Transcript: Workplace Accommodation Consultation Series: Accessible Procurement
[The animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background. Its pages turn, opening it like a book. A maple leaf appears in the middle of the book that also resembles a flag with curvy lines beneath. Text is beside it.]
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[It fades out, replaced by a Zoom video call. The video window for the moderator, Isabelle Racine, fills the screen. She is a white woman with shoulder-length straight blonde hair and a white blazer over a pale green shirt. Isabelle has a light blue Zoom background with black text reading, "National Managers' Community/Communauté nationale des gestionnaires. Connect, Engage, Collaborate/Rassembler, Mobiliser, Collaborer." A purple text box in the bottom left corner identifies her: "Isabelle Racine, National Managers' Community."]
Isabelle Racine [IR]: Good afternoon and welcome to the Canada School of Public Service. My name is Isabelle Racine and I am the Executive Director of the National Managers' Community, the NMC.
[A purple text box in the bottom left corner identifies her: "Isabelle Racine, National Managers' Community (NMC)."]
I will be the moderator for today's discussion. Welcome to the last, the third event of the series on workplace recommendation consultation. Today's event is entitled Accessible Procurement. I would like to begin by acknowledging that since I am located in Gatineau Quebec, the land on which I gather, or we gather is the traditional and unceded territory of the Anishinaabewaki, Mohawk and Omàmìwininìwag Algonquin people. I recognize that we all work in different places and therefore on a different traditional Indigenous territory. I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on this.
[Isabelle pauses for a moment.]
We have a great discussion planned for you, and I want you to have the best possible experience. Therefore, could you please log off your VPN to help you experience the event at the fullest level? If you are experiencing technical issues, it is recommended that you relaunch the webcast link provided.
Please note, you have been sent the PowerPoint that will be presented today. Please refer to the reminder email you received from the School, which happened to have the link to download the document. Additional resources are available on the GCpedia page of the Office of the Public Service Accessibility as currently posted on the screen.
[A purple banner pops up at the bottom of the screen: "GCPedia Office of Public Service Accessibility."]
Also throughout the event, you may submit your questions by clicking on the top icon that looks like a raised hand. Toward the end of the event, we have planned some time for questions and answers. I will now hand it over to Ms. Yazmine Laroche, Deputy Minister, Office of the Public Service Accessibility, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Over to you, Yazmine.
[Three more windows appear alongside Isabelle's. In one of them is Yazmine. She is an olive-skinned woman with short, wavy dark hair. She wears glasses and a black blouse with red flowers on it, and she uses a headset. Her background is a purple screen with seven icons of different colours in the top left, each displaying a different accessibility tool, such as a cane, a hearing aid, and a wheelchair. White text below the symbols reads, "#nothingwithoutus | #riensansnous." In the top right corner, white text reads, "The future is accessible/L'avenir est accessible." Yazmine smiles.]
Yazmine Laroche [YL]: Thank you so much, Isabelle, and hi, everybody. I'm so happy to be here.
[Yazmine's window fills the screen. A purple text box at the bottom left identifies her: "Yazmine Laroche, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat."]
This is a community that is so important in the work that we're trying to accomplish, and I'm just honoured to be able to be here to speak to you today. Before going any further, I would like to acknowledge that I am physically located right now in Ottawa on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe peoples.
Thank you for taking the time to participate in this event today. We're so happy to be presenting this in collaboration with the National Managers Community. And as Isabelle mentioned, this is our third and final session in the Workplace Accommodation Consultation series.
For those of you who might be joining for the first time, the reason we organized this series was really to give effect to some of the feedback we got from public service employees and managers through the 2019 Benchmarking Study that we did of workplace accommodations, as well as the NMC Managers' Learning Needs survey. So, what did we hear? We heard that managers wanted more information and more resources around workplace accommodation, around adaptive technologies, and, the subject of today's event, accessible procurement.
In the first session, we shared some very interesting findings from the Benchmarking Study. One of the things we learned was that when employees have access to timely and effective accommodations, it leads to greatly increased productivity, as well as improvements in mental health, in morale and confidence about career prospects. We also learned that more than half of accommodation requests involve at least one piece of adaptive technology.
In the second session, the Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computer Technology Program of Shared Services Canada, also known as the AAACT, provided information about the wide range of expertise and support that they can provide to you, the manager, and to your employees. The procurement process was also identified as a particular concern for managers who asked for better guidance and for access to experts and expert advice.
Today, in this final session, you will hear from the experts of the Accessible Procurement Resources Center of Public Services and Procurement Canada. PSPC will discuss not only the acquisition of adoptive products and services, but your role in accessible procurement, in ensuring the goods and services that are purchased are accessible by default.
