Region: Americas

Disability Definition

A disability is a physical or mental condition that is permanent, ongoing, episodic or of some persistence, and is a substantial or significant limit on an individual’s ability to carry out some of life’s important functions or activities, such as employment. Disabilities include visible disabilities, such as the need for a wheelchair, and invisible disabilities, such as cognitive, behavioural or learning disabilities, and mental health issues.


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a part of the Canadian Constitution, which is a set of laws containing the basic rules about how our country operates. Section 15 of the Charter makes it clear that every individual in Canada – regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability – is to be considered equal. Programs to improve employment opportunities for people with mental or physical disabilities may be protected under subsection 15(2). The Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 protects Canadians from discrimination when they are employed by or receive services from:

  • Federal government
  • First Nations governments
  • Private companies that are regulated by the federal government like banks, trucking companies, broadcasters and telecommunications companies

Employment Equity Act (S.C. 1995, c. 44) The purpose of this Act is to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences. Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 Proposed Canadians With Disabilities Act (CDA) would be essentially the same as the ADA.

Employer Legal Requirements

Every employer shall implement employment equity by

  • identifying and eliminating employment barriers against persons in designated groups that result from the employer’s employment systems, policies and practices that are not authorized by law; and
  • instituting such positive policies and practices and making such reasonable accommodations as will ensure that persons in designated groups achieve a degree of representation in each occupational group in the employer’s workforce that reflects their representation in
  • the Canadian workforce, or
  • those segments of the Canadian workforce that are identifiable by qualification, eligibility or geography and from which the employer may reasonably be expected to draw employees.
  • For the purpose of implementing employment equity, every employer shall
    • collect information and conduct an analysis of the employer’s workforce, in accordance with the regulations, in order to determine the degree of the underrepresentation of persons in designated groups in each occupational group in that workforce; and
    • conduct a review of the employer’s employment systems, policies and practices, in accordance with the regulations, in order to identify employment barriers against persons in designated groups that result from those systems, policies and practices.

Only those employees who identify themselves to an employer, or agree to be identified by an employer, as Aboriginal peoples, members of visible minorities or persons with disabilities are to be counted as members of those designated groups for the purposes of implementing employment equity. Information collected by an employer is confidential and shall be used only for the purpose of implementing the employer’s obligations under this Act. The employer shall prepare an employment equity plan that includes policies and practices, measures, timetable, underpresentation, and long-term goals for improvement. “Can disabillity status be asked during the Application stage: • no, aside from responding to a request for accommodation in the hiring process • if a person chooses to talk about his/her disability at an interview, Company can ask about their accommodation needs and ability to perform the essential duties of the job with accommodation. Any questions beyond this scope should be made with great caution. After offer has been made and After employment commences: • yes, although best practice would be to make completion of the data field optional. • Company should communicate why the information is being collected and how the information will be used. In Canada, organizations can choose to develop “special programs” to help historically disadvantaged groups (e.g. those who identify as Aboriginal) improve their employment opportunities. Special programs that target certain candidates based on a diversity characteristic, and would otherwise infringe the Human Rights Code, are permissible if the program is intended to help people who experience discrimination, economic hardship or disadvantage to achieve equality. In Ontario, Company does not need permission to develop a special program. This means that special programs can be put in place without delay. In BC, Company must first apply for approval from the Human Rights Tribunal”

Accessibility Requirements

The Federal Accessibility Act or Accessible Canada Act. This isn’t its official title (yet). The federal government has already released a report on its consultation process, in which people with disabilities, advocates and organizations gave input on the most important goals of this legislation. One priority that became clear, and should feature prominently in the new legislation, is the need for technology to be accessible in order for Canadians with disabilities to participate equally in society. According to the report, “Many agreed that the Government of Canada should use standards for information and communication technologies for all digital content, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” WCAG 2.0, a broadly accepted set of accessibility guidelines for digital technology. Access the full bill here:

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The AODA became law in 2005 in Ontario. As such, it’s the oldest legislation of this kind in Canada. The AODA makes it compulsory for the public and private sectors to follow established sets of accessibility standards when dealing with the public. The standards fall into five categories: information and communications; customer service; transportation; employment; and design of public spaces. Under the Information and Communications Standards, Section 14, “Accessible Websites and Web Content,” outlines requirements to ensure that web content follows the technical requirements of WCAG 2.0, and that people with disabilities do not face barriers online. The Accessibility for Manitobans Act. Manitoba’s provincial accessibility legislation was passed in 2013. Its structure is similar to Ontario’s law: It currently focuses on five mandatory accessibility standards that apply to both the public and private sectors. And, like the AODA, it includes an Accessible Information and Communications Standard to ensure accessibility of information, including online The Nova Scotia Accessibility Act. Just last spring, the province of Nova Scotia put its own law into place. This, too, will lead to the development of five accessibility standards, including one for information and communication. In defining “barrier,” the act specifically mentions potential barriers in technology4. Along with the new legislation, the provincial government announced a grant program to help small businesses remove disability barriers. Other provinces are expected to follow suit with their own accessibility initiatives. In British Columbia, for example, the government is taking steps towards its proclaimed vision of “Accessibility 2024,” with the goal of “making B.C. the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024” – including a fully accessible Internet. The government itself has already committed to ensuring that its online content and apps adhere to WCAG 2.0’s technical requirements. In other provinces and territories, including Saskatchewan and Yukon, disability advocates are putting pressure on their own governments to pass accessibility legislation.

Cultural Norms

Variation by provincial region, including Quebec and Aborignial populations, bring a variety of cultural differences to Canada. Ability may be overlooked or discounted, expectations lowered, and achievements disqualified. Knowing this, individuals whose disability can be hidden, like partial hearing loss or mental illness, have often gone to great lengths to be seen as “normal.” Challenges passing comprehensive civil rights legislation although public efforts to do so.


13.7% or 3.8 million adult Canadians of the country’s total population have disabilities One in seven Canadians over the age of 15 has a disability of some kind, according to Statistics Canada Each individual Canadian province or territory has a human rights act. These laws are important, because they make it illegal for discrimination against people with disabilities to occur in a host of areas such as the provision of goods and services, employment and housing.

Supplier Diversity

Certification is in place for women-owned business enterprises (WeConnect).

Talent Sourcing Resources

Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) – The CCRW is a Canada-wide network of organizations and individuals. They offer information, education, training and Internet- based services which support the employment of persons with disabilities. WORKink – WORKink promotes and supports the employment of persons with disabilities, providing labour market and career information, access to national, , and territorial resources, and online experts’ assistance. JAS – The Job Accommodation Service (JAS) provides Canadians with information and support regarding job accommodations to advance the employment of people with disabilities. JAS provides a toll-free number: 1-800-664-0925 or 1-866-543-7400 ext. 1. Workplace Essential Skills Partnership – Using pre-employment training to prepare persons with disabilities for positions with an employer partner. This service is only available in the Greater Toronto Area. Partners for Workplace Inclusion Program (PWIP) – Workplace assessment, informative presentations, accessibility audits and awareness training. Lime Connect prepares and connects high potential university students and professionals – including veterans – with disabilities for scholarships, internships, The Lime Connect Fellowship Program, and full time careers with corporate partners. Corporate Receptions in Canada:

Additional Resources

Barrier Free Canada – comprehensive, non-partisan website.


Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities