Bill C-81 is in, and we can make it count for children and families!

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By Keiko Shikako-Thomas, CHILD-BRIGHT Knowledge Translation Program Co-Lead
 

Bill C-81, also known as the Accessible Canada Act, was approved last week by the House of Commons following a process which was started by the federal government in 2015, when it was referenced in the mandate letter of the Minister of Persons with Disabilities and Sports. This bill helps shift the culture relating to accessibility in Canada and includes important provisions to ensure that persons with disabilities can access their human rights and enjoy full citizenship.

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At CHILD-BRIGHT we are excited to witness the passing of this bill alongside other Canadians. As a pan-Canadian patient-oriented research network, we have been collaborating with youth and families of children with brain-based developmental disabilities from across Canada since 2016 to identify their priorities and learn what they think should be priorities in Canadian research. We have developed partnerships to generate research that will have an impact on the way children and youth with disabilities enjoy their right to health and quality of life.

Similar to our stakeholder engagement process at CHILD-BRIGHT, the Bill C-81 process engaged a series of stakeholders along the way, and reflects priorities identified by Canadians collected during their stakeholder consultation phase, during public forums, youth summits, and via online opinion polls.

We see the passing of this bill as a huge step forward for our community, but by nature of its federal reach, remain aware that it has limited impact for CHILD-BRIGHT’s core population: children.

Will the bill have benefits for children with disabilities and their families?

To me, the passing of Bill C-81 not only underlines Canada’s recognition of the rights of individuals with disabilities, but also represents a genuine commitment to working towards equity of opportunity.
— Lena Faust, CHILD-BRIGHT Youth & Network Member

Yes! But because Bill C-81 covers aspects of federal jurisdiction, such as transportation, mass communication, and the use of official languages (American Sign Language [ASL] and Quebec Sign Language [LSQ] have now been recognized as official languages in Canada)—all of which impact both children and adults positively—some of the issues that touch children with disabilities more directly, such as health care, education, and leisure, are not covered, since these fall under provincial jurisdiction. 

Hopefully the passing of the first-ever legislation to support accessibility helps to facilitate the creation and implementation of robust accessibility laws at all levels of government. As an adult with a disability who has been waiting eagerly for this legislation, I see this as a huge step!
— Julia Hanes, CHILD-BRIGHT Youth & Patient-Partner

Progress is being made but there is still much work to be done. We are grateful that the passing of Bill C-81 creates a better space for ongoing discussions and opportunities to put disabilities at the forefront of public discourse. For our CHILD-BRIGHT members, families, youth, researchers, and clinicians, the new law allows more space for interactions with decision makers and an opportunity for us to continue to advocate for the changes we need—and want to see—in the lives of children with disabilities and their families.

By embedding accessibility into the operations of the federal government and all of its programs, our son will be able to exercise his full citizenship. As a key partner in care, the federal government will ensure that our family will have easier access to the essential programs that support us.
— Donna Thompson, CHILD-BRIGHT Patient-Partner

For example, Bill C-81 proposes the creation of an Accessibility Officer position. This person would liaise between persons with disabilities and government. It also proposes adaptations of public buildings to respond to universal accessibility codes. And most importantly, it marks an important historic and cultural shift relating to accessibility rights in Canada, and inclusion for all persons with disabilities.

This is why CHILD-BRIGHT is starting work on the creation of a Policy Hub for childhood disabilities. Through ‘the Hub’, we will seek to gather the unique contributions of families, children, and youth with disabilities, and align this with research evidence, to help influence policy developments that are relevant for children with disabilities in Canada. We want to get the conversation started between policy makers and our CHILD-BRIGHT community and, hopefully, help provide information that will support the inclusion of children and families’ needs as the new bill is implemented in the coming years. More to come on this initiative in future months.

We’re excited to be part of the change we want to see in Canada and in the lives of Canadians with disabilities of all ages. We know that a strategic partnership between researchers, policy makers and concerned members of the community can build a new culture of accessibility in Canada that includes children, and that change can begin today.

For a plain language explanation of the bill, please visit:
https://www.include-me.ca/federal-accessibility-legislation-alliance/resource/accessible-canada-act-plain-language

For the full text of Bill C-81, visit:
https://openparliament.ca/bills/42-1/C-81/

If you want to learn more and participate in the development of the CHILD-BRIGHT Policy Hub in Childhood Disabilities, please contact:
Roberta.cardoso@muhc.mcgill.ca

The proposed accessible Canada act sets out to change that [the presence of barriers for people with disabilities] and create a Canada that is inclusive and accessible for everyone from the get-go. Canadians with disabilities are tired of being treated as an afterthought. This is what Bill C-81 sets out to do: to transform our perceptions of disability and ensure accessibility and inclusion from the start.
— Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport and MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce – Westmount (also home to our CHILD-BRIGHT headquarters). Full statement: https://openparliament.ca/bills/42-1/C-81/