And in March, the Comptroller General, Roch Huppé, and I, issued new guidance to all deputy heads and CFOs to encourage using acquisition cards to purchase low dollar—under $500—accommodation related items and services, as a means of equipping employees much faster so that they can work safely and to their full potential.
As you participate in today's event, I'd like you to think about what you as a manager do to support inclusion and a feeling of belonging and the things that you can do to break down barriers that are faced in many cases every day by people living with disabilities in our workplace.
I'm counting on you. You're leaders in our public service, and our goal is to make our public service the most accessible and inclusive in the world. I know you share that vision, and I would like to thank you for participating. I want to thank our partners at the National Managers' Community and the Canada School of Public Service for hosting this learning series, and PSPC for the wonderful resources and expertise that you're going to share today. I wish you all the best for today's event.
Thanks so much, everybody. Back to you, Isabelle.
[Isabelle's window fills the screen.]
IR: Thank you Yazmine for these words, I would now like to introduce Mr. Arun Thangaraj, Associate Deputy Minister of Transport Canada, and Deputy Minister Champion for the NMC. Over to you, Arun.
[The other windows appear. Arun is a man with brown skin and a shaved head. Arun wears a blue and white checkered shirt and a black suit jacket. He sits in an office, and behind him are two desktop computers, as well as a table and chairs.]
Arun Thangaraj [AT]: Thanks, Isabelle, and good afternoon, everyone.
[His window fills the screen. A purple text box in the bottom left corner identifies him: "Arun Thangaraj, Transport Canada and Deputy Minister Champion, National Managers' Community."]
And I, too, would like to begin my brief remarks by acknowledging the land on which I'm working from today in Ottawa, Ontario, is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. The Algonquin people have lived on this land since time immemorial, and we are very grateful to have the opportunity to be present here today. I'm very pleased to be joining the discussion today.
At the NMC, we want to play a role in ensuring that managers are provided and equipped with the right conditions for persons with disabilities to bring their talents to the forefront. We want to ensure that persons with disabilities can participate and contribute without barriers at making the public service better for all. The need for every one of us to strive to make our society more caring and inclusive continues to be critical, especially in light of the recent and horrific and devastating news coming out of Kamloops and of London, Ontario. We stand in solidarity against acts of violence like these.
Today's session is the third event of a three-event series on workplace accommodation. The first event, entitled Benchmarking Study of Workplace Accommodation Practices in the Federal Public Service, had over 800 participants. And the second event, entitled Acquisition of Information Technology-Related Adaptive Products and Services, had over 1500 participants. This demonstrates that the sessions were relevant and meaningful to managers, and I'm confident that today's session will be no different.
Later this summer we will make sure that all three events are available and fully accessible for those who may have missed them. We have also received many questions following these first two sessions and the plan is to post the Q's and A's on GC Connects later this summer.
Fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been highlighted by managers across the country as a topic we need to address as a community. The NMC has been extremely active on that front. For example, we have been involved in conversations with the Public Service Commission who, in partnership with the Human Resources Council. are launching a series of continuous intake inventories to support government-wide hiring of persons with disabilities into professional and scientific positions.
The first two inventories for candidates with disabilities were launched on March 31st, 2021, in the fields of data and policy for positions in the EC groups and digital technology for positions in the CS or computer systems groups. These inventories contain more than 150 candidates each and managers can expect candidates to be ready for referrals by mid to late summer.
Planning consultation is also underway in the fields of financial management, as well as sciences, so more to come on that. In addition to the GC jobs platform, these opportunities are featured on the PSC self-declare webpage. The PSC HRC working group is also working on a centralized database of candidacy information of previously assessed and qualified candidates who have self-declared in external staffing processes and who have not yet been hired into the federal public service.
The first data set is currently being validated and candidates are expected to be available by midsummer and on an ongoing basis. You can visit the PSC website to access tools, services, recruitment products, and student programs. All candidates are encouraged to self-declare and their HR advisors can help you navigate the various options available to you.
The NMC has also been hosting learning opportunities on diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. We have posted our first DNI fully accessible video. We have hosted an inclusive student hiring event with the Public Service Commission and the School of Public Service. We have shared an inclusion and diversity manager toolkit. We've had an event on courageous conversations, opening the dialogue with our teams on systemic racism in our workplace. We have hosted an event on managing linguistic insecurities and provided insight on how to create safe places at work. We have collected and shared feedback from regional NMC Committee and Manager Advisory Board members on diversity and inclusion with the Minister of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
The NMC was also on the assessment board for the Building Black Leaders program in the Atlantic. Over the next few months, we will continue our work with partners such as OPSA to meet the training needs of managers, make your voices heard and address the various components of the call to action. I wish you all a great event today. Thank you and over to you, Isabelle.
[The other speakers' windows reappear.]
