Ensuring Accessibility in Canada's Digital Economic StrategyPrepared by: Beverley Milligan of Mediac Inc., on behalf of the Minister of Industry's Advisory Committee on Assistive Devices for Persons with Disabilities Summary
The Minister of Industry's Advisory Committee on Assistive Devices for Persons with Disabilities, or ACAD, was created in May of 1990 as part of the Federal government-wide National Strategy on the Integration of Persons with Disabilities, to advise the Minister of what was then the Department of Communications. In 1993, ACAD became the Minister of Industry's Advisory Committee.
ACAD is the longest-standing Advisory Committee in the Canadian government. Its membership represents not only the core expertise for Canada regarding accessibility, for both the analog and digital eras, but also holds a legacy of accessible industry and policy framework development through a period where the digital age changed at a rapid pace and to an extra-ordinary degree. ACAD members have played an instrumental role by supporting Industry Canada in ensuring on-going accessibility for people with disabilities.
The key strategies with which ACAD has assisted the government are as follows:
- Encouraging innovation using digital technologies to improve accessibility
- Embracing a Digital Infrastructure by including accessibility in core design to reduce or eliminate retrofit
- Growing an accessible ICT industry
- Encouraging digital standards and best practices for Canada's accessible digital content
- Building digital skills through universal design, inclusion and education
- Promoting and building on Canada's pioneering leadership in standards development, policy directives and legislative initiatives to give Canadian business and Canadians firms an international digital advantage
These strategies for success parallel the scope of Canada's current consultation's Digital Economic Strategy themes. The need for an expert Advisory Committee on accessibility as an integral part of the Digital Economic Strategy for Canada is present within all six themes. Using a proven methodology for universal inclusion of all Canadians will not only expand markets and stimulate national economic growth and welfare in this country but will accord with and promote Canadian human rights law. We, therefore, recommend the use of ACAD as an existing, active and effective organization to serve as an Advisory Committee for the Digital Economic Strategy or to assist in developing and implementing a specific advisory committee.
1. Encouraging innovation using digital technologies as a way to improve accessibility
Regardless of the location of innovation itself, accessibility must be considered during the innovative process, since accessibility is a key component of any digital economic strategy. Participating in an untapped and growing digital alternatives market1 for products and services both within Canada and abroad will require a strategy that prioritizes accessibility as an annex to all foundational innovation. Implementing this strategy will strengthen opportunities for Canada's economic success for its ICT industries, while increasing the adoption of ICT by Canadian businesses and consumers across the nation.
Ensuring that Canadians' rights to accessibility are respected in the Digital Economic Strategy itself will bring this requirement through and into the nation's regulatory and policy regimes and will ensure that the concept of and the right to accessibility become part of Canada's economic, industrial and cultural designs and plans for digital products and services.
2. Embracing a digital infrastructure by including accessibility in core design to minimize retrofit.
A successful Digital Economic strategy will ensure access for all Canadians by providing incentives driven by the market, by competition and by regulation (in the context of regulated spectrum sectors). These incentives will stimulate economic development in all sectors of an ICT. Next generation networks, therefore, must consider accessibility as a key starting tool in the design of any product or service. ACAD is well placed to undertake a 'gap' analysis that would provide recommendations and opportunities to address inclusivity and accessibility issues.
In addressing the challenges of the still-emerging digital infrastructure, attention should be paid to accessible Internet and wireless architecture and operation because new individual user technologies for rural and urban communities have the potential to provide opportunities for expanding markets beyond mainstream society to an extent never before available - and at cost-effective speeds that make it possible to conduct business anywhere in Canada using an accessible infrastructure.
3. Growing an accessible ICT industry
Through its 1990 National Strategy for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities, Canada seeded an accessible ICT sector that has fought to continue to grow. Today, this sector participates in international standards development, sits on international funding committees, exports around the world and consults with international, national and regional clients on all things accessible. This unique and dynamic industry can be an example of how government priorities focused on small start-ups can be successful.
Further, ensuring investments in R&D through the development of effective innovation criteria that include accessibility will lead to the creation of new businesses, products and services. As Canada invests in new and emerging Canadian business, it will stimulate new economic growth that will attract the attention of international investment.
Traditional and blinkered assumptions about markets consisting of a homogenous and abled society are changing gradually to reflect our real society, which consists of a wide variety of individuals, whose overall common interest is the ability to interact and engage as individuals with the world around them. As individual engagement becomes the technological norm, Canada can lead the way by developing new curricula and training to support Canada as an international leader not just in ICT, but in accessible ICT.
Digital Economic Strategies around the world all point to people with disabilities and seniors as emerging ICT markets2. They acknowledge through funding and design strategies the
positive economic impact ICT has on individuals through ensuring the equitable participation by persons with disabilities i.e. employment and also ability to contribute as volunteers. The latter will become more significant as Canada's population ages.
At a minimum Canada, in its Digital Economic Strategy should meet the international bar for recognizing emerging ICT markets through an accessibility agenda. Canada will be an economic leader when we take a leadership role by recognizing future emerging markets and address them in its Digital Economic Strategy.
4. Encouraging digital standards and best practices for Canada's accessible digital content.
Canadians invented and implemented the successful business model now used around the world to support the creation of accessible content. In fact, ACAD members participated in this development.
The ability to digitize and distribute content using the national standards developed by Industry Canada's Communication Research Centre (CRC) and CRC's on-going inclusion of accessibility in core standard design protocols, coupled with accessibility as a regulatory priority, stimulated industry expansion of accessible Canadian content. Moreover, the ripple effect from the government accessibility priorities created a demand for talent, which in turn created curriculum, which led in turn to industry growth. The Canadian government, its agencies and its regulators have proven that considering accessibility as a key priority will stimulate industry growth. This example should be used to ensure accessibility is a cornerstone in Canada's Digital Economic Strategy framework discussion and in all infrastructure investment.
