Draft pre-Focus Group Activity: 2 November 2021

Draft post-Focus Group: 7 February 2022

Final Draft: 29 March 2022

Prepared by

Nicholas S Antonini

Honours Student

Department of Sociology and Social Studies

University of Regina


In collaboration with the research team:

Barrier Free Saskatchewan

Brenda Rossow-Kimball

Assistant Professor

Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies

University of Regina


Lynn Gidluck, Community Director

Community Engagement & Research Centre

University of Regina


Table of Contents

“‘Nothing About Us Without Us’: Building A Saskatchewan Accessibility Act” Project Report  1

i. Acknowledgements………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 3

ii. Executive Summary…………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

1. Land Acknowledgement………………………………………………………………………………………….. 6

2. Introduction……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 6

3. Project Activities and Methods…………………………………………………………………………………. 7

3.1. How To Read This Report………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 7

4. Summary of Key Findings………………………………………………………………………………………… 8

4.1. Defining Disability……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

4.2. Intersectionality and Indigenous Rights…………………………………………………………………………………………. 9

4.3. Emphasis on Understanding Cross-Disability Needs and Universality…………………………………. 11

4.4. Issues of Enforcement………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 11

4.5. Collaboration and Outreach…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 12

4.6. Timeline of Legislation Implementation………………………………………………………………………………………. 14

4.7. Education and Mobilization…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 14

4.8. Avoiding Replication: Learning From Mistakes and Not Replicating Them…………………………. 15

4.9. Planning For Multi-Party, Multi-Legislative Challenges……………………………………………………………. 16

4.10. On Motivating and Including Businesses: Expectations and Discussion……………………………. 16

5. Suggestions for Further Research and Inquiry………………………………………………………… 18

6. Recommendations………………………………………………………………………………………………… 19

6.1. Create Abundant Opportunities for Meaningful, Collaborative Engagement with Saskatchewan Rights Holders………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 19

6.2. Effective Legislation Based On A Saskatchewan Understanding Of Disability Is Vital………. 20

6.3. Accept and Incorporate Intersectionality and an Indigenous Justice Framework into The Legislation and Approach Legislative Decisions From This Framework…………………………………………………………………… 21

6.4. Strict Compliance and Enforcement is Crucial for an Effective Legislation………………………….. 21

6.5. Be Realistic About Deadlines: Provide Significant Time for Response and Review…………… 22

6.6. Avoid Repetition With Other Legislation, But Expand Scope of Inspiration………………………… 22

7. Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 22


i. Acknowledgements

This report would not be possible without the participation of our thirteen informative interviewees who so generously shared their time, experience, and understandings with us, as well as the participants in the focus groups whose Saskatchewan specific insight added so much to our findings. Thank you to the University of Regina’s Community Engagement and Research Council and UNIFOR National, Prairie Regional Council for providing financial support for this project, of course this project could not have been accomplished with out this support. We also want to thank our wonderful note-takers: Katie Anne Wilson, Maegan Krajewski, Kathryn Blommaert, and Jessica Rae Antonini – without your talented and thorough field notes, the forums would not have been possible. And lastly, we thank you, the reader; it is for you, and our future together, that we do this work.

ii. Executive Summary

This report presents the findings of a Barrier Free Saskatchewan research project titled “Nothing About Us Without Us: Building A Saskatchewan Accessibility Act”. The goal of this project was to inform the research team of current accessible legislation across Canada. Conversing with representatives from regions where accessible legislation exists helps us to encourage, support, and inform the development of accessible legislation in Saskatchewan.

From June 2021 to early September 2021, thirteen in-depth, qualitative interviews were conducted with participants from across Canada. Participants represented regions where provincial and/or federal accessible legislation acts exist: British Columbia (5 participants), Manitoba (2 participants), Ontario (5 participants), and Nova Scotia (1 participant). Interviews were semi-structured, meaning that the interview guide (collaboratively designed and approved by the research team) was used to guide the discussion but created space for participants to communicate freely and openly about issues of accessible legislation experienced by themselves, their organizations (if applicable), and their province. The research team intentionally focused on learning more about:

  • Enforcement of provincial accessibility legislation, and the Federal Accessible Canada Act;
  • Education and awareness around barriers faced;
  • Timelines of legislation and enforcement;
  • Indigenous rights and intersectionality of the lived experience of day-to-day accessibility.

Key themes that emerged after the data analysis are listed below:

  1. Thinking through and defining disability;
  2. Including Indigenous rights and intersectionality;
  3. Emphasizing universality and cross-disability needs in both design and practice;
  4. Considering concerns about legislation enforcement, consultations, and timelines;
  5. Including education in terms of both awareness of disability issues and awareness of the legislation and all which it encompasses;
  6. Examining how to approach applying information and processes from other jurisdictions;
  7. Anticipating the challenges that come with having multiple parties involved in the discussion around the draft legislation and ensuring the act is cooperative with other legislations while still maintaining the integrity of the act as one that is inclusive and accessible, and;
  8. Embracing the legislation and motivating the provincial public, with consideration for those who will need assistance and support to transition into an accessible future.

