Update on Progress in Public Service Accessibility (2023)

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Introduction from the Secretary of the Treasury Board

It is my pleasure, as Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, to present the fourth progress update on the implementation of “Nothing Without Us”: An Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada.

The strategy was launched in 2019 as a roadmap for the public service to lead by example in accessibility and disability inclusion in Canada and abroad. It was co-developed with persons with disabilities and designed to help prepare the Government of Canada to meet or exceed the requirements of the Accessible Canada Act.

Since the strategy’s launch, the public service has worked diligently to identify, prevent and remove barriers faced by persons with disabilities. As part of this work, we are also committed to improving workforce representation by hiring 5,000 net new employees with disabilities by 2025. The strategy also includes a $10-million investment in the Centralized Enabling Workplace Fund to experiment with enterprise-wide innovative approaches to address barriers to workplace accommodation. With the fund in its last year, these key learnings provide us with an opportunity to develop more sustainable solutions for employees across the employment life cycle.

The past year marked a significant milestone in the public service’s accessibility journey, as departments and agencies are in the first year of implementing their first accessibility plans. These accessibility plans were developed in consultation with persons with disabilities and outline specific commitments to identify, prevent and remove accessibility barriers. With these plans also come accessibility feedback mechanisms, where employees and citizens alike can provide feedback on plans or report barriers they have experienced when interacting with a federal public service organization.

We know that the road to a barrier-free workplace and a barrier-free Canada will be long, but it is worth building together. We continue to hear that employees and citizens with disabilities cannot fully participate until all barriers are removed.

This update showcases individual, organizational and enterprise-wide actions that have been and should be taken to foster full and equal participation. Accessibility plans and progress reports are a significant step toward sustainable, measurable and transformative accessibility change and disability inclusion. They are one of many coordinated steps being taken across the public service, such as the Clerk’s Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion in the Federal Public Service, to ensure we are equitable, inclusive and representative of the citizens we serve.

I encourage all public servants to read their organization’s accessibility plan and make a personal commitment to drive change in their daily lives and work. I also invite Canadians to submit accessibility feedback through departmental accessibility feedback mechanisms, which can be found on Canada.ca. Together, we can ensure that every Canadian can participate in building a barrier-free Canada by 2040, as articulated in the Accessible Canada Act.

Graham Flack
Secretary of the Treasury Board

Message from the Deputy Minister Champion

One year ago, in late 2022, I had the honour and privilege to be named Deputy Minister Champion for Federal Employees with Disabilities. As an ally, advocate and voice for employees with disabilities, I am committed to helping identify and advance practical and meaningful solutions to the barriers employees with disabilities continue to face in our workplaces and to ensuring that Canada’s public service is representative of the people we serve.

Over the past year, I have heard from many varied and diverse voices about what’s working and what’s not. I’ve met regularly with the Persons with Disabilities Champions and Chairs Committee, various network representatives, and numerous employees in many different departments and organizations. I have also engaged outside the public service to learn about best practices that we might want to consider. All of these engagements were thought-provoking, impactful and opportunities to learn more about what we need to do better.

In my engagements, I heard most often about our collective need to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of our approach to providing employees the very supports they need to succeed in their jobs and to which they are legally entitled. I also heard about the need for all of us to continue to be laser-focused on building a workplace culture free from stigma, bias, ableism, and harassment and discrimination directed toward employees with disabilities.

In this fourth update on the Accessibility Strategy, you will read about significant efforts that have been made across the public service over the past year to move toward an inclusive workplace, where every employee – with or without disabilities – is empowered and equipped to reach their full potential in service of all Canadians.

There is truly much to celebrate. We are a more accessible and disability confident public service today than we were a few years ago. But we must continue to do better.

One urgent area for action is meeting the government’s target to hire 5,000 net new persons with disabilities by 2025. I encourage every department and agency to prioritize this goal and utilize the many best practices, resources and tools (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) from the Public Service Commission of Canada and other sources that are available to help us. Critical to our recruitment success is the need to improve the onboarding experiences of new employees with disabilities and to increase the rate at which employees with disabilities decide to stay in the public service.

We also need to deepen our individual, organizational and enterprise-wide collaborations and be more proactive about integrating accessibility in all our activities and lines of business. We must continue to improve our knowledge about accessibility, different types of disabilities, and the challenges employees with disabilities encounter on a day-to-day basis. There are many resources to help us, including the Accessibility Hub (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) and the Canada School of Public Service Accessibility Learning Series.