IR: Thank you, Arun. I would now like to introduce Angus O'Leary from Public Service and Procurement Canada, who will be presenting the content for today. Angus is the DG Strategic policy Sector at PSPC. Over to you, Angus.
[Angus is a white man with glasses and a short black and white beard. He wears a white shirt and a suit jacket, and a tall black shelf towers in the corner behind him.]
Angus O'Leary [AOL]: Thank you all. It's a pleasure to be here with you today During National Public Service Week to talk about accessible procurement. First, a shout out to everyone for being public servants in this week and it's been a tremendous year, I think, for the public service in terms of the way we've been able to respond and pull together to respond to the COVID crisis across the country.
[Angus' window fills the screen, and a purple text box identifies him: "Angus O'Leary, Public Services and Procurement Canada."]
I will also add that I, too, am speaking from the unceded Algonquin Anish—Ah—Anishinaabe territory. Apologies for chewing up the name. And I'd also like to add that it is a distinct pleasure to be sharing the stage here today with Madame Laroche and Mr. Thangaraj.
As Isabelle mentioned, my name is Angus O'Leary. I'm the Acting Director General for Public Service and Procurement Canada's acquisitions program strategic policy sector. I'm still fairly new to the job. So I'm joined today by a couple of experts on my team who are Sandra Charles and Stefania Lappa. They will join me in answering questions if the questions get too difficult.
Madame Laroche referred in her opening remarks to the study that was completed. One of the links that makes it that accessible procurement is integral to creating a barrier-free and inclusive workplace and to ensuring that the goods and services we purchase are accessible to the broadest range of Canadians. This really is where PSPC comes in, as additional information was needed both on the acquisition of adaptive IT-related equipment and services, as well as a variety of other areas.
This is largely where PSPC comes in, but at the same time, I think you may be surprised to know that a lot of the purchases that need to be done are actually done within the dollar thresholds that are delegated to individual departments themselves. I'll just make a note here that I believe everybody has the deck that's in front of them. It's not being broadcast today, but I'll refer to the slides because I think you've all got a copy.
Moving down to slide three, which will take us back to the basics. PSPC, I think as you're all aware, procures goods and services on behalf of all federal departments and agencies. These procurements range from office supplies to military ships to security systems and everything in between. Inside these purchases, there are 10 mandatory commodities for which all federal departments must use PSPC's standing offers and supply arrangements.
These are key tools that we use for contracting and these mandatory standing office and supply arrangements include furniture, office supplies and devices, professional, administrative and management support services. All departments have the discretion to purchase goods and services themselves, up to certain limits that are established by the Treasury Board Contracting Policy.
Given various dollar thresholds, the acquisition of adaptive IT products can typically be purchased within the financial and procurement authorities that are actually delegated to departments themselves. In fact, the use and application of departmental acquisition cards, as Madame Laroche just referred to, is a convenient and much less burdensome method of procuring and paying for adaptive products themselves. So, we strongly encourage that.
This was recently echoed by both the Comptroller General and Madame Laroche, encouraging all departments to use acquisition cards to their best extent possible for workplace accommodation, so that employees receive adaptive goods and services in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner.
PSPC, however, does have a very important role to play in ensuring the goods and services that the government purchases are accessible by design and inclusive by default so that Canadians and public servants with disabilities can use them without adaptation. This is where we've really spent a lot of our attention. Most notably the most recent budget, budget '21, proposed funding for PSPC to incorporate accessibility considerations into federal procurement, ensuring goods and services are available by design.
This is really where accessible procurement comes in, which I'm going to turn to now. I'm now turning to slide four, for those of you who are following in the deck. As you may know, the Accessible Canada Act requires federal organizations to identify, remove and prevent barriers in seven key areas, of which procurement is one.
Since the inception of the Act itself, Treasury Board updated its contracting policy requiring departments to consider accessibility in procurement and to provide a justification when accessibility criteria are not included. This means that technical authorities are responsible for considering accessibility criteria in their procurements by taking into account the needs of end users interacting with the good or service and leveraging the accessibility standards where possible.
Once your department has taken these actions to meaningfully consider accessibility, and still decides that the accessibility criteria cannot be included in a procurement, they must still ensure that a justification is included on the procurement file itself. The reasons for justification may vary depending on the commodity. Goods such as armament, fuels, energy and bandwidth are a few examples where accessibility is not likely, at least at this point, to apply.
Turning to slide five, managers have an important role to play around accessible procurement because persons with disabilities are your coworkers and your clients. So we must all work to remove and prevent barriers and provide accessible programs and services to Canadians and create inclusive workspaces for public servants from the start rather than seeking accommodations after the fact.