This report concludes with 6 recommendations encompassing several sub-recommendations that address the themes and considerations listed above, while providing some actionable items highlighted in the forum discussion. Generally, these recommendations are to integrate the following:

  1. Include lived experience and community experience throughout the process by designing employment and honorarium opportunities for people with disabilities;
  2. Review Saskatchewan’s definition of disability on an ideological basis;
  3. Accept intersectionality and apply an Indigenous-justice framework to the legislation to ensure universality;
  4. Combine both positive incentives and a clear, strict compliance framework to ensure enforcement of the legislation so that the integrity of the act is respected and upheld;
  5. Be realistic about the length and time the processes of drafting and implementation will take; and
  6. Avoid relying on legislation from other jurisdictions; to ensure a Saskatchewan, contextually based accessibility act.

1. Land Acknowledgement

This project was designed, planned, and carried out in Treaty 4 Territory. Across a digital scape, interviews were conducted in Treaty 4 Territory with interviewees from various Treaty regions and unceded land across Turtle Island (known as Canada). Treaty 4 land is the Indigenous territory of the Anihšināpēk [uh-nish-i-naa-payk (Saulteaux)], Dakota, Lakota, Nakoda, Nêhiyawak [nay-hi-yuh-wuk (Cree)], and traditional homeland of the Metis/Michif Nation. The project investigators and research grants committee recognize and respect the traditional territory of these Indigenous Peoples and the relationship between society and all of creation in both ecological and social dynamics. In treaty territory, we are all treaty people.

2. Introduction

“Everyday that goes without the proper accessibility conditions in this province is a day that a lot of people continue to endure, to a certain degree, severe suffering, because certain services remain inaccessible to them.”

In 2019 the Saskatchewan government began the process of formulating a provincial accessibility act. The “Nothing About Us Without Us: Building A Saskatchewan Accessibility Act” project emerged as a response to this announcement, with a goal to ensure that Saskatchewan applies lessons of best practices that have been learned across Canada in its upcoming Accessibility Act. The objective of this project was to gather insights from people around the country who, in one way or another, have engaged with their own provincial legislation. Project findings will demonstrate what is needed in provincial accessibility legislation to meet the needs of people and primary caregivers who experience accessibility barriers, and people who work for disability-justice organizations.

The province of Saskatchewan legislation necessitates addressing the inherent human right of accessibility. Additionally, it is crucial that this legislation be understood as universal in its reach. Indeed, “the concept of universality of disability recognizes that every person may experience a [barrier] at some time in their lives and therefore experience some degree of disability”[1] and although these experiences may differ in duration and impact, the fact remains that many people have, do, and will experience accessibility barriers in their lives. It is from these places of experience by which we learn how best to provide the proper environments, attitude, and systems that create a society that is justice-oriented and accessible to all. And so becomes the slogan: “Nothing About Us Without Us”.

“Nothing About Us Without Us” demonstrates the importance of inclusion in not just the legislation, but the process of legislation drafting, design, and implementation. This is the crux of “Nothing About Us Without Us”; that meaningful dialogue and engagement with those who experience accessibility barriers will set Saskatchewan forth in the best way, toward a universally accessible future. 

3. Project Activities and Methods

The data collection was run in two phases. The first began with the recruitment of participants representing various disability organizations, government organizations, NGOs[2], and/or personal disability advocates. At the end of the primary data collection period, we had conducted thirteen interviews ranging between 55-90 minutes each. Interviews were coded and analyzed through NVivo software[3], which helped us to identify emerging themes. Participants were generally enthusiastic about the project and offered to share a number of documents. A total of eight documents covering reviews of respective provincial legislation, through various stages of development were gathered. These documents were generally reviewed for context of the provinces involved. These documents are also included in the dataset, though these are not included in report as not all were made permissible to share.

This project also applied several validity and reliability criterion to help support the findings:

  • A codebook is provided for the research team, which allows for any reviewer of the data to check for coding accuracy;
  • An audit trail is provided for the research team. The audit trail is a document by which the research assistant provided 2 pages of notes to the rest of the research team that detail justifications and methodological decision made throughout the research process;
  • This report uses quotations from the data as evidence to support the findings.
  • Dr. Brenda Rossow-Kimball conducted a review of the coded dataset to check for coding accuracy.
  • A preliminary review of the report was conducted by Barrier Free Saskatchewan and the research grants committee to check for oversights or other errors and provide feedback on the way the findings were presented.
  • A secondary review was conducted by Barrier Free Saskatchewan and the research grants committee after feedback from the forums was included in the recommendations.
  • Focus groups were conducted on 24 November 2021, 25 November 2021, and 26 November 2021 to add a particular Saskatchewan focus to the findings and receive feedback on the proposed recommendations.

3.1. How To Read This Report

A few things worth noting regarding this report:

  1. Quotes from participants are italicized to separate them from the other content in this report.
  2.  Footnotes have been added to clarify acronyms, facts, and other information that should not be assumed to be known by the reader of this report.

4. Summary of Key Findings

4.1. Defining Disability

Saskatchewan has begun establishing a definition for the term “disability”. In the Accessibility Legislation Engagement Report, published by the Government of Saskatchewan (2021),disability is defined as follows:

Disability is a limitation in functioning that is the result of a dynamic interaction between an individual’s health condition(s) and personal and environmental factors.