I encourage us all to double down on our efforts. Through determination, leadership, and with the advice and feedback from employees with disabilities, I am confident we will succeed.

I am proud of our collective achievements to date, and I am optimistic and excited about our ongoing collective commitment to building the most accessible and inclusive public service in the world.

Tina Namiesniowski
Deputy Minister Champion for Federal Employees with Disabilities


When “Nothing Without Us”: Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada was launched in 2019, it set the ambitious goal of making the Government of Canada the most inclusive public service in the world.

Making widespread changes in accessibility involves changing attitudes, incorporating accessibility from the start, and ensuring that policies and practices align with the Accessible Canada Act. In addition, incorporating accessibility into all federal government practices requires deliberate focus, sustained attention and willingness to embrace new ways of doing things.

Since the strategy’s launch, there has been progress in raising awareness about accessibility and disability inclusion in government. Progress so far has been slow but steady.

In December 2022, all government departmentsFootnote 1 published their first accessibility plans and feedback processes, which was a major step in the government’s commitment to creating a barrier-free public service by 2040. Accessibility plans:

  • were developed in collaboration with persons with disabilities
  • outline clear direction for each department to identify, prevent and remove accessibility barriers

With the publication of accessibility feedback processes, government employees and Canadians can now:

  • report any accessibility barriers within government
  • provide feedback on a department’s plan through public feedback channels

As a result, departmental accessibility plans have provided a new and important tool for holding the government and federally regulated sectors in Canada accountable for and transparent about accessibility.

Most federal organizations from the core public administration and separate agencies met the requirement to develop an accessibility plan and an accessibility feedback process. However, an analysis of these plans found that many departments did not clearly commit to making concrete changes and measuring those changes. On the other hand, many plans outlined encouraging discussions about culture change in the federal public service. For example:

These improvements are a good start, but we are still in the early stages of this journey. We need to take more deliberate and persistent action to move from discussion and awareness to measurable action and change.

Even with departments completing this first cycle of accessibility plans, persons with disabilities are still being excluded in the workplace and in Canadian society. Outlining good intentions and promising practices are not enough to make a real difference in the day-to-day experiences of employees with disabilities and the Canadians we serve who are confronted with barriers. Barriers that commonly exclude persons with disabilities include:

  • inaccessible forms they cannot fill out
  • built environments they cannot enter or navigate independently
  • team meetings they cannot participate in

The public service must plan ahead as it completes its move to a hybrid work environment. Workplaces and the services provided to Canadians must be accessible, whether people are working on site, remotely or a mix of both.

This update outlines the progress the public service has made in the past year for each of the five goals of the Accessibility Strategy. It also provides recommendations for each goal that organizations and individuals can implement to improve accessibility.

These recommendations for actionable change are based on the last five years of learning, capacity-building, and monitoring of accessibility progress by the Office of Public Service Accessibility (OPSA) at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS). These recommendations focus on areas where change has been slow.

OPSA was established to develop and launch the Accessibility Strategy and, ultimately, to prepare the public service to incorporate and sustain accessibility on its own. Now that departments have published their first accessibility plans, OPSA expects to see considerable improvement in accessibility in the year ahead as departments step up to:

  • assume greater responsibility for accessibility
  • implement this update’s recommendations
  • commit to working with accessibility leads across government

To create an accessible and disability-inclusive public service, we need collaborative and intentional effort. We know that a few centralized players cannot be responsible for making lasting change throughout government. Indeed, OPSA was established to eventually become redundant once organizations ramped up their accessibility work and the system built enough capacity to sustain our collective efforts. To ensure this level of sustainability, it is essential that departments work together to:

  • identify best practices to scale
  • avoid duplication
  • continuously engage persons with disabilities

If we fail to do this collaborative work, the federal public service risks losing the progress we have worked so hard to achieve.

Goal 1: employment

In this section

Persons with disabilities are experts in their chosen fields and in their own lived experiences. If we ignore this expertise, it is at our loss.

Historically, persons with disabilities have been under-represented in the federal public service and continue to face barriers at all stages of employment, including:

  • inaccessible hiring practices and interviews
  • delays in accommodations
  • barriers to promotions

The current representation of persons with disabilities in the core public administration is 6.2%, while the Canadian workforce availability is 9.1%.

The Accessibility Strategy aims to hire 5,000 net new persons with disabilities by 2025 to help create a representative federal workforce. According to the latest hiring data (2022), the public service has hired 1,085 net new employees with disabilities.