Even those of us who did not report having a disability can expect to experience a temporary or mild disability at some point in our lives or through our careers. Various among us find ourselves on crutches, develop arthritis or experience an episodic disability. So when thinking about accessibility, we are potentially thinking about every Canadian at some point in their life experiencing something along these lines.
According to the Canadian Survey on Disability conducted by Statistics Canada, it's estimated that one in five Canadians, or approximately 6.2 million people aged 15 years and over, have reported having at least one disability. So the audience here is really very broad and the applicability thereby is very broad.
Turning to slide six, this is where PSPC comes in. The department in 2018 established the Accessible Procurement Resource Center. The APRC, as it's commonly known in the department, is mandated to support federal departments and agencies and integrating accessibility criteria into their procurement requirements for goods and services. Two, to ensure that the federal procurement process itself is accessible and fair, and three, to prevent and remove barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities in the procurement process.
These are three core areas for us where we have dedicated a fair amount of resources. The Accessible Procurement Resource Center itself was built through engagement with key stakeholders, including the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, which stressed the importance of understanding that no one individual organization or company can represent all disabilities. Disability itself is a widely diverse set of lived experiences. So while we consult broadly, we don't expect to be able to hear the needs of everyone.
Turning to slide seven, this is why last summer, the Accessible Procurement Resource Center conducted several stakeholder engagement activities with members of the disabled community across the country to hear about their lived experience when it comes to interacting with the goods and services that the federal government procures.
What the APRC heard from our own employees, from disability organizations, and Canadians with disabilities, is that the barriers they face when interacting with a good or a service may vary according to the disability type. For example, telecommunications, voice products, smart phones, to similar devices for everyday tasks may pose a minimal to no barriers for those with mobility challenges, but would very much impact those with seeing, hearing, or dexterity challenges. That just adds to the complexity of the work that's being done here.
One of the most significant challenges that the Accessible Procurement Resource Center Heard were barriers associated with accessing public-facing procurement documents. The procurement process is by definition a complex and burdensome process, made all the more so when there are potential disabilities involved.
Several participants as well as experts in the disability field who were interviewed indicated that tender documents were often inaccessible to those with seeing disabilities, for example. One of these experts shared an example where an employee was blind and his task was to look for requests for proposals that the company could apply to and start the process of the application.
The issue he ran into often was that he could not read the RFP because it was not compatible with the screen reader. So if the procurement process had been fully accessible from the beginning, there would be persons with disabilities involved at all points in the process itself. This is just one example.
In terms of what we're doing, as we turn to slide eight, I would like [audio cuts out] inception in 2018, the APRC has developed a suite of tools, including a series of videos to support procurement officers and client departments in considering accessibility in procurement. Well, we've made a fair amount of progress. There's still significant work required to advance the inclusion of accessibility though in federal procurement, and we fully realize that.
The Accessible Procurement Resource Center is working to develop and share commodity-specific tools and guidance for goods and services that have the highest impact on the lives of persons with disabilities, such as the areas of vehicles and telecommunication devices.
We are also working to ensure that standing offers and supply arrangements incorporate accessibility considerations as they come up for renewal. These things are often done for five-year periods, difficult to change while in process, but as they periodically renew we're able to incorporate those new considerations again. And the department has equally expanded to developing an accessible procurement process to pursue a higher level of participation for Canadians of all abilities.
An assessment of select procurement documents on our tendering site safe was recently undertaken with the aim of identifying barriers and improving the accessibility of information available to Canadians. We are aware that we must be able to monitor and measure changes around accessible procurement, and to do this, we've developed a series of key performance indicators to measure the inclusion of accessibility criteria in our procurements.
We'll also be measuring the extent to which procurement officers and technical authorities such as yourselves, and users such as our employees, understand their roles and responsibilities when it comes to accessible procurement. And finally, we are committed to increasing supplier diversity through inclusive procurement opportunities for traditionally underrepresented business communities, including businesses owned or led by persons with disabilities.
And for the first time in its history, PSPC has recently developed and begun implementing its very first social procurement policy. This is something of which we're very proud of. We have conducted as well a marketplace study of businesses owned or led by persons with disabilities in Canada, looking at industry, at commodity types, their geographic location, and their firm size.
The research is really a first of its kind in Canada. We plan to build on this evidence with a request for information of businesses owned or led by persons with disabilities. It's a sad state of affairs when you don't have that kind of basic data, but at least we have the tools that are available now to help us to collect this data and then that's going to help us really to overcome, I think, a lot of the challenges that we're finding.
Turning to slide nine, which identifies the current challenges, we note that while some markets are fairly mature in providing universally accessible goods and services—office furniture, for example—other commodities have little or no market readiness.
So things like food and beverage packaging. This is in large part due to the lack of accessibility standards and guidelines in many industries when it comes to product and service design or usage.