The Accessibility Legislation Engagement Report indicates that 83% of the survey respondents generally agreed with this definition though it was also criticized for not including “a wider range of limitations, including invisible disabilities (such as learning disabilities), mental health illnesses, episodic disabilities and food allergies” (14)[4]. Inclusion of these limitations is reaffirmed in the findings for this report along with ideological approaches of conceptualizing disability and the narratives surrounding accommodations, inclusivity, and barriers.

There are many ways to approach the defining of disability and accessibility. Having a strong foundation with clear definitions for these terms will help with the legislation. As such, the defining of disability was a major theme throughout this project, and there were many different views on how the topic should be approached. Two primary approaches discussed, with respect to conceptualizing disability in legislative terms, were issues of inclusion and exclusion. Furthermore, participants acknowledged that a disability definition is broad and mentioned the importance and strengths in advocacy for opportunity and inclusivity:

“As an advocacy group you want an open door to be able to advocate through and I think the broad definitions does that, and if you had a more narrow one they could just exclude you off the hop. But at least now, the door is open.”

“When they try to get too specific on the definition, it becomes exclusive. So, the ADA[5] has been criticized that is actually exempts an awful lot of people. And their goal was a good one, they wanted to be clear about who you had to accommodate. But, by having a hard definition you are automatically going to exclude folks – and usually that’s folks with more complex disabilities or intellectual disabilities.”

Some participants noted that a broader definition of disability could limit the scope of the legislation by making it too vague and unsupportive of the future complaints mechanisms and understanding to whom the legislation applies:

            “It’s not as extensive” as what is in the Federal act, “the response from the BC      government is that the definition of disability has evolved over time and they don’t feel            they have to be super specific about impairments to be inclusive… The BC Human Rights Code retains primacy over all other law; there is a primacy provision. The BC government felt they did not have to be so specific in their definition of disability”

A third point raised throughout the research, was that, in any case, there are significant ideological limitations to how we understand and use the word ‘disability’. Due to attitudinal barriers and structural ableism[6], the definition of disability may not be the true issue and it is through discourse and infrastructure that disability is truly materialized:

            “Ableism shapes how you see disability…”

            “The attitude toward disability hasn’t changed, one example I’ll give you is that society   has already accommodated sighted people, you get your streetlights as a matter of course        as its built into the infrastructure that it makes ”

            “The literacy of disability is not within the thinking of Canada”

Ultimately, however the Saskatchewan government proceeds on the defining of disability, there are important considerations to be made with respect to consistency with definition over time and across contexts. The most crucial of which is the possibility of people who experience barriers having to “reprove their disability which is demoralizing and not dignified at all”. With a personal example, one participant describes this situation:

            “I believe they paired the definition, for purposes of the AODA[7], with the Human Rights   code, but did announce, that for disability benefits, are aligning their definition with the             federal definition, and this can be really good or really scary – there is a mechanism    built in that wants to keep a cap on how many people can access that… my brother, he’s     a recipient of ODSP[8], he has Down syndrome which is a life long disability, but he’s up for regular review where he has to, quote-on-quote, prove he still has Down syndrome.”    

4.2. Intersectionality and Indigenous Rights

Intersectionality refers to the way in which social identities, such as class, sex and gender, race and ethnicity, and of course, disability exists in a web of power and inequality. Barriers to accessibility can be intensified depending on the social position occupied by any given person. In particular, the rights of Indigenous peoples and the Indigenous experience are unique and important to recognize. Tensions between Indigenous communities and provincial and federal governments must be recognized for what they are, as one strained by an ongoing history of damaged relations and broken promises on the part of government entities. The Indigenous experience is one that needs to be recognized in drafting the provincial accessibility legislation for Saskatchewan. One participant emphasized how this point is especially important to understand because the requirements and processes Indigenous people need to go through to receive support can be so complicated and exhausting to the point that they are not helpful at all and that because, “The process of making claims or getting things addressed is complicated, and that is why people don’t complain.”

And these approaches to the legislation should be more encompassing of both lived experiences and worldviews of Indigenous communities. Participants reported the importance of speaking to Indigenous communities because, “Our [current] frameworks of leadership don’t work if we want to teach a decolonizing lens.” This point is further described by the following comments on meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities and worldviews:

            “[The AODA] is not considering Indigenous language, it’s not being done in an    Indigenous way. If someone, for example, needs oxygen, you are then fighting with      various levels of government to get that funding. Even if it is clear, the process is a    nightmare.”

            “There is [a] section on the rights of Indigenous people… [referencing the act] ‘at least   one Indigenous person will be a part of the provincial accessibility committee’ which we         felt was a bit tokenistic.”

However, intersectionality includes other elements of identity beyond race. It also includes sex and gendered experiences. Participants felt that legislation should remember and respect that disabled experiences are both varied and dynamic:

            “I think with a lot of these things [intersectionality] they are recognized, but not in           meaningful ways… it’s a lot of lip-service to those things. DAWN[9] has a whole report they call ‘More Than a Footnote’ cause they said like these issues especially women and         girls with disabilities – and gendered issues—are always a footnote. Disability is a       monolith, and then you tack on really quickly ‘disabled women will experience more          gender-based violence…and then it doesn’t go any farther.”