Meeting our target will require all federal organizations to remove barriers and prioritize the recruitment of persons with disabilities. To do this, we must improve the government’s staffing process.

Results from the most recent Staffing and Non-Partisanship Survey show that federal public servants who have disabilities generally have less positive perceptions of merit, fairness and transparency in staffing processes than federal public servants who do not have disabilities. Without efforts to improve the recruitment of persons with disabilities and their experiences with the staffing process, the government is unlikely to achieve its commitment to hire 5,000 net new employees with disabilities by 2025.

The following are various resources in place to help departments in their recruitment and onboarding of persons with disabilities.

Virtual Door to Talent with Disabilities

Hiring managers are encouraged to draw from established inventories and pools of talented persons with disabilities. These resources have been developed to increase representation of persons with disabilities at all levels of the workforce. Hiring managers can use the Virtual Door to Talent with Disabilities (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) to access inventories and pools of candidates who have self-identified as having disabilities, including:

Mosaic Leadership Development program

The Mosaic Leadership Development program is helping to increase representation of persons with disabilities in the executive ranks.

Centralized Enabling Workplace Fund

Employment accessibility does not end with the successful recruitment or promotion of persons with disabilities. To retain employees with disabilities, we need a disability inclusive work culture.

The Centralized Enabling Workplace Fund (CEWF) was set up to benefit the greatest number of public servants with disabilities by trying out new ideas and innovations that could be used throughout government. With a $10-million investment over five years (2019–24), the CEWF supports innovative projects, tools and research that have the potential to make the federal workplace more accessible.

These investments have aimed to achieve two main goals of the Accessibility Strategy and have followed the principle of “nothing without us”:

  1. enabling employees with disabilities to contribute at their full potential through more accessible employment and business practices that reduce the need for individual accommodation or support
  2. improving workplace accommodation practices in response to individual accommodation requirements where barriers remain

Two key CEWF funded projects are:

The passport, which is the CEWF’s flagship initiative, makes it easier for persons with disabilities to get the accommodation support they need. There are now 55 departments using the passport in their accommodations processes.

  • To make sure that more people know about the passport and how to use it, a series of training workshops took place so that passport facilitators can give presentations and support the implementation of the passport in their own organizations.
  • Interest in the passport continues to grow, with more than 7,800 passport downloads and 26,000 unique visits to the passport’s web page since July 2022.
  • ​The passport is available for download in Microsoft Word format at Government of Canada Workplace Accessibility Passport
  • In 2024, TBS will launch a digital passport on the TBS Applications Portal (TAP) for all government employees. This version will:
    • give employees more control over their personal information about the workplace accommodation solutions they need to make their best contributions at work
    • provide a centralized and organized place to record work situations, barriers and solutions
    • allow central agencies to analyze trends and challenges in removing barriers

Continued and secure funding is required to ensure maintenance and support of the TAP application as the passport scales across government.

Lending Library Service Pilot Project

The Lending Library Service Pilot Project, led by Shared Services Canada, is a pilot program for short-term employees and employees who have short-term needs who require workplace accommodations due to an illness, disability or injury.

The lending library provides quick access to an inventory of hardware and software, avoiding delays in federal procurement of adaptive workplace solutions. This inventory addresses a key barrier identified by persons with disabilities.

Ongoing funding is required to maintain a service that is sustainable, scalable and replicable for all public servants with disabilities throughout government. Secured funding for the passport and lending library, along with other innovations, will help the Government of Canada realize its vision of being the most accessible and inclusive public service in the world by 2040.

Guides and directives

To improve the government’s workplace accommodation processes, Duty to Accommodate: A General Process for Managers was updated in January 2023. In addition, Government of Canada Workplace Accessibility Passport Guidance for Managers is available to help managers use the passport. It includes step-by-step instructions for managers to work together with employees to process accommodation requests.

Accessibility in the context of the hybrid workplace is also top of mind. In fact, the Directive on Duty to Accommodate sits above the Directive on Telework and the Direction on Prescribed Presence in the Workplace.

To help everyone understand accessibility in a hybrid work setting, in the past year the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO) and OPSA held a joint presentation. The goal was to ensure employees have what they need in terms of the duty to accommodate, accessibility, and occupational health and safety, no matter where they work.