But the information is still useful for us as it identifies, again, what's missing and what's needed. As mentioned in the previous slide, we're also addressing challenges associated with identifying businesses owned or led by persons with disabilities. Our marketplace study is the first step in this direction to understanding where these vendors exist across Canada and in which industries they reside.
This challenge, incidentally, is one that we face across the spectrum of our efforts to diversify suppliers in the procurement process as we lack really baseline data for a lot of underrepresented groups in terms of the nature and type of businesses that they're in.
And finally, we recognize that we need to change our own culture to ensure adaptability and flexibility of the goods and services that we procure in order to support an accessible workplace and accessible programs and services. We also need to find ways to consistently assess the accessibility of goods and services that are procured.
For us, this means that we need to work closely with our clients, with the community, and with procurement specialists to ensure that we buy the right goods and services to meet the necessary requirements of everyone, including people with disabilities.
Turning to slide 10, the key takeaways we would like to leave you with today are that accessible procurement needs developing inclusive and accessible goods and services from the start, rather than seeking accommodation after the fact. It's easier to build things in from the beginning to try to change them once they are in place. We would also ask you to remember that when it comes to the acquisition of adaptive IT-related products, to use departmental acquisition cards where possible.
And finally, we need to engage with the community, including employee disability networks, to take into account the needs of end users and to ensure that the goods and services purchased by the federal government are accessible to the broadest range of Canadians. So with that, I would like to thank you for your time here today.
I'm happy to take questions and as I mentioned, I'm joined by Sandra Charles who's the Associate Director and Stefania Lappa, who is the Manager of the Accessible Procurement Resource Center. So they're going to join me in fielding any questions that you may have today. With that I'll turn back to, I guess it's Isabelle?
[Isabelle's window reappears beside Angus'.]
IR: Yes. Thank you, Angus. Thank you for the presentation, which highlighted well how to procure accessible products and services. As you mentioned, we'll open the floor to questions from participants. A reminder that you may send your questions by pressing the raise hand icon in the upper right corner of your screen.
As a first question I'd like to ask you, Angus, can you provide an example of the types of goods and services that I might need to procure as a manager that require an accessibility consideration?
AOL: Sure. Under Treasury Board Contracting Policy, client departments are required to consider accessibility in the purchase of all goods and services. It is in rare circumstance that after meaningful consideration, accessibility does not apply, in which case the justification itself must be on file.
[Angus' window fills the screen.]
So it will take, for example, professional services, if you have a contractor who will be providing a report or other form of document, that document should be in an accessible format and adhere to accessibility standards, namely the Harmonized European Standard. This means having larger print, sans serif font. Apologies if I didn't pronounce that correctly.
Good contrast levels and all texts for pictures and tables, among other factors. So if you're procuring professional services, you would include the requirement for accessible documentation in the statement of work itself. From our own experience, the Accessible Procurement Resource Center procures guidance and training products. These products need to be accessible and in the development of the statement of work for a micro-learning video, the APRC incorporated relevant accessibility standards. So in this case, the web content accessibility rules.
They also considered accessibility beyond the minimum standards by ensuring the video script was in plain language and requiring sign language in the video in addition to narration and closed captioning. Those are the types of examples of goods and services that require the accessibility consideration.
IR: Excellent. Thank you. I've got another question here. Where can I find existing accessibility standards that might apply to a specific product?
[Angus pauses for a moment.]
AOL: A list of existing standards... My team is rushing to my defence.
A list of existing standards for goods and services can we be found on the Accessibility Hub, a site, which is hosted by the Public Service Accessibility Office. The list describes the accessibility standards for goods and services and we're working with Accessibility Standards Canada to develop accessibility standards for procurement that will apply to the Federal government and the federally regulated entities.
IR: Excellent. Thank you. We've got another question from the audience. Can you explain how you partner with other government departments when buying information and communication technology?
AOL: Sure. What I may do here is maybe ask Stefania if she wants to jump up on screen and she can give me a hand.
[Stefania's video window appears. She is a white woman with dark shoulder-length hair, glasses, and a black blouse. She sits in front of a blank white wall.]
Stefania Lappa [SL]: Hi, Angus. Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. Absolutely, thank you for the question. When it comes to how we partner with other government departments, particularly in the acquisition of information and communication technology, this is normally where we work very closely with our colleagues at Shared Services Canada, in particular AAACT. Many of you may have been on their presentation that transpired last month through the same channel.
While we are the first point of contact when it comes to how to incorporate accessible goods and services in federal procurement—and we're by no means commodity experts, as Angus had mentioned, we procure everything from office furniture to fighter jets. ICT adaptive technology really is in the wheelhouse of Shared Services Canada.