            “We were talking to people who faced major barriers, and the research paid attention to             intersectionality and what we were hearing from people was: ‘I’m being asked, when I’m             going to look for supports, I’m being asked to choose part of my identity’… someone I      was speaking with was disabled and also trans and they were told to sort of choose one;          The system doesn’t really understand intersectionality. It didn’t understand their          experience as both disabled and trans and how that shaped [their lived reality]. Even the          service agencies in the community didn’t know how to respond to those complex aspects       of someone’s identity. That’s a problem, if we are asking people to leave behind parts of            themselves to overcome barriers.”

4.3. Emphasis on Understanding Cross-Disability Needs and Universality

Participants described how universal design (described below) would be an appropriate approach to change the current monolithic (or dominant) understanding of disability, which can be described as a catchall:

            “They just reproduce these service silos and these very basic understandings that disability is kind of a monolith and all disabled people will experience barriers in the   same way.”

Universal design allows for the embedding of accessibility into infrastructure, products and services. It does not just benefit people living with disabilities. Universal design intends to support all people in all situations with a variety of characteristics and needs. A ramp does not just assist someone with a mobility aid, it also helps someone pushing a baby carriage; a door lever, rather than a doorknob, helps someone who has poor dexterity and someone carrying a box when they need to open the door. Participants also described cross-disability needs that are both unique and the issue in accommodation for singular disability issues versus universal design.

Disability discrimination also exists in a cross-disability way. One participant describes how in BC, “You can stop a service dog handler, you can profile them, stop them, and I.D.[10] them. As many times as you want to…” and if they fail to demonstrate their I.D. then you can reject them service. “They said it was to stop taking fluffy into the hardware store…” remarked a participant on the process of identifying valid service dog I.D.s. The participant further explains that the legislation designed to protect the rights of blind people ends up ostracizing them: “and that is a really good case of bad legislation without listening to the people who it affects – and get this, there is only 200 of us.”

4.4. Issues of Enforcement

Issues of enforcement were another major theme throughout the interviews. In particular, participants felt that too much responsibility was placed on the individual to advocate for their rights and needs, even with legislation in place:

            “The major problem with the legislation in Ontario is the onus is almost entirely on          individuals to fight that system. I think the way they brought through the AODA in       Ontario is awfully vague and open to interpretation… and you are putting onus on people         who are being discriminated against…if you are in a work environment or education   environment and you’re being discriminated against you may not want to rock the boat,          like sometimes taking that process forward in a rights violation can put you at odds with     an employer.”

Many participants expressed uncertainty about the effectiveness of enforcement mechanisms. Two primary concerns were raised: the first was that there is major uncertainty around application of penalties and evaluations of compliance:

            “If you don’t have a very strong enforcement mechanism and if you don’t have an             amount of money assigned to it that’s fairly high… its not going to matter.”

The second was that due to these grey areas there was then a ‘toothless’ quality to the legislation overall:

            “Our (DABC[11]) opinion about the Accessible BC Act is it doesn’t really have much teeth,             its what’s considered enabling legislation so it’s very simple…”

            “Some feedback from the general public, is how do they enforce… so the enforcement      aspect of the legislation. People always talk about if they have teeth because with the     Canada Accessibility Act, it has none.[12]

            “Disability Alliance BC, [their] main criticisms were around the lack of hard        enforcement, the lack of a complaints officer or mechanism. You would have to complain     through existing channels, that’s a big concern that there won’t be a one stop shop        officer to hand out complaints specific to the act.”

            “…One of the main complaints I have heard about the AODA and that I have        experienced and seen is that its vague, it doesn’t have a lot of teeth in terms of          enforcement.”

In this way, legislation without clear guidelines on compliance, fines and/or penalties, or a complaints mechanism will lack integrity and ultimately effectiveness. If the Saskatchewan government is to ensure a fully accessible Saskatchewan it will need to ensure that the legislation has clear and strict guidelines for organizations to follow upon royal assent and legislative implementation

4.5. Collaboration and Outreach

Consultation was identified as a primary and absolutely necessary process for legislation drafting, and it is a process that Saskatchewan has already begun[13]. That being said participants identified both strengths and limitations in their own province’s legislation and expressed, in particular, the importance of meaningful collaboration opposed to hollow consultation:

            “The train goes where you lay the tracks,” – says Participant on review, “You have to      have them, but it has to be meaningful. I would rather have government that says ‘Okay          we tried x, y, and z and [these] two didn’t work’, because that’s how we learn, through       trial and error.”

That being said, many participants had either not been involved with the consultation process or were unaware of the way it went about. For those who were able to comment on it, they described mixed feelings about how various consultations were carried out. Manitoba has been commended for their work:

            “Manitoba did a really good thing when they brought in their accessibility act, not only   did they go and talk to everyone and actually listen to them, they then took the legislation        back to the public before they brought it for first reading in the Legislature… that is the        first time I’ve seen a government do something so transparent and that is exactly what    Saskatchewan should do… BC should have done that. They got 96% support from the          disability community by doing it this way.”