5. Building digital skills through universal design, inclusion and education
One of the challenges of a rapidly changing industry sector such as ICT is the requirement for new training standards. In this context, developing a training curriculum that includes accessibility issues is crucial, whether such curricula are private or public.
Funding should be directed to emerging industry training, contingent upon the adoption of new materials that address the ICT cornerstone priority framework, along with accessibility issues. Updating and designing training for digital skills must incorporate new training modules focused on accessibility into existing curricula for certificate and degree programs and into new digital models for engaging Canadians in skills development. Providing incentives to existing institutions to examine degree qualifications will ensure that the learning and training necessary to understanding accessibility occurs. Canada's Digital Economic Strategy must be based in part on training the trainers.
6. Promote and build-on Canada's pioneering leadership in standards development, policy directives and legislative initiatives to give them an international digital advantage.
Canadian businesses have found that compliance, accountability, transparency and decisions based on empirical research are the best ways to achieve success. In a policy and regulatory environment, ensuring the efforts by government to help Canadians and Canadian businesses stand out in the international digital village by enforcing its new digital agenda will be key.
Unfortunately, complaint based compliance enforcement is ineffective and unhelpful in digital industries where adding accessibility after the fact is cost prohibitive. Recalls and retrofit in any industry do not and will not make Canada an international leader in a digital economy. Therefore, compliance and regulatory enforcement measures must factor, at the outset, into a Digital Economic Strategy.
In an era where an opportunity exists for Canada to play a leadership role in attracting international investment and stimulating strong economic growth, diversity, measurable targets in competition and research will be vital in developing a Canadian digital strategy.
In its Digital Economic Strategy, the government of Canada should define 'universal' on behalf of all of its citizens by ensuring that accessibility is a cornerstone of all innovation funding and procurement. Compliance measurements for its digital policy agenda are necessary to ensure inclusion of small and large business, urban and rural inclusion and accessibility for Canadians with disabilities.
To avoid expensive and inefficient retrofit costs and to build on the Minister of Industry's use of accessibility expertise as a starting point, we recommend that ACAD be used to serve as an Advisory Committee for the Strategy or to assist in developing and implementing a specific advisory committee.
Canada, in its Digital Economic Strategy should meet the international bar for recognizing emerging ICT markets through an accessibility agenda. Canada will be an economic leader when they take a leadership role by recognizing future emerging markets and address them in its Digital Economic Strategy. ACAD supports innovation and believes the opportunity is there for Canada to be an economic leader in a digital world economy.July 2010
- The 2006 Census indicated 4.2 million Canadians have one or more disabilities. The UN estimates 500 million people with disabilities, worldwide. The US Census of 2000 showed 49.5 million Americans with disabilities.
With respect to buying power - A report commissioned by the Royal Bank of Canada estimated that people with disabilities are responsible for $25 billion in annual buying power in Canada and influence the spending decisions of an estimated 12 to 15 million other Canadians (McCallum, J. And D. Holt, 2000). People with disabilities and older adults are two demographic groups that are increasingly overlapping and will represent 20 to 25% of the recreational, retail, entertainment, workplace, and housing markets in the next 10 years and beyond (Statistics Canada, 2002).
- From 2008 to 2013, the EU, its member states and private industry have committed a staggering ONE BILLION EUROs to R&D on ICT for ageing and disabled people. That's money specifically targeted at these areas, not a pot that all other competing R&D interests in the EU will also be able to draw from. Meanwhile, we've been completely silent on even acknowledging that including accessibility for people with disabilities in the Digital Economy Strategy is pure common sense. The announcement noted that "This is the economic opportunity for European companies to develop technologies targeting older Europeans, who are also important consumers with a combined wealth of over €3000 billion."
Countries around the world are examining their digital policy within a global context. The necessity of governments to do this becomes clear upon examination of human engagement in the 21st century. Each year, the world citizenry engagement with a digital universe increases, shifting the rules of service rapidly and dramatically. So much so, that economies are saved and destroyed virally; creativity is exploding with the ability to self publish to the world and a printed magazine is viewed as a relic, un-green and clutter.
Britain, New Zealand, Japan and many others have recognized this rapidly changing shift in society and the world economy, laying out strategic plans to try to get a piece of the digital economic pie, in a time when the new is immediately old, content is devalued and insular policies are the fashion in fiscally indebted nations.
Nordicity Group Ltd. has recently published a National Digital Strategy discussion paper that addresses key issues that need to be considered when Canada begins to prepare its digital strategy for the future well being of Canada and its citizens. It discusses first and foremost need digital literacy and digital tools for an internationally competitive Canada. Among other areas the Nordicity publication points to for discussion are education, copyright, the need to revisit the broadcast and telecommunications acts, terms of engagement for access and content creation, etc., all unique to Canada's geographic and cultural identity.
As a complementary piece to Nordicity's very important publication, MEDIAC INC. and its partners will prepare a corresponding document around accessibility. Accessibility to all things digital in a world moving so fast, no one is able to keep up. However, where accessibility is concerned, it can be distilled to key considerations that when identified, considered and incorporated into a broader policy initiative, will ensure accessibility to all Canadian citizenry, thereby ensuring Canada brings its entire body of intelligence to the international digital pool.
MEDIAC will post its findings for comment and discussion with stakeholders in the digital accessibility arena, and is currently identifying partners to work with them on this very important initiative.