"Leaving No One Behind" While Celebrating National AccessAbility Week 2021


National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) is a time to celebrate the valuable contributions of Canadians with disabilities and to recognize the efforts of those who work to actively remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion, and I’m thrilled with the level of engagement and enthusiasm I witnessed across the GC for NAAW this year.

Panel on Working Together to Build an Inclusive Canada for Persons with Disabilities
Panel: “Working Together to Build an Inclusive Canada for Persons with Disabilities” with President Taki Sarantakis, DM Graham Flack, DM Gina Wilson and DM Guylaine Roy held on June 1, 2021.
Panel on Removing Barriers to Accessibility Through an Intersections Lens and Allyship
Panel: “Removing Barriers to Accessibility Through an Intersectional Lens and Allyship” with Trudy Samuel, John Ward, Syrus Marcus Ware and Rosalie McGrath held on June 1, 2021.

I began the week with an extra kick to my roll, because not only did the Government of Canada (GC) celebrate the 2nd anniversary of Nothing Without Us: An Accessibility Strategy for the Federal Public Service, but my office, the Office of Public Service Accessibility (OPSA) in collaboration with the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) hosted a virtual event on June 1, with over 3,000 participants, to mark the special week! Broken down into six sessions and four panels, the distinguished speakers and guests discussed the importance of intersectional solutions to accessibility, the fact that disability does not discriminate, and that increased accessibility not only improves quality of life for persons with disabilities but for all employees. I was captivated by the raw, heartfelt, and candid discussions among public servants about how their workplace and professional experiences interact with their disabilities and I was delighted to learn about the progress that the public service continues to make on accessibility and inclusion to become both a service provider and employer of choice.

Discussion on How to be an Ally to the Disability Community with Maayan Ziv
Discussion: “How to be an Ally to the Disability Community?” with Maayan Ziv, Founder and CEO of AccessNow held on June 1, 2021.

NAAW is one of the most spirited and busy weeks of the public service’s calendar year, and although all the events hosted by departments and agencies to celebrate the week were held virtually, this year was no exception. The week started with the “Making Canada Accessible” Annual Meeting, hosted by Accessibility Standards Canada (ASC), in which we discussed accessible service delivery, emerging accessibility barriers, as well as barriers in emergency situations, including the ongoing pandemic. The most important takeaway from the meeting was ASC’s renewed commitment to making Canada accessible by default and inclusive by design. Shared Services Canada held an equally enthralling event on June 2, during which accessibility and technology industry leaders, Samsung, Microsoft and Apple, who provide most of the accessible workplace tools for GC employees, discussed employee networks, allyship and the importance of establishing an accessibility mindset.

Ricardo Wagner discusses the importance of creating a culture of inclusion
Ricardo Wagner, Microsoft Canada’s Accessibility Lead, discusses the importance of creating a culture of inclusion at Shared Services Canada’s event with Microsoft, Apple and Samsung on June 2, 2021.

Another notable event hosted by OPSA was the Special Meeting of the Persons with Disabilities Champions and Chairs Committee (PWDCCC), where the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRC) discussed the Public Service Employment Survey (PSES) results. Key findings presented some hopeful findings about an increase in the representation of employees with disabilities and a decrease in the rates of harassment and discrimination. Another presentation on the recent amendment to the Directive on Official Languages for People Management will offer more flexibility and career mobility to senior executives (EX02-EX05) who have received an exclusion for a medical reason confirming a long term or recurring physical, mental or learning impairment that prevents them from attaining, through language training, including with accommodation, the required second OL proficiency.

The week concluded with two wonderful events: one hosted by Statistics Canada and the National Research Council featuring a candid discussion with members of the Canadian Accessibility Network; the other was a panel discussion, hosted by Innovation, Science and Economic Development around new assistive and adaptive devices and technology solutions for people living with disabilities.

DM Yazmine Laroche opens up the GC celebratory event for NAAW
DM Yazmine Laroche opens up the GC’s celebratory event for NAAW on June 1, 2021.

As the NAAW 2021 chapter closes, I am humbled by the dedication of public servants who are making our communities and workplaces representative of ALL Canadians. Witnessing your continued resilience and innovative spirit every day makes me very proud to serve in the public service every day. I must say, I am excited by the prospect  of what the GC will accomplish in the coming year as we continue our journey to becoming the most inclusive and accessible public service in the world.

As for this year, the public service has one more stop on our accessibility and disability inclusion journey to celebrate, which is International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021 (IDPD 2021) on December 3. In the meantime, don’t forget to mark your calendars and stock up on your purple attire to showcase your continued support for persons with disabilities across Canada and around the world!

I’m tempted to continue to revel in the success of NAAW2021, but I know that more work needs to be done. And our job is to make sure that it gets done!

Until next time, stay safe, and take a few moments to celebrate our tremendous year, as not even COVID-19 could slow our momentum!

To keep up with accessibility and disability inclusion news in the public service, visit OPSA’s Accessibility Hub (GC Network Connection Required). You can also follow the progress of accessibility in the public service by using the social media hashtag #NothingWithoutUs or by following DM Yazmine Laroche on Twitter.

Yazmine Laroche

Yazmine Laroche
Deputy Minister of Public Service Accessibility and DM Champion for employees with disabilities

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