In another participant’s account, Nova Scotia lacked meaningful consultation with those with lived experience and this ultimately impacted the integrity of the legislation:

            “They never went back out to the community to consult on what the legislation was going             to look like. We need to go back out and consult them and let them know the way things        are, and so when they actually came out with the legislation it was terrible it wasn’t very      good legislation at all.”

And another participant described how necessary it is to include the lived experience through consultation because, “The government should not create new barriers in rectifying the old ones, and that is to say that most of the time [legislation] is done by people who are not disabled themselves. These people have no idea what barriers are…”

Further, participants were critical of the very process of consultation itself:

            “Governments love consultation… perhaps a little too much,” suggesting there is a             disconnection between consultation and action.

Part of the issue with consultation opposed to collaboration is that a consultation is guided by the government’s standpoint whereas collaboration means actually actively engaging with the community and applying their input:

            “I think they captured, very well some of the inputs… however… it’s not entirely an open             conversation, it’s guided… when it’s guided like that you control a little bit of the outcome as far as discussion goes. I was not surprised to see the index page of what’s in        the act…”

Most of all, participants felt that compensation was of absolute importance and that consultation is not just sharing legislation with the public but providing compensated opportunities to the disability community, for example, one participant described this concern:

            “We’re always asking the disability community to do something for nothing.”

            “I think it’s important to do that [compensation]. It’s not necessarily about the amount of             money, I mean not five dollars, but say somebody gave you 100 dollars or 50 dollars to    participate because they value your time…”

4.6. Timeline of Legislation Implementation

Participants generally agreed that timelines were important as “they establish some frameworks that they mandate…  frameworks [that] allow people with disabilities to have a clear understanding of what has been done or what will be done in practice.” However, emphasis was not on how long the legislation should take or how reasonable the timelines have been in other jurisdictions, rather emphasis was placed on wasting time and energy by rushing through things and subsequently having to pause the whole process. One participant described what happened in Nova Scotia with regard to the readings of the draft legislation:

“They gave a very, very short window in terms of when first, second, and third readings were going to be. I remember sitting in my office just sweating, trying to tell people: ‘you can’t go this fast, because we need to get access created: find interpreters, find this, find that.”

Another participant explained how the response of the disability community halted the legislation until lived experience was considered important to the process:

“When it came out and the disability community saw how poor it was they immediately met… they sat around and started to figure out ‘what are the points that need to be raised at the second reading? …Essentially, what they asked for was to stop the process; that this was not enough time and they needed more input from the disability community. And for the first time, they created a committee that drafted the legislation with the government.”

4.7. Education and Mobilization

Mobilizing the legislation is also very important to an effective accessibility act. On the topic of training, there has to be ways that do not trivialize or sideline the legislation. Participants shared:

“The online format is really a weak way of connecting with people… its kind of just checking the boxes it doesn’t really include lived experiences… I think they are ahead of the legislation, they come through self-diagnosis.”

“I have talked to people who took the training, sort of just informally, who took it online, and it’s like, ‘Yeah, somebody at work said just play it in the background, they gave me the answers; they took it before’… these things are well intentioned but what they end up becoming is something quite different…”

This reference demonstrates the impact that attitudinal barriers have not just on people with disabilities, but on the effective implementation and mobilization of the act itself. And still there needs to be educating that the legislation is not a charitable gesture, but the actual recognition and implementation of basic human rights. Participants stated:

“So what I found in my own work is that disabled people will experience barriers and rights violations starting very young, including in the education system, and I think you become conditioned that this is an expectation of ‘how the world is going to treat me’.”

“Educate the disability community in every way shape or form, you make your stuff very accessible for them to be engaged and be able to participate… the work we put in to make sure the documents were accessible to the Deaf community made the difference between them being involved and not being involved.”

Returning to the point of poor training design, Participant cautions this approach to training:

“These big consulting firms, who have established relationships, can bid for contracts, but don’t have lived experience, can step in and use disabled people in really tokenized ways… like maybe use somebody as a speaker but take this big contract and only give them an honorarium. The training needs to be rooted in community, and lived experience. But again the system is sort of built in a way that individual people who may have been doing this labour for years can’t compete with big firms.

4.8. Avoiding Replication: Learning From Mistakes and Not Replicating Them

Many participants, who had knowledge on the consultation processes for their own provincial legislation, indicated that their province took inspiration from the ones that came before. Many participants saw value in not reinventing the wheel, so to speak. That being said, Saskatchewan should avoid simply transferring standards, regulations, and other legislative points and tenets without a careful review and consultation. Additionally, it could be beneficial for Saskatchewan to consult existing Human Rights policies and declarations for a deeper understanding of the needs of disabled people who experience accessibility barriers. One such example would be reviewing and applying central insights from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)[14].