OCHRO encourages taking a proactive approach to identifying, preventing and removing barriers. If barriers cannot be removed, accommodation needs should be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Culturally Appropriate Indigenous Accessibility Resource Centre

The Knowledge Circle for Indigenous Inclusion is establishing a Culturally Appropriate Indigenous Accessibility Resource Centre. This centre will provide advice and guidance on culturally appropriate workplace accommodations for Indigenous federal public servants with disabilities. The project engages Indigenous employees, Elders, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations to improve the accommodations process for Indigenous public service employees with disabilities.

Inclusive Recruitment Toolkit

Another highlight from this year is the Public Service Commission of Canada’s (PSC) Inclusive Recruitment Toolkit (accessible only on the Government of Canada network), which has practical tips, tools and resources on inclusive strategies to recruit a diverse workforce.

To support the amendments to the Public Service Employment Act, the PSC developed guidance and tools to:

  • strengthen diversity and inclusion
  • remove or mitigate biases and barriers that disadvantage people who belong to equity-seeking groups

The guidance and tools include:

Assessment Accessibility Ambassadors Network

The Assessment Accessibility Ambassadors Network (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) has grown to include 53 ambassadors from 32 organizations who regularly meet with assessment specialists to discuss cases, issues and best practices.

Unsupervised tests for online second language evaluation

PSC launched the unsupervised online tests for second language evaluation to improve accessibility of its reading comprehension and written expression tests.

With federal departments’ first accessibility plans now published, we expect to see:

  • improved recruitment and workplace accommodations practices
  • increased hiring of persons with disabilities as departments prioritize accessible employment

Accessibility actions: what departments can do now

  • Create hiring targets by branch and classification to close representation gaps for persons with disabilities, and report on results in departmental accessibility progress reports.
  • Update onboarding processes and letters of offer with information on the department’s commitment to creating a diverse, welcoming and inclusive workplace by using tools such as the Government of Canada Workplace Accessibility Passport.
  • Use pools and inventories of candidates who have disabilities to streamline staffing, and use inclusive recruitment resources that mitigate bias in all human resources processes.
  • Increase efforts to reduce wait times for accessing workplace accommodation processes, for example:
    • create a task team to streamline burdensome processes and expedite accommodations procurement and implementation
    • centralize accommodations funding and processes
    • create an accommodations measurement framework to regularly report on results
    • Ensure that managers use the Government of Canada Workplace Accessibility Passport. They should also follow the passport guidance to work with their employees and find effective solutions for them to succeed. Note that persons with disabilities can help determine which accommodation solutions will work best for them. Supporting documentation for accommodation requests should only be required if the workplace barrier is unclear or if a potential accommodation measure is not yet known.

Goal 2: built environment

In this section

Clients and employees of the Government of Canada have a right to barrier-free access to federally owned and leased built environments.

In the federal government, we are learning that there is a difference between a built environment that is technically accessible and one that is truly usable. Although awareness of accessibility issues within federal buildings is increasing, too many barriers remain.

Issues such as inaccessible parking, missing ramps and broken automatic door openers can make it difficult or impossible for employees to access worksites, washrooms and service areas. Environmental barriers can also affect people who have invisible disabilities. For example, fluorescent lights in the workplace can trigger headaches, and a building may not have enough quiet spaces available for people to use to avoid noisy or overwhelming work environments.

The government has been making significant improvements to its buildings so that they are more accessible, including incorporating accessibility measures into new construction and major renovations.

  • Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is leading in this area, and has completed 159 assessments against the Canadian Standards Association B651-18.
  • PSPC has also completed the Lean Forward Initiative, developed in consultation with persons with disabilities. This project identified and put into action 22 high-impact, low-cost accessibility improvements in Crown-owned assets, including:
    • enhanced accessibility of power-assisted door openers
    • painting or installing visual contrasting markers in key locations
    • better signage to indicate accessible entrances
  • To date, 80% of all-access washrooms meet TBS’s updated signage requirements, and 75% of Crown-owned buildings have at least one all-access washroom.
  • PSPC is prioritizing improvements in the government’s workplaces based on feedback about accessibility concerns.
  • The Parliamentary Precinct Universal Accessibility Strategy and Action Plan has been finalized, with several improvements already completed.

PSPC has been conducting innovative accessibility pilots in the last four years. Pilot projects include:

  • a contactless elevator app
  • quick response (QR) codes
  • near-field communication tags
  • wayfinding systems

The results of these pilots are being analyzed and may result in scaled initiatives across the government.

