development Canada’s 2017 Client Experience Survey revealed that clients with restrictions (whether hearing, seeing, mobility, cognitive/mental health or other) have a 67% overall satisfaction rate when accessing services, compared with 87% for all clients
  • these clients report that they have more difficulties than other clients with ease, timeliness and effectiveness in accessing service

During consultations for this strategy, many public servants expressed a need for more tools and training to better serve clients with disabilities.

Desired state

  • The public service is equipped to design and deliver programs and services that are easily accessible to persons with disabilities, and Government of Canada clients are satisfied with the accessibility of its programs and services.

What we are doing

Continue to improve accessibility of client services at Employment and Social Development Canada

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is the largest federal provider of services to Canadians. It operates:

  • 596 points of presence across Canada
  • numerous call centres for general information and program-specific information
  • online services through the My Service Canada Account service and

The department has been examining the accessibility of its service delivery using:

  • feedback from clients
  • input from staff
  • findings from its annual Client Experience Survey
  • comparisons with best practices and existing standards

“We’re still talking about inclusion as being something we kind of should do, and I think one of the biggest things we need to change in our language is that it is a good business decision. So when we talk about including it in training, it’s not: here’s this little piece at the end on accessibility and inclusion, [and] here’s why you’re going to have a stronger team if you’re more inclusive.”

Participant in Halifax town hall (March 2019 )

This work is helping identify some “quick wins,” such as signature guides for clients with visual or dexterity challenges who are required to sign within a defined space. This work is:

  • allowing ESDC to prepare for the requirements of the Accessible Canada Act, including the need for an accessibility plan and tools for receiving feedback
  • helping improve awareness of accessibility issues across the department and identify opportunities for improvements in the accessibility of client services

Provide guidance on how to apply an accessibility lens to the design and delivery of programs and services

ESDC is working with the Department of Women and Gender Equality and the Canada School of Public Service to emphasize the need to consider persons with disabilities as part of gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) workshops, training materials and tools. For example, it organized an armchair discussion at the Canada School of Public Service called Unpacking the Plus: Considering People with Disabilities in GBA+ during the week of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which:

  • included a panel of speakers on various aspects of intersectionality
  • was attended by 30 people in person and another 340 via webinar
  • was aired a second time in February 2019 during a GBA+ Boot Camp

What each department and agency can do now

  • Develop data on client satisfaction from the perspective of persons with disabilities.
  • Monitor the proportion of grants and contributions recipients who self-identify as persons with disabilities.
  • Assess their programs, in consultation with persons with disabilities, to identify and remove barriers for persons with disabilities.
  • Build accessibility into all new policies and programs.

“I think that what is really important that I’ve learned is that you [have to be] open to feedback and open to criticism. We sought out people who actually publicly tweeted that our service wasn’t great. [We] brought them into the fold and said, ‘How can we improve the service, what can we do?’ And then we brought them on board and they were part of our design team.”

Participant in Toronto town hall (March 2019)

Where we want to be

What we will do next

  • Pilot engagement and feedback processes from clients with disabilities.
  • Publish accessibility-related data as part of the TBS service inventory.
  • Develop an accessible platform for consulting with Canadians.
  • Provide guidance to departments on how to review their programs and services for accessibility.

“To change a culture, you have to admit that there’s a problem. Unfortunately, it can be a very difficult dialogue to have because many people don’t want to say that this is a problem or want to continue with the status quo. I think the fear has to be replaced with empathy.”

Participant in Toronto town hall (March 2019)

Where we expect to be in 2021

  • Baseline data will have been collected and published on the satisfaction of clients with disabilities.
  • Departments will have established consultation and feedback processes for clients with disabilities as well as transparent mechanisms to address concerns raised by clients with disabilities.
  • Proposals for new programs and services will have documented that they have integrated accessibility into their design.
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