And oftentimes if we do receive a question or if there's a procurement that does have an ICT related component, we will almost certainly work in close collaboration with our friends at Shared Services Canada, and particularly AAACT to get the right resources in the hands of those that need them.
IR: Excellent. Thank you, Stefania. Another question is, is there a contact where we can reach out to if we have questions about accessible procurement or if we need help while incorporating accessibility into our procurement?
[Angus pauses for a moment.]
AOL: Sure. Sorry. Am I on mute? No.
IR: No. You're good.
AOL: Sorry. Okay. Yes. So again, we would recommend that you reach out directly to the Accessible Procurement Resource Center. For those of you who have a copy of the presentation, you can find the contact information in annex A.
IR: Thank you. I'm just waiting to see if there's another question coming from... There's a few questions. So, it's a question of just getting the next one my way. Give me a second. Okay. Under the Treasury Board Contracting Policy, departments are responsible for considering accessibility and if deemed not applicable, a written justification is required on the procurement file. Can you explain what the justification entails and what kind of justification is deemed acceptable, and where can I find a template? Or do you have examples of good justifications?
AOL: You can find the template, again, on the Accessibility Hub that can be used to create or record a rationale. The rationale is considered acceptable if the department decides after a thorough accessibility review that accessibility criteria should not be incorporated into the project. There's three kinds of basic criteria, which is, one, that the criteria are not applicable. So, accessibility criteria do not apply to the targeted product. So if it's fuel, lubricant, bandwidth, et cetera. Or the criteria of unavailability, so there are no accessible goods and service available on the market. Or there's an "other" category which can be used for a mandatory justification. The justification form itself must be approved by the technical authority, like other procurement documents themselves. And again, you can find templates on the Accessibility Hub.
IR: Excellent. You mentioned, Angus, tenders not being accessible for everyone. For example, not being compatible with some screen readers for people with limited vision, how would we know that our tender document is compatible with their specific screen readers? Or how would we determine accommodation needs of interested suppliers?
AOL: That one, I think I'm going to turn back to Stefania. This is the great thing about this job, is when there's something I can't answer, I just turn to someone who's smarter and more capable.
[Stefania and Isabelle smile.]
SL: No worries. I'm here to support as best as I can. So, thank you very much for the question. In terms of tenders not being accessible for everyone, and this is certainly, as Angus had pointed out, ourselves trying to ensure that the procurement process itself is accessible to the broadest range of Canadians.
In most cases, while we do encourage anyone that is producing a document to really go by Treasury Board guidance when it comes to using European Harmonized Standards, and this was recommended, as I mentioned, by the Treasury Board, can certainly send the links and our friends at Shared Services Canada can provide more information on what those requirements look like. That would certainly help in ensuring that the document itself is meeting certain non-web content.
Unfortunately the minute we put any document or tender in a PDF format, and if we are not savvy in terms of how to make that PDF document accessible the way it should be, then we have certainly created a barrier for those that need to use a screen reader.
This is an area that we're very much aware of it, and we are making strides to correct this for sure PSPC-wide and then working more closely with Shared Services Canada and our colleagues at Treasury Board to implement a more streamlined and government-wide approach on when, we're actually posting tender documents, that they are accessible, including those that need adaptive related technologies.
[As Stefania speaks, a sound chimes occasionally in the background.]
We can certainly also point to the new electronic procurement solution or many of you might know that as what would be our old BuyandSell site or now called CanadaBuys where we are certainly ensuring that we have accessibility standards up-to-date to ensure that public facing information is accessible, including our tenders, whether they're going to be in either a PDF document, maybe in an alternative format.
Right now, when it comes to the last question, how would we determine accommodation needs of interested suppliers? I think it's a few things. In some cases, suppliers might actually contact the contracting authority responsible for the procurement.
For example, if you're the client and you're looking to procure either professional services or requests for proposal on a particular good, normally the contracting authority has their contact information at the end of the tender.
So normally they would receive any questions when it comes to the supplier vis-à-vis accessible procurement or anything else related to that request or proposal. And this is where we would understand the accommodation needs of interested suppliers for those specific procurements. Maybe they cannot access them in the format in which they're being delivered in, or maybe in terms of the actual deliverable itself when we ask for it to be accessible. That would be the first point of contact.
Another area that we're trying to understand the supply base is what Angus had already mentioned. We have done a marketplace analysis already to further understand the supplier landscape. What does the marketplace look like in terms of, A, suppliers who are owned or led by a person with a disability? So what are their challenges? What markets do they reside in?
We know that fewer than 1% of them actually do business with the Government of Canada. So in those cases, we're trying to understand that supply base, and separately also trying to understand what is the market readiness vis-à-vis various commodities in actually delivering an accessible good or service. Some markets are more ready and mature than others, for instance telecommunications certainly has areas that can obviously meet accessibility standards. The same thing when we're looking at training.