PSPC and Accessibility Standards Canada have been working together to create new federal accessibility standards for the built environment. They are working closely to ensure that their practices and standards match.

  • Accessibility Standards Canada’s office video tour provides accessibility ideas for departments and office designers to consider as they design or retrofit buildings.
  • PSPC is also working with National Research Council Canada on phase 2 of the lighting pilot project. The goal is to identify a lighting system that works for light-sensitive employees and the broader employee population.

With federal departments’ first accessibility plans now published, we expect to see:

  • fewer barriers in the built environment as organizations go beyond identifying barriers to actively removing them
  • more collaboration between building tenants, building owners and PSPC to design and create barrier-free spaces

Accessibility actions: what departments can do now

  • Regularly consult persons with disabilities to find any existing or new problems with how accessible a building is. Also consult regularly about emergency evacuation procedures.
  • Create a repository of information on government buildings that has information on ramp locations, accessible parking and other accessibility features.
  • Include details in employee onboarding material about how to report any issues with accessibility and how to get help right away.
  • Before booking a space for a meeting or other event, make sure to check how accessible the space is. Also, do a final check on the day of the event to remove any recent new barriers, for example, trash cans blocking entrances or chairs in hallways.
  • Include clauses and standards on accessibility in leases and future service contracts for managing large facilities.

Goal 3: information and communications technologies

In this section

In today’s digital and hybrid work environment, a public service that can adapt and be inclusive and equipped needs information and communications technologies that are usable and accessible.

Making sure that information and communications technologies (ICT) are accessible is critical to the government’s work and service to Canadians. ICT include software, hardware, websites and online forms – essentially, all the digital tools used to communicate, work and serve Canadians.

More government employees are becoming aware of the importance of creating documents that everyone can use. Still, even with built-in accessibility checkers to fix accessibility issues, documents used in the public service are often not fully accessible. Public servants need to be skilled in making documents accessible from the beginning, not just as a last-minute task. Organizations must also consider accessibility right from the start when buying or developing digital tools. It is more cost-effective to get digital tools right at the beginning of a process instead of trying to make them accessible later.

In the past year, the government has been working on making digital tools more accessible.


TBS is reviewing the Standard on Web Accessibility and concluded a licensing agreement with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute to use the EN 301 549 standard for digital accessibility. This agreement will help the government improve and develop tools to guide federal organizations in determining the accessibility rules they need to follow when buying or developing ICT systems.

In addition, with the implementation of the Standard on Systems that Manage Information and Data, departments are assessing how well their applications meet the standard and are working to make sure they comply with it.

Next Gen Initiative

The Government of Canada’s Next Gen Initiative is testing and evaluating a new human resources and pay solution. The goal is to replace the current pay system and about 33 other systems with a single, fully accessible solution. The vendor has been working with several government departments to meet accessibility standards and achieve results that will allow all users to interact with the system in an accessible manner.

Employment and Social Development Canada

Employment and Social Development Canada is developing new regulations under the Accessible Canada Act to remove barriers and improve ICT accessibility.

Shared Services Canada

Shared Services Canada (SSC) provides digital services to federal organizations, ensuring that they are accessible to everyone. SSC provides the Microsoft 365 suite, which offers accessibility features such as speech-to-text dictation, text-to-speech reading, captioning, recording and transcription. To make the Microsoft 365 suite more accessible, SSC gathers information from users about any accessibility problems they find and works with Microsoft to fix them. Since 2021, SSC has resolved more than 700 accessibility issues through this process.

SSC’s Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computer Technology (AAACT) program continues to lead in making digital technologies and ICT-based accommodations solutions accessible.

  • AAACT is in charge of the CEWF-funded Lending Library Service Pilot Project, which has helped more than 430 clients by lending over 1,300 pieces of adaptive technology, hardware and software to 52 departments since 2020.
  • In the past year, AAACT received 16,340 inquiries and 229 formal requests for advice and testing on inclusive design, hardware, software and digital content.
  • AAACT conducted 44 accessibility presentations to over 6,600 participants, and, in partnership with the Canada School of Public Service, released a video on document accessibility.
  • AAACT is working on a digital accessibility toolkit, set to launch in 2023–24.
  • AAACT produced a prototype requirements generator for Technical Authorities and government departments, which generates requirements using the 2021 edition of the EN 301 549 standard.

