Accessible Canada Act in Application
The ESDC Innovation Lab was hired to translate the Accessible Canada Act into clear, actionable guidance and prototypes that exceeded the expectations of diverse persons with disabilities and met the realities of federally regulated industries.
Role - Design Lead & Project Manager
While working at the ESDC Lab, I created the end-to-end design strategy for the project, established and maintained relationship with the client and stakeholders, designed research activities, led analysis, and managed a team of designers and researchers.
Me + 1 designer, 2 researchers, 6 project partners, 5 facilitators.
Project findings were reported to two Deputy Ministers in Employment and Social Development Canada. We partnered with one other department, several regulatory agencies, and dozens of companies and organizations serving persons with disabilities across Canada.
Context & Approach
The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) is legislation intended to promote greater accessibility in industry. All federally regulated industries, from banks to airlines, must comply with it. It covers 7 domains, from Communications to Physical Space and is intended to serve employees and customers of federally regulated industries. Under the act, industries are asked to create annual accessibility plans, consult with persons with disabilities on these plans, and demonstrate progress. Legislation isn't specific, but regulatory guidance is there to make it tangible. The team developing guidance for the act hired the ESDC Lab to ensure guidance was co-created with users. At the time, our team, the ESDC Innovation Lab, was the Government of Canada’s largest Innovation Lab. Comprised of designers with experience in experimentation, service design and systems analysis, we focused on results-driven projects that improved the lives of Canadians. From November 2019 until March 2020, we worked directly with representatives from every federally regulated industry, accessibility experts, and users with diverse accessibility needs to co-create prototypes for accessibility plans, accessible workshops, and supports within industry for greater accessibility. We conducted a literary review, interviewed 22 specialists and users, and facilitated accessible design workshops in 3 cities across Canada.
Personas & Scenario Development
Survey Design & Implementation
I began research with a literary review, working with two other researchers. We examined best practices in accessibility and universal design, as well as in conducting research with persons with disabilities. This allowed us to streamline our questioning. We wondered:
How advanced are federally regulated industries in providing accessible experiences for employees and clients?
Are there benchmarks that can be provided to these industries?
What does going beyond compliance look like with regard to the act and what are the hopes/expectations of persons with disabilities?
To gain more clarity on these questions, I led ethnographic interviews with 22 subject matter experts and users, exploring their experiences broadly and digging deep into challenges. I spoke to accessibility leaders from Microsoft and Bell, as well as users from different regions of Canada. I used qualitative coding to distill the information into design specifications for a series of co-design workshops.
I led 3 sets of 2-day codesign workshops with persons with disabilities and executives from federally regulated industries in February and March of 2020. Workshops took place in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. I had a GIS map of created, and based workshop locations areas with the densest and most diverse areas of pertinent industry. C-Suite executives from across the country and persons with visual, auditory, cognitive, intellectual and/or motor impairments, as well as neuro-divergence, attended as participants.
Traditional co-design activities aren't accessible; we needed to adapt ours and test them extensively with persons with disabilities before the workshops. Our Montreal workshop was bilingual, with two sets of interpreters. Activities like scenario development and journey mapping became facilitated conversations with the support of interpreters and assistive technology. We doubled the time required for each exercise and practiced them extensively. We iterated on designs several times before the workshops and it paid off.
Participants told us these were the most inclusive events that they had been a part of, and were moved. It went a long way to build trust in government.
Recruiting participants challenging. My colleagues and I spent days on the phone trying to convince industry reps to take two days from work to attend sessions. We also recruited at a local conference. We found users with disabilities by looking for regional service providers and using a snowball sampling approach. Procuring services to support the workshops was sometimes challenging. In Vancouver, we spent weeks looking for support personnel with skills in AAC. In the end, we managed to reach our target participation of around 40 people per workshop.
My intention with these workshops was to provide as accessible and inclusive an experience as possible in order for capacity building to be part of the experience. Through these workshops we were not only learning what persons with disabilities expected from federally regulated industry; we were showing industry reps what persons with disability expected from them. It was very effective.
I also wrote a survey for those who couldn't attend the workshops. TD's Innovation Lab participated in our research through a focus group too.
As project lead, I designed the strategy and activities for the project as whole, and led the delivery of each project milestone. I also managed client relationships. This project involved a lot of risk and, especially in a government context, this never goes down easy. I spent late nights working with clients to explain the design process, protect its integrity, and strategize risk mitigation. In addition, I also managed relationships with other departments and regulatory agencies whose work overlapped with ours.
Graphic recording from our Toronto workshop
The output from our workshops, interviews and surveys was iterated into several paper prototypes, including:
Model accessibility plans
Frameworks for leading accessible workshops (including resources for budgeting and recruiting participants, and the plans for the workshops we developed)
A proposal for a repository of accessibility experts, individuals with lived experience, and organizations representing persons with disabilities
A requirements list for an online hub to support accessibility among federally regulated industry
A journey mapping tool to support federally regulated industry
These prototypes were given to our client, the Accessibility Secretariat at ESDC, to inform their regulatory guidance and future standards. The process of co-creation with users with disabilities ensured these prototypes went beyond compliance, to be more in line with the desires of users with accessibility needs. Participants praised the workshops for being the most accessible approaches they had experienced; as a result, the workshop design was also shared with federally regulated agencies as a prototype of an engagement format that they could use to be compliant with the new Act’s demand to engage persons with disabilities on all Accessibility planning.