When we get into more of a gray area where, as Angus mentioned when its armaments or maybe invisible for the commodities like bandwidth, that market may not be as ready or the readily goods and services might not necessarily be accessible. And finally, I'd like to end in terms of suppliers and their accommodation needs specific to accessibility.
We are embarking on a request for information later on this year to better understand what suppliers face vis-à-vis the procurement process, particularly those that are owned or led by persons with disabilities.
[Stefania's video window disappears.]
IR: Excellent. Thank you, Stefania. As you heard the beeps coming in, Stefania is also monitoring the inbox of questions, so that tells me that there's quite a few. There's traffic on the line. As we wait for more of the incoming questions, I want to ask, are there any standard language or clauses around accessibility requirements that I need to use or integrate into my statement of work?
AOL: On that one, there's a guide to standard texts when incorporating accessibility criteria into various procurement related documents, again found on the Accessibility Hub. Clauses relating to accessibility requirements do not exist except in the area of information and communication technology.
So, in accordance with the TBS guideline on the usability of information technology by all, departments and organizations are encouraged to draw inspiration from the Harmonized European Standard when they acquire or develop internal or public IT solutions and equipment. That includes web content and all IT tools and equipment, and consider accessibility in the life cycle management of existing IT solutions and equipment, including web content.
In accordance with Harmonized European Standard, ministries, agencies and organizations are strongly encouraged to use the most recent version of the Web Content Accessibility rules, which is version 2.1 level AA, which might be a little too much detailed, but nonetheless.
IR: Thank you. Another question, are there any steps, processes that PSPC uses to ensure that software acquired meets the WCAG compliance at the specified level?
AOL: I'm sure there are, and I'll refer to Stefania.
[Angus and Isabelle chuckle.]
IR: They sound a bit technical. Lifeline, Stefania.
[Stefania and Isabelle laugh.]
SL: Yes. No, no problem at all. And I'm happy to answer that question. And maybe because this is an easy one in our part. It's really again our friends at Shared Service Canada, and more specifically AAACT. They were so great. This is really their bread and butter.
When it comes to ensuring that we're using software acquired that really meets the WCAG compliance at a specified level, I know Treasury Board does encourage AA, but we are always hearing that WCAG 2.1 AAA really is a Cadillac when it comes to compliance levels. So, they really are your first point of contact if you have their generic inbox. Otherwise, again, we work quite closely with them that if we get questions that come our way, that they are anything ICT related, we make sure that we get them to act quickly.
And I don't want to speak on their behalf, but I know there's a lot of work in that area. They also help those that actually want to write up their requirements when it comes to WCAG compliance. I believe they're working towards coming up with a list of conformance testers out there in the supply base to help with conformance testing. I'll stop there because that I'll start to paraphrase and might not articulate all the wonderful work they do. But certainly we work very closely with them to ensure that anything ICT related is addressed.
IR: Okay. Excellent, Stefania. And in the Q&A's, as we're working with them in the package for the series, we can also ask for their guidance in answering the question when we're going to post that later on this summer. So, what is my role as a contracting authority when technical authorities do not consider accessibility?
AOL: Again, that's a really good question. Your role really is to act as a challenge function and to ask the technical authorities if they've consulted with end users, if they've leveraged international accessibility standards and universal design principles to determine if accessibility criteria should be included in the procurement.
The scope of the role really includes ensuring that technical authorities provide a good justification if accessibility criteria are not appropriate, or if they're unable to obtain goods and services that comply with the accessibility requirements. So it's not a policing role per se, but really kind of a challenge function to make sure that at least the documentation is complete and that the role is understood.
IR: Excellent. So how might accessible procurement fit into a broader conversation about social and sustainable procurement? Is this something being considered or are the different areas kept separate?
AOL: Again, this is a really great question and very timely. Social procurement is currently a very high priority, I think, of various respective ministers, certainly the minister responsible for PSPC. Accessibility is one factor that we need to consider along with other social factors, including green procurement, social procurement itself.
And we're working closely with all of these teams right now to develop more commodity-specific guidelines such as scorecards and developing a community of practice and agents of change in these areas. While they're important and meaningful priorities, it is kind of a new area, new territory, so we're still finding our way, but at the same time these are all really important factors that I think are going to change the way that we do procurement going forward for quite a while.
IR: I have another question from our participants. Do you have any guides to share on accessible procurement? Where are you storing the information?
AOL: Yeah. We have the tools and resources available on the Accessibility Hub on GCpedia. If you go to the link at the end of the presentation that was shared with you today, that should take you right to that source.
[A purple banner at the bottom of the screen reads, "GCpedia Office of Public Service Accessibility."]