With federal departments’ first accessibility plans now published, we expect to see:

  • better ways to access ICT accommodations
  • better ways to buy accessible software, tools and communications systems that everyone in government can use
  • accessible documents becoming the norm in the public service
  • increased use of centres of expertise such as AAACT and the Accessible Procurement Resource Centre to help departments with their accessible ICT requirements

Accessibility actions: what departments can do now

  • Make training on accessible documents and communications mandatory for all employees and ensure that digital formats of corporate templates and forms are accessible.
  • Ensure that accessibility requirements are included in all ICT-related procurements, standing offers and supply arrangements, as set out in Guideline on Making Technology Usable by All. If accessibility is not incorporated in a transaction, or if there is no accessibility conformance report available from the vendor, a written justification that explains the reasons must be included in the procurement file along with a plan for how these requirements will be met in the future.
  • Include people who will use the ICT throughout the procurement process to understand barriers, identify accessibility requirements, conduct user and accessibility testing, and ensure that the final product meets requirements.
  • Establish a procurement vehicle with companies that can develop alternate formats of accessibility plans and other documents (for example, convert documents into braille or audio formats).
  • To provide accessibility for all employees, all federal organizations and chief information officers should make the most of accessibility features in Microsoft 365.

Goal 4: programs and services

In this section

The public service must be equipped to develop and provide programs and services that are accessible for persons with disabilities to use.

As the largest service provider in Canada, the government needs to make sure that everyone can access its programs and services. To achieve this, the government must:

  • design programs with persons with disabilities in mind, considering all intersecting aspects of their identity
  • provide services in a way that everyone can access, regardless of the service channel (in person, online, over the phone and so on)

Improved forms

In the past year, the government has made changes to make client services more accessible. For example:

  • improvements were made to the online content and forms for the Registered Education Savings Plan
  • some Service Canada Centres introduced a feedback questionnaire so clients can communicate any barriers they face
  • the Canada Revenue Agency has made it faster and easier for persons with disabilities and their medical practitioners to complete the Disability Tax Credit application form by introducing a fully digital application

Tools and courses for public servants

The government has developed several tools to better equip public servants when developing and providing accessible programs and services. For example:

  • the Accessibility Resource Centre web page has resources to help employees design with users’ needs in mind
  • Service Canada developed a course for front-line staff to improve their skills in serving persons with disabilities, with topics such as:
    • identifying clients’ accessibility needs
    • using assistive devices
    • serving clients accompanied by support or service animals

Translation Bureau

As the federal lead for sign language interpretation and accessible communications, PSPC’s Translation Bureau continues to support access to information for Government of Canada employees and clients who use sign languages. The Translation Bureau’s sign language interpretation is a permanent service, and more departments are requesting it to comply with the Accessible Canada Act.

Now that departments’ first accessibility plans have been published, we expect:

  • more accessibility training for service providers
  • greater consultation with persons with disabilities when developing and implementing programs and services
  • that consultations take into account the various factors that make up a person’s identity and how these factors might affect their interaction with government programs and services

Accessibility actions: what departments can do now

  • Establish mandatory accessibility and disability inclusion training for those who design and deliver programs and services. Such training should provide guidance and tools for front-line staff and consider the different and intersecting aspects of people’s identities.
  • Collect feedback from clients, employees and applicants on how satisfied they are with the accessibility of programs and services.
  • Ensure that proposals for new programs and services include intersectional accessibility considerations, for example, using a Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) lens.
  • Work with PSPC to ensure that adequate interpretation services are available (for example, American Sign Language, langue des signes québécoise) for services, events and programs, and key training and communications videos. Additionally, ensure accessibility for employees and clients who use sign language by developing new policies and guidelines.
  • Review the accessibility of program and service experiences of employees and Canadians, including all forms and letters, in consultation with end users.

Goal 5: accessibility culture

In this section

In an accessibility confident public service, public servants understand what accessibility means and why it matters. They have the tools to make the public service more accessible and inclusive as an employer and a service provider.

Changing how things are done is essential for:

  • making real and lasting improvements in accessibility throughout the federal public service
  • making disability inclusion a meaningful part of everyday activities

It is encouraging to see that departments’ accessibility plans are striving for an accessible-by-default culture. However, even with the government’s efforts to change attitudes and norms, there are still deeply rooted challenges and attitudinal barriers at the individual and organizational levels.