It is helpful to refer to legislation that has already been enacted (e.g., Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, BC and the Federal Act). For example, Nova Scotia “did do a lot of consulting with Manitoba” in designing their own act. Many participants expressed the importance that Saskatchewan learn from the mistakes made elsewhere, and that one of these mistakes is the complete mimesis of another act. For example, the federal act and the Ontario Act were generally rejected by participants as being ineffective and poor representations of meeting the needs of people with disabilities:

“The interesting part I observed from the BC legislation consultation is they want to affiliate or compliment the Canada Accessibility Act. I think in some ways they don’t want to duplicate already discussed areas that being said following a template that has no teeth… I don’t know what the outcome of that will be…”

It is important that Saskatchewan-based accessibility legislation is Saskatchewan-made. To do this, it is essential that there are accessible platforms in which people with lived experience can be involved in the creation of the act. One participant discussed her involvement with an act, as a consultant:

“Whether it’s been internationally, or federally, or provincially, it seems like the same process: It starts out really hopeful, engaging community, but then doesn’t want to do the work of dismantling those systemic barriers. And we are not going to have an equity or inclusion if we keep these frameworks.”

4.9. Planning For Multi-Party, Multi-Legislative Challenges

Saskatchewan’s Accessibility Act will not exist in a vacuum. Throughout it’s design and implementation there will likely be unexpected challenges; collaboration with other parties, accommodating all interest, and considering other legislation to ensure the accessibility act fits appropriately into the provincial legislative strategy:

“There are going to be a lot of rights and protections under the regulations and standards that overlap with a number of other laws like the employee standards act, the BC building code… it’s going to permeate through every level of society.”

4.10. On Motivating and Including Businesses: Expectations and Discussion

This new legislation will affect everyone, and as such, it is important to remember that there is the task of having private sector buy-in and responsibility. This can be accomplished through additional means of incentivizing and rewarding. It does not just need to be through penalty and fines that compliance be encouraged, in fact BC has taken a more causal approach – though it has been criticized for possibly pandering to the business sector at the expense of an effective legislation:

“The BC government could be influenced by the business sector to not be included… the BC government could be influenced through lobbying, through threatening of campaign dollars if they are prescribed organizations…”

However, it would be important for Saskatchewan to not focus or rely on the economic question, or to at least approach it within reason:

“When you introduce this really limited idea of the economy or ‘what is it going to cost?’ and you just engage policy through that, you miss so much and I think that happens all the time when we talk about disability because a part of ableism is being stuck in that idea that ‘its unfair and its gonna cost more’ rather than understanding that we have built these barriers… my feeling is these things tend to get watered-down as soon as you introduce that element.”

“One of the things we’ve had here in Ottawa that is really frustrating: in response to COVID, allowing restaurants to put a patio outside and out front, but they’ve done that with absolutely no attention to disability and there has been so many complaints… and the community has been screaming: ‘when you do this you are taking away accessibility’ like we have designed these sidewalks and everything else and have used the AODA and other lenses… and you prioritize putting a patio there whereas you could have had a work-around in a different way…and it seems that in Ottawa its always after the fact, they do these things, in the legislation they talk about having that lens, but I don’t see the lens being used, I see them just going ahead, whatever is best for the economy and business…”

Participants noted that businesses were more focused on financial ramifications of accessibility. While businesses want clarity in how to meet the needs of accessibility, they do not want unrealistic expectations put on smaller local businesses:

“Nobody had any issues with the legislation per se, business was just concerned about what it was going to cost them, was it going to put people out of jobs, that sort of thing…”

“With the employer, with the government regulation and tax stuff, they may not be happy about it but if its clear and they know specifically what their responsibilities are they’ll deal with it. Where they tend to get upset is when their responsibilities are not clear and that’s gonna be the make or break for a standard… as long as its clear and not onerous. You cannot say to a Mom and Pop store that they have to be accessible to everybody – if they’re in an old store they aren’t going to have 50k to renovate the premises.”

And in some cases, it’s a combination of lacking education and enforcement. Both of which are rooted in a paradigmatic switch:

“It’s still frustrating, because, even though we’ve had our five-year review of the customer service standard, one of the big problems is that nobody in Manitoba knows it is the law… all we’re looking for is a way for people to think of accessibility: What I would like for the MA to become is so that employers and folks that are starting new programs will look through an accessibility lens.”

However, it is the government’s responsibility to provide resources to assist various sectors apply the legislation – they will need help. One example of how this was done, and something that was praised with Manitoba:

            “They set up a fund with the Winnipeg Foundation which is a place where people can       apply to receive grants for governments, businesses, and organizations to help with            funding an accessible transition… Without resources we are all stretched”

5. Suggestions for Further Research and Inquiry

  1. Involve youth in legislation drafting. The legislation will impact their future. One participant noted this reality, and that of their family and friends. As one participant stated,

          “I’m fifty-four, I’m working for the next generation at this point.”

          “I’m not expecting cultures to change overnight, but we have to start the conversation.”

    Unfortunately, this project was unable to collect accounts on the youth experience. It would be beneficial to consider this intersectional approach as; “We look a lot at disability in adulthood but not in children or as people age.”

