Two-Thirds of Disabled Canadians Still Encounter Barriers to Travel

A new report by the Auditor General of Canada says nearly two-out-of-three (63 per cent of) disabled people in Canada still face barriers when it comes to travel.

The report, issued this week, says that VIA Rail, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, and the Canadian Transportation Agency have taken steps to improving transportation accessibility by identifying, reducing, and preventing some of the barriers faced by persons with disabilities. But, according to the Auditor General, more needs to be done.

According to Statistics Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians aged 15 and over have 1 or more disabilities that could limit their participation in everyday activities, including travel. Travel accessibility is about more than wheelchair ramps, the report points out. The Auditor General points to web site access, for example.

Here's what the Auditor General said:

"In 2019 and 2020, nearly two thirds of the 2.2 million persons with disabilities who travelled on planes, trains, and other federally regulated modes of transportation faced a barrier.

While VIA Rail and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority—as transportation service providers—consulted with persons with disabilities to gather feedback on projects such as accessibility plans and the design of VIA Rail’s new fleet, some ongoing issues that persons with disabilities regularly face remained.

For example, websites for planning and booking trips were not fully accessible despite this being one of the most frequently experienced barriers in transportation for persons with disabilities. We also found that staff and management did not always complete their accessibility training on time, which can affect the service persons with disabilities receive.

As the organization responsible for overseeing the accessibility regulations for the transportation industry, the Canadian Transportation Agency identified accessibility barriers through its inspections and worked with transportation service providers to remove some of the barriers. However, inspections looked at how the services were designed but did not test the actual service delivery. Also, just 4 full-time-equivalent employees were responsible for monitoring and enforcing more than 450 provisions for more than 130 transportation service providers. As a result, some of the barriers could remain, and new ones could be introduced.

VIA Rail’s, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s, and the Canadian Transportation Agency’s efforts to improve accessibility would be enhanced if the organizations went beyond resolving individual complaints and more deeply analyzed complaint data to better understand the day-to-day experiences of travellers with disabilities.

As well, the report notes that the Canadian Transportation Agency "has very limited authority to request complaint data from the transportation service providers," which prevents tracking of problems and therefore, the crafting of solutions for Canadian travellers with disabilities.

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