Public Service Employee Survey

A key indicator of how public servants with disabilities are doing in the workplace is the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES). According to the PSES:

  • persons with disabilities across the federal public service reported the highest rates of harassment and discrimination among all equity-seeking groups identified in the Employment Equity Act
  • 20% of employees with disabilities reported experiencing harassment in the workplace, compared to 9% of employees without disabilities
  • 17% of employees with disabilities reported experiencing discrimination, compared to 6% of employees without disabilities

However, these trends are slowly improving:

  • compared to 2018, results from the 2022 PSES show a 12% decline in the percentage of persons with disabilities who reported experiencing harassment
  • compared to 2018, there was an 8% decline in the percentage of persons with disabilities who reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace

Although these results are slowly improving, there is still work to do to make sure there is no difference in how employees with and without disabilities are treated at work. Future PSES results will continue to be closely monitored to measure improvement.

To better understand why harassment and discrimination happens to federal public servants, a qualitative public opinion research study funded by the CEWF was done in early 2023:

  • 53 employees who identified as a person with a disability and who believed they experienced harassment or discrimination between September 2020 to January 2023 were interviewed
  • the study showed that participants usually experienced harassment when requesting workplace accommodations
  • the study showed that incidents of harassment and discrimination took a variety of forms

These findings are being used to inform recommendations to address the causes and impacts of harassment and discrimination in the workplace and ensure a healthy and respectful work environment for all.

Education and awareness

Education and awareness are vital in eliminating biases and promoting understanding and change.

  • In December 2022, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was celebrated with a government-wide event called “Moving from intent to action.” It focused on taking concrete steps to improve accessibility and disability inclusion and was attended by more than 1,300 participants.
  • In May 2022, National AccessAbility Awareness Week featured various events in many government organizations. In addition, the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) hosted an event for all government employees, with over 1,700 public servants attending.
  • Other significant events included:
    • the 2023 Canadian Congress on Disability Inclusion
    • the International Day of Sign Languages in September 2023
    • events to mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October 2023

Outreach events with key partners offer an opportunity to advance accessibility and build relationships. An accessibility presentation made at the annual symposium of the National Joint Council’s Joint Employment Equity Committee, for instance, provided a unique opportunity to discuss:

  • accessibility work underway in the public service
  • what remains to be done with representatives of the Government of Canada as the employer, and with bargaining agents representing public service employees

The CSPS continues to lead in developing accessibility confidence and disability-inclusive practices as core competencies for public servants. In 2022, the CSPS launched:

In 2023, the highest-attended CSPS courses in support of disability inclusion were the following, with a combined registration of over 30,000:

Communities of practice

In addition to individual learning through courses and events that raise awareness, communities of practice are vital for building skills and making concrete change. Federal organizations will need to work together to identify the best ways to make accessibility plans work and then implement them on a larger scale.

People who lead accessibility efforts will need to share what they have learned. Communicating what has worked well and, more importantly, what has not worked and why, will be critical for making ongoing changes that meaningfully improve accessibility throughout the public service.

This work will need to break down silos and make our efforts more efficient. Accessibility practices are always changing, so the government requires experienced communities of practice who can adapt, bring their expertise, and be clear about what is working and what is not.

Some of the communities of practice that are currently leading change across the public service include:

These groups provide important forums where people can share knowledge, solve problems, and learn about different accessibility topics. They are helping improve accessibility in different areas throughout the government.

For these communities and any future communities to bring their best work and advice to the large organization of the Government of Canada, the public service needs to create a way to support them and provide resources. Doing so will help them become strong leaders for change in their specific areas of expertise.


Ongoing dialogue and working together with persons with disabilities is essential and will remain so as the public service works to improve accessibility and dismantle barriers. Engagement with persons with disabilities is occurring at all levels, including:

  • the Persons with Disabilities Chairs and Champions Committee led by a deputy minister
  • the CSPS in co-creating accessibility and disability inclusion learning products
  • within departments as they develop and implement their accessibility plans and progress reports in consultation with employees and clients with disabilities and employee networks

With federal departments’ first accessibility plans now published, we expect:

  • stronger governance within departments to manage accessibility oversight and progress
  • greater awareness among all employees about the importance of accessibility in all business processes
  • that more people will follow the principles and attitudes that include and support persons with disabilities

Accessibility actions: what departments can do now

  • Encourage employees to get involved in accessibility working groups or networks to work with accessibility leads and organizations to make positive change.
  • Encourage employees to participate in events such as National AccessAbility Week and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
  • Use an intersectional (GBA+) lens to inform policy, programming and processes.
  • Ensure that there is enough support for accessibility efforts so that employees can succeed.
  • Develop tools, resources and guidance for employees to understand why accessibility matters, how it affects their work, and how they can apply it in their daily activities.


