Technology: Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada

Make information and communications technology usable by all

Where we are

Current state

The current Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat Standard on Web Accessibility is not sufficient to ensure that all information and communications technology products, services and digital content are accessible:

  • it covers only externally facing websites
  • it does not cover other aspects, including hardware, software and other digital content
  • it is not designed or intended as a complete accessible information and communications technology standard

Procurement, development, and use of information and communications technology hardware and software across the Government of Canada do not consistently reflect accessibility requirements. Many key applications and tools are not accessible (for example, Phoenix, PeopleSoft and GCDOCS).

During consultations with employees, OPSA heard that employees with disabilities:

  • had challenges in accessing the information and communications technology they need to do their jobs, even when using adaptive technologies
  • reported that accessibility features are often not enabled on commonly available software and hardware

“I did have somebody who needed [adaptive software], and our standard laptops aren’t strong enough to run the program. And it was going to be over a year before we could get the tool that would run the tool she needed.”

Participant in Vancouver town hall (October 2018)

Desired state

  • Government of Canada clients and employees can access and use all information and communications technology, regardless of ability or disability.

What we are doing

Promote and improve existing services for accessibility, accommodations and adaptive computer technology

The Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computer Technology (AAACT) Program of Shared Services Canada provides a wide range of services, on a cost-recovery basis, to help integrate employees with disabilities, injuries and ergonomic requirements and who require access to systems, programs, information, computers and computer resources.

The AAACT Program provides the following services to technicians, webmasters, application developers, project managers and other public servants:

  • sessions that provide information on accessibility, job accommodations and adaptive computer technology
  • accessibility testing, such as:
    • product evaluations
    • application accessibility evaluations
    • website and web content accessibility evaluations
  • training courses, such as:
    • hands-on training for technicians on supporting adaptive computer technology
    • accessibility boot camps for webmasters and application developers
  • client services, such as:
    • converting documents into multiple formats, for example:
      • NFC (near-field communication) digital tags
      • QR (quick response) codes
      • Daisy (digital accessible information system)
      • ePub e-book file format
      • BRF (braille-ready format)
      • eText technology
      • audio
      • large print
  • various needs assessments, including workflow requirements, trials and training to identify the appropriate match between the employee and specific hardware or software adaptation, job function and disability

Although Shared Services Canada plays a key role in providing accessible information and communications technology, several departments have developed their own capacity in this area, which will be continued and augmented.

“With respect to providing workplace accommodations, this is something that, even as a manager, when I was willing to provide my employee with anything that she needed, getting to that point was so hard. I was just trying to get her a computer program, just to get her set up at her desk, and it took seven months. And that was a year and a half after she started because…her first request had never gone anywhere. So is there going to be some kind of a central area for managers to go to say, ‘This is what I need to do. How can I make this easier, and how can I make it go faster?’ To have an employee who is not able to do her job to the best of her abilities that long is unacceptable.”

Participant in Halifax town hall (March 2019)

Build accessibility into government-wide policy and standards

In 2018, TBS:

In 2019, TBS plans on developing a Digital Policy Suite to reinforce client-centred approaches, including accessibility by design.

Embed accessibility into the procurement of information and communications technology

The Government of Canada will engage industry to:

  • assess the maturity level of industry and compliance with existing international accessibility standards, for example, EN 301 549 harmonized European standard accessibility requirements for information and communications technology products and services, and Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act, 1973
  • develop a framework to build accessibility requirements into information and communications technology procurement, based on the agreed standard

Provide public servants with a new suite of accessible digital communication and collaboration tools

The Government of Canada has recently signed a renewed agreement with Microsoft Canada to offer public servants access to Microsoft Office 365, which has accessibility features built in by default.

“I believe as a manager that there are certain things that I don’t need to figure out. I don’t have to get you a chair. I don’t know why I have to get someone technology on their computer. I think that’s something that should be put in as the person arrives, like a chair or anything. It should be separated from the manager because you’re setting up…a discussion, sort of a performance discussion, and I don’t think an accommodation should be handled that way. People should call, and it should be provided to them.”

Participant in Toronto town hall (March 2019)

What each department and agency can do now

  • Review systems, software, websites and equipment to ensure that they are accessible; where they are not accessible, departments are to develop a plan to address the accessibility shortfalls.
  • Ensure that accessibility considerations are included in their departmental IT plan.

Where we want to be

What we will do next

  • Adopt a Government of Canada standard for accessibility to information and communications technology that incorporates all the elements of the European Union EN 301-549 2018 standard, and provide guidance to departments on its application (for example, beginning with new systems and content).
  • Enable accessibility features on all devices provided by Shared Services Canada.
  • Lead the development of a more streamlined and efficient process to procure and deploy adaptive technology and ensure that users have access to ongoing technical support.
  • Develop a government-wide plan and governance to address accessibility in enterprise systems, workplace devices, adaptive technologies and legacy systems.
  • Develop a scorecard for accessibility of all IT systems against an established Government of Canada accessibility standard for information and communications technology.
  • Provide resources for employees to generate accessible content with common tools (for example, Microsoft Office).
  • Augment the capacity to assess and test the accessibility of IT enterprise-wide systems.

“We’re looking to upgrade technology. We’re so far behind in trying to work with an employee who is deaf and getting a system in. And the barriers that I’ve come across to get this equipment is taking literally years: five, six years we’re going on now.”

Participant in Edmonton town hall (May 2019)

Where we expect to be in 2021

  • All major new systems, both internal and external, launched as of 2021 are accessible.
  • A scorecard for the accessibility of IT systems will be completed and published.
  • Government of Canada clients and employees with disabilities will have been engaged on the accessibility of information and communications tools and technology through surveys and consultations, and departments will identify areas for short-term and long-term improvement.
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