  2. Continue to seek out and review accessible legislation. A synthesis of previous acts in Canada and around the world conducted by members with lived experience in Saskatchewan would enhance the ability to include strong effective measures in the Saskatchewan Accessibility Act.
  • Systemic issues must be addressed. While considering intersections of diversity (e.g., gender, identity, culture, race) is important, it is also imperative to identify and discuss how social systems and programs intensify lived experience, rather than alleviate it. For example, a participant described how unclean drinking water in Indigenous communities and reserves can perpetuate and produce disabilities within a community. In this case, further research should look to explore the potential development of acquired disabilities as a product of inequality. It is possible that, given time and resources, a provincial investigation into preventative measure could add further value to a provincial accessibility act. Additionally, there is a need for Further research in the area of acquired disabilities as a product of inequality.

6. Recommendations

If anything was ever more clear after the focus groups were conducted at the end of November 2021 is that all of these recommendations can and should flourish on investment in a cultural shift and the direct engagement with stigma and other attitudinal barriers. This involves embracing the “rights holders” model and actively practicing it opposed to the “charity” model, the “medical” model or the ‘fix-it’ model. The recommendations were well received during the forum sessions at the end of November with Saskatchewan right’s holders. Bullet points have been added for actionable items.

6.1. Create Abundant Opportunities for Meaningful, Collaborative Engagement with Saskatchewan Rights Holders

It is crucial to recognize that the disability community support and involvement will make or break the legislation. These opportunities should be provided through universally accessible means and framed as invitations, not obligations. Additionally, it is important to compensate those who participate in the processes in some form.

This should include, but not be limited to the following processes:

  • Having the legislation brought back to the community after first reading, and after each step in the drafting process so that Saskatchewan rights holders (people with lived experience, including caregivers, who face barriers). For example, one participant remarked on a majority government drafting it’s own legislature:

                “It doesn’t really provide an opportunity for the disability community to see what the government has written and to review it… it was made public when it was in          the legislature… but it was a majority NDP government and they are not going to           go against a bill that they drafted.”

Currently, Saskatchewan has a majority government. When groups of people and organizations are homogenous, they tend to carry many of the same worldviews. This makes it harder to see outside the box and/or to challenge the status quo. In order to circumvent this for the Saskatchewan Accessibility Act, it is important that discussions in regards to the Act occur outside the legislature through public discussion and readings with people with lived experience and disability organizations.

  • Strategize engagement from the perspective of collaboration and not consultation. Rights holders in the forum component of this project described how meaningful collaboration is easy to recognize and that requirements for consultation do not necessitate active listening or thorough engagement with people on the part of the government.

  • Include varied and diverse opportunities and modalities for engagement and collaboration. Considering that Saskatchewan has a lot of small, rural communities and no real transportation system reaching these audiences may be difficult – but not any less important. Forum rights holders noted several strategies they appreciated: in person events, Zoom (or other online modalities).

  • Incorporate long and thorough periods of review and response with each draft and announcement so that the public has time to properly reflect on the proposed act and offer feedback.

  • Transparency was emphasized throughout the forums, specifically transparency for decisions made by the government, allocation of resources, access to services, and answers to questions brought forward by the public.

6.2. Effective Legislation Based On A Saskatchewan Understanding Of Disability Is Vital

It is imperative that the ACT applies a definition of ‘disability’ and ‘accessibility’ that strikes a balance between 1) being ideologically located in justice and 2) allowing the public to understand clearly what constitutes the standards and regulations outlined in the legislation. Participant comments guide this recommendation on the importance of a clear definition of ‘disability’ and/or ‘accessibility’. Each of these points address important considerations in regard to the inclusivity of the legislation and the clarity of its mandate. Further, rights holders from the forum discussion felt that there were benefits to both a narrow and specific definition and a broad and general definition. These points all address important considerations with regard to the inclusivity of the legislation and the clarity of its mandate. The Saskatchewan government could consider the following suggestions as they emerge from the data:

  • Approach the concept of disability from the perspective of inclusivity and universality, as both locate the issue in, not the barrier-experiencing individual, but rather their environment (society at large).

  • Locating accountability within the government structure and ensure public and private entities that must comply with the legislation once implemented. This will help ensure it is not the responsibility of individuals to make claims and complaints to see change in the built environment, which would back-up the complaints mechanism and blur the lines of enforcement.

  • The biggest concern to come from the forums was how the government would interpret either a general or specific definition. Forum rights holders were mostly concerned with the government using defining principles of disability to evade coverage and reach of legislation; there are concerns of what loopholes could result in the defining principles of disability, accessibility, and related terms.

6.3. Accept and Incorporate Intersectionality and an Indigenous Justice Framework into The Legislation and Approach Legislative Decisions From This Framework

People of different identities experience the world in a variety of ways. It is important to include varied perspectives and lived experiences in the Act. Some suggestions for inclusion are as follows:

  • Do not “co-opt terms used in the community”, disability justice is work done in the community and its “so reflective of cross-movement solidarity, cross-disability, intersectionality, questioning capitalism and how it shapes things though this is not the lens policy makers are using. They will note these buzzwords and co-opt them.”
  • Strongly advised against treating disability as a monolith and generalizing the disabled experienced, “I’ve spoken to people who went into a restaurant who were deaf and maybe the servers had taken the training, and they recognized ‘oh disabled person’, and then they brought a braille menu. ‘But what do I know about disability and what accommodation can I bring this person’ not what is individualized accommodation, what does cross disability solidarity look like?”
  • The Deaf community, for example, is a culture and ASL is a language. Deaf rights holders noted that there are pros and cons to cochlear implants and that trying to fix Deafness is the wrong approach. ASL for literacy and cultural sake needs to be a priority not an option.

6.4. Strict Compliance and Enforcement is Crucial for an Effective Legislation

The implementation of clear and concrete enforcement strategies is a recurring requested for accessibility legislation around the country and must be implemented immediately upon royal assent of the legislation. What follow are a few points on this issues and what it encompasses:

  • This process can be a process of encouragement and incentives rather than through relying on fines and penalties for compliance. There is definitely a case for business to be invested in accessibility standards because people who experience barriers have purchasing power and education is needed around this.
  • Beyond compliance strategies, participants emphasized the absolute need for a cultural shift. The pre-existing models such as the charity model and the medical model of disability have inherent attitudinal barriers that emphasize fixing disability instead of ensuring accessibility. In order to mitigate this, forum rights holders emphasized the need for training and active investment on eliminating attitudinal barriers.
  • Training and education for those who will work directly with the legislation in government, health, and business for example is also very important so everyone is aware of the legislation instead of relying on rights holders to continuously assert their rights. Many participants shared feelings of frustration that they are asked for information from entities (such as governing bodies, insurance, companies and stores, etc.) on how to respect the rights of people with disabilities as opposed to the entities having a certain degree of knowledge on accessibility to begin with.
  • There should be a separate entity that is responsible for finding and eliminating loopholes and enforcing the legislature, through an adaptive process.

6.5. Be Realistic About Deadlines: Provide Significant Time for Response and Review

Ensure that legislation is not interrupted by oversights and errors. If the Saskatchewan government engages in a transparent and realistic pace and process that includes, appropriate dialogue between the government and the disability community misunderstandings will be circumvented. A strategic plan that holds the government accountable to an efficient set of deadlines for drafting and implementation that incorporates longer break periods during which rights holders can review and comment on the legislation.

6.6. Avoid Repetition With Other Legislation, But Expand Scope of Inspiration

The Saskatchewan perspective is a priority for the drafting of the Saskatchewan Accessibility Act. This ensures that the legislation will have a provincially specific context that accounts for diverse experiences across race, gender, and geography (northern community and rural community needs, for example). Additionally, this legislation will have deep and long-lasting impacts so long as its done right, and that will include direct involvement with the people of Saskatchewan. That being said, participants emphasized that if there is no need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ then do not do it, following are some suggestions of how to approach:

  • When consulting other legislations consider not just what has been done ‘right’ but also what has not been well received by the community, this can provide invaluable information.
  • Forum participants emphasized consulting disability legislation and declarations outside of Canada as well. Perhaps having community organizations recommend review of specific documents of particular importance.
  • Generally positive reception to the ADA but not necessarily everywhere it is implemented.

7. Conclusion

Legislation for a Saskatchewan Accessibility Act will have a deep and long-lasting impact on Saskatchewan and members of the disability community, their caretakers, and disability organizations.  The insight of others who have gone through this process is important in order not to reinvent the wheel and to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings.  This report will aid and serve as a guide in that process. One of the most significant factors in designing and implementing a Saskatchewan Act is the inclusion of people with lived experience in the province every step of the way.

[1] Sleeva, Terri. 2021. “Disability Doesn’t Discriminate: But Programs and Policies Do”. Pp. 170-183 in Divided: Populism, Polarization, and Power In The New Saskatchewan, edited by J. Jaffe, P.W. Elliott, and C. Sellers. Winnipeg, MB: Fernwood Publishing.

[2] Non-governmental organizations

[3] NVivo is a qualitative coding software that allows the researcher to analyze text and or audio, take portions of these media, and assign it to “nodes” that classify it on a thematic basis. Referred to as codes, these categories of data can be interpretive or descriptive. Descriptive codes are meant to describe the data on a surface-level basis while interpretive codes allow the researcher(s) to classify data by abstracting themes that emerge ‘between-the-lines’, so to speak. Both interpretive codes and descriptive codes were used in the data analysis. Additionally, this project applied inductive reasoning, which allowed for an exploratory, emergent approach to the data.

[4] Government of Saskatchewan. 2021. Accessibility Legislation Engagement Report

[5] Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is “a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public” (ADA National Network, 2022)

[6] According to Inclusion Canada (2020), “Ableism is the belief that it is ‘normal’ to not have a disability and that ‘normal’ is preferred. [Ableism] is discrimination on the basis of disability.”

[7] Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005

[8] Ontario Disability Support Program

[9] DisAbled Women’s Network

[10] I.D. stands for “identity document” and would mean that, in this particular case, the service dog handler would need to present valid documentation proving the service dog’s qualifications.

[11] Disability Alliance BC (British Columbia)

[12] This is talking about compliance and in fact the ACA does have teeth of up
to 250,000.00 per violation per day. So there is “teeth” but the question is rather the
use of the “teeth” to address compliance.

[13] Government of Saskatchewan. 2021. Accessibility Legislation Engagement Report

[14] As of March 29, 2022 information pertaining to the CRPD can be found, online, at https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html.