Please note, the Accessibility Toolkit was last updated in 2014. Recommendations included in the Toolkit may not reflect current standards or best practices.

Legal framework: Canada and United States


This section recognizes that Ontario universities operate within a global post-secondaryeducation setting reliant on international networks and information flows. It looks at the legal framework as it pertains to accessibility and human rights in Canada and the United States. This may be of particular use for libraries working with American publishers, and vendors, and those in need of understanding the context of the international research community.

Canadian legal framework

In addition to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) and theCanadian Copyright Act, there are a number of pieces of federal legislation to keep in mind when thinking about accessibility in your library.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees “... right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” This provides a philosophical grounding for accessibility services.

For more information, please visit the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms page.

Broadcasting and Telecom Regulatory Policy 2009-430

The Broadcasting and Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2009-430: Accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting services is a general policy wherein the CanadianRadio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recommends detailed improvements and compliance by broadcasters in providing closed captioning (sections72-101) and video description (sections 102-129). Although not obligatory for libraries, the policy is a possible source of guidelines for standards in these areas.

For more information, refer to the CRTC’s Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2012-362:Quality standards for English-language closed captioning.

Access to Information Act

The Access to Information Act provides “right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution.” It explicitly states the principle of making information available to the public (Section 2).

The Act also allows for persons with sensory disabilities to request and obtain records in accessible formats, either immediately or within a “reasonable” time frame (Section 12.3).

Ontario legal framework

In addition to the AODA, there are a few more pieces of Ontario legislation to keep in mind when thinking about accessibility in your library.

Ontario Human Rights Code

The Ontario Human Rights Code provides a philosophical and legal baseline for all library activities, as it prohibits discrimination against people on various grounds, including disability. This protection extends to many social areas, including employment and services.

The Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulations (IASR) explicitly states in Section 1(2) that:

“the requirements in the standards set out in this Regulation are not a replacement or a substitution for the requirements established under the Human Rights Code nor do the standards limit any obligations owed to persons with disabilities under any other legislation.”

See the Ontario Human Rights Commission website for a guide to the Code and links to more resources.

Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FIPPA)

Like the federal Access to Information Act, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA)’s purpose is to ensure a right of access to information held by institutions. Since this Act applies to Ontario universities, your university or library probably already has FIPPA guidelines in place that you can consult if needed.

FIPPA does not mention accessible formats but it does require “the head of an institution to assist persons with disabilities in making requests for access…” (Section 60(1)(b.1)).

United States legal framework

What US accessibility laws do I need to be aware of?

The major piece of American accessibility legislation is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While American law does not apply to Canadian institutions (unless there are university campuses across the border) this overview may provide valuable knowledge to Ontario employees who seek to build working relations with American publishers and suppliers.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Last updated in 2005, the ADA has and will likely continue to require updates to maintain the Congressional intent of the law as the courts interpret it. It states “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any public entity.”

While the ADA does have some remarkably precise specifications, much of the work done by the statute is in the concept of “reasonable accommodation.” There are three categories of reasonable accommodation:

  1. “modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
  2. modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; or
  3. modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity's employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.”

So, for example, an employer would be required to provide large font or otherwise accessible materials for an employee with a print disability. Although these categories deal with employment, the principles in them can be generally applied.

Additionally, the ADA requires qualified businesses to provide the capacity to effectively communicate with qualified individuals. However, this can take many forms.

How do ADA and AODA compare?

While the government can and does seek to enforce the ADA, the law also creates “private rights of action” which allow citizens to seek redress against entities not in compliance with the ADA. The employers and service providers are supposed to take proactive measures to comply with the ADA, given the reasonableness standard. This means that AODA is more proactive while ADA is retroactive. AODA sets a significant number of standards with which the institutions are asked to comply while ADA is largely reliant on user feedback/complaints in order to implement accessibility changes.

What kind of examples have the libraries in the United States developed to make electronic resources accessible?

Planning for access to electronic resources as they are being developed can be easier and therefore less expensive than developing accommodation strategies once a person with a disability needs access. When design decisions are made to ensure that electronic resources are accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, and other characteristics, the process is called “universal design.” Considered user characteristics include, but are not limited to, age, race/ethnicity, size, gender, native language, and level of ability to move, hear, or see. Universal design is defined by the Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” At CUD, architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental design researchers established a set of principles that can be used to design environments, products, and information resources.