Together, let’s create an environment where persons with disabilities can thrive and focus on their work and their service to Canadians, without having to struggle against the systems and structures that keep them marginalized.

Since the launch of the Accessibility Strategy in 2019, there has been a gradual increase in efforts to make the public service more accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities. However, aiming to become a truly barrier-free public service needs more than slow, incremental changes. It demands significant transformation and concerted effort.

Persons with disabilities have actively participated in shaping changes to laws, policies, directives and practices within the Government of Canada. For example, they have had a significant role in the ongoing review of the Employment Equity Act. Now is the time for action to show that these experiences and proposed solutions were not shared in vain.

In our collective work, it is crucial that we involve persons with disabilities in all processes. They are the experts in understanding the barriers they face when working and interacting with their government. Their voices are central to change, and the importance of their perspectives being included in accessibility work is enshrined in the Accessible Canada Act.

Although some federal organizations are meeting legal requirements, we urge all departments to go beyond compliance and embrace the spirit of the law. By collectively raising our standards, we can achieve a truly barrier-free public service and contribute to a barrier-free Canada by 2040.

By the end of 2023, federal departments will be releasing their first accessibility progress reports, as required by the Accessible Canada Regulations. These reports, with input from persons with disabilities, will show what actions departments have taken regarding accessibility in the past year and address areas where progress has been slow. These reports will help organizations see where they need to put in more effort and guide ongoing improvements.

Improving accessibility is not something that can happen only within individual departments or at the federal level. Each public servant must also take personal responsibility for making the public service more accessible. Accessibility and including persons with disabilities are not just ideas – they are actions. We put these actions into practice when we educate ourselves, when we involve persons with disabilities in a meaningful way, and when we identify, prevent and remove barriers wherever we come across them.

When the Accessibility Strategy was first launched in 2019, awareness about accessibility was just starting to build across the public service. Today, no organization or employee should be able to claim ignorance about accessibility or the importance of disability inclusion. Departmental expectations have been set in accessibility plans, enterprise change is underway, and what remains is the daily work of building and doing better. By implementing the recommendations in this update and meeting the commitments set out in accessibility plans, we will continue to see measurable, meaningful progress.

Ultimately, making Canada’s public service accessible is everyone’s business. We cannot simply wait for it to happen. We need to work together right now to make our workplaces and the services we provide to Canadians stronger and accessible for all.

Appendix: spotlights on inclusion

In this section

The following are descriptions of what some departments are doing to remove accessibility barriers and include persons with disabilities.

Pillar 1: employment

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is making its hiring practices more innovative and inclusive. It plans to make various adjustments in its hiring process to remove barriers for persons with disabilities. These adjustments include:

  • adapting the in-office testing environment
  • providing quiet rooms
  • offering flexible scheduling and using different testing and response formats

By including accommodation options in its assessment processes, CNSC is breaking down barriers and giving every candidate the opportunity to do their best work.

Pillar 2: built environment

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) are working on a project to make their washrooms more accessible. With help from Public Services and Procurement Canada, this project aims to create universal and accessible washrooms in CIRNAC and ISC buildings across Canada between 2022 and 2027. Work has begun with buildings in the National Capital Region, Quebec and British Columbia. This project is making sure to include everyone by taking an approach that considers different needs and identities.

Pillar 3: information and communications technologies

To ensure that inclusive practices are a priority, Canadian Heritage employees are required to take training on creating and designing accessible documents. This training will help reduce frequent barriers such as inaccessible documents, presentations and communications that exclude persons with disabilities. This training will provide all Canadian Heritage employees with the tools they need to help create an equitable and accessible workplace.

Pillar 4: programs and services

Natural Resources Canada has launched its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) analysis toolkit. This toolkit is meant to encourage program owners and designers to think about accessibility in their work. It guides them through key considerations when creating policies and programs, including building an evidence base, co-creating with stakeholders, testing and implementation. The toolkit also includes an audit process for reviewing existing policies.

Pillar 5: accessibility culture

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has established an Employee Support Office (ESO) to ensure that employees with disabilities are given equal opportunities to succeed. The ESO makes it easier for employees with disabilities to get the support they need and serves as a central place for them to find information and resources. As a one-stop shop, the ESO is a centralized resource support, making the experience for employees with disabilities consistent throughout the department.

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