IR: Excellent. Is including accessibility standard in a tender requirements enough to satisfy meaningful consideration of accessibility in procurement?
AOL: It's always a good practice to examine accessibility at the forefront and not as an end thought. That's one of the key takeaways for the day itself. To that end, accessibility standards should be seen as the minimum and additional steps should be taken to ensure that accessibility has meaningfully been considered. What we mean really by meaningful consideration of accessibility is focusing on the end user and how they will interact with the goods and services and facilities you are procuring or providing.
We recognize there's no one-size-fits-all approach, so it's vital to identify barriers faced by your end user through consulting with your clients and coworkers. We will note that you can also consult with the network for people with disabilities within your department or disability advocacy groups, examine both universal design principles and accessibility standards to ensure that goods and services being procured are inclusive by design and accessible by default.
IR: Another question, how do you assess whether a justification to not consider accessibility is acceptable? What are some examples of exceptions or exemptions? The person who's asking the question works with police and there are justifications that cite fit for duty to not considering accessibility.
AOL: Okay, I think I'm going to refer back to Stefania on this one.
I'll ask her to join me back on screen.
[Stefania's window reappears.]
SL: Yes, no problem. And this is a great question. We do get this question often enough, especially when we are talking about either the RCMP or CAF members in policing when we're looking for a cite fit for duties. We should also caveat that when we are considering accessible procurement, of course, when it comes to anything that's related to national security and safety, I mean, there are always other things that will for sure trump, right? And these are our pillars that we're not by any means asking to change any accessibility considerations that might come in conflict with certain exemptions or when we're talking about national security. So, we do get this question often enough. Again, it depends on the commodities.
In some cases, if we're talking about maybe procuring something like guard services or policing services, I mean, I think it's still fair to say that we could have an accessibility requirement when it comes to ensuring that whoever is providing that service has... Again, in terms of who is the end user, and if they are able to maybe interact with persons with disabilities, whether they're detainees.
Maybe in some cases in the policing world, if we're consulting for professional services, again we always recommend that any final deliverable by way of a report is fully accessible to the broadest range of Canadians or end users who are using that report. I should also say that your end user of today is not necessarily your end user of tomorrow. So in some cases if it's administrative items that you maybe are procuring. Again, it's the same thing, the kind of questions about maybe it's filing cabinets and in most cases you want to make sure that maybe your end user today may not have any adaptation or challenges related with accessing that end product, but maybe your end user later on down the road might. So these might be some questions that maybe related to the goods and services you're procuring in the world of policing.
Uniforms, again, is another one that could foreseeably have some accessibility considerations. But again in terms of a justification, again, if this is something where you're procuring something like armaments, and you've done your homework, you've looked at accessibility standards, none seem to exist when it comes to the good or service that you're procuring.
You've spoken to your end-user, who is interacting with that good or service that you're procuring, even if it is in the world of policing. And if after all that comes to no avail, I would say you've meaningfully considered accessibility. And on that case, it would be fair to say that a justification form could be put on the procurement file.
And again, we're happy to have these one-on-one conversations. While we're not commodity experts in any and all commodities, we can certainly help you think through the decision-making process. Again, in some cases it's very clear in some commodities where accessibility would make a lot of sense.
In other cases, it's a little bit more gray and we know that it's a gray area, but you would be surprised more times than not that accessibility would in fact apply. And as Angus mentioned in his presentation, we are looking towards commodity-specific guidance in the future. And areas that might pertain to policing might actually be helpful, as well.
And I should also mention, in terms of how do you include it in your statement of work? It doesn't always have to be mandatory. If you know in some cases that your market and... Again, if it's tough or members of the RCMP or policing, where you've got certain national security requirements that obviously take priority, in these cases you may not necessarily want to make accessibility a mandatory if you know your suppliers won't be able to meet that criteria now.
But you could signal it, maybe in points rated depending on how you use the evaluation, where maybe some extra points are awarded if you're able to deliver that good or service in an accessible way. And really what this is aiming to do is signalling to the supply base to know that as a federal government, we are making it mandatory and they'll start to see it more often than not that accessibility will be a permanent and regular inclusion in our procurement criteria. I hope that answers that question.
IR: Yes. Thank you, Stefania. I'll give you a few seconds to look at incoming questions because you're doing two roles right now.
[Stefania's window disappears.]
But it's great to know that really, as a manager, if we have questions on any of our procurement needs and how do you consider accessibility that we can just write you an email and that you'll support us in helping us and guide us in our needs. That's great.
I'm just waiting to see if there's more questions. Yes. There's another one. Is PSPC working on making their RSP RFSO templates accessible? And if so, when should these be available to departments? So, the templates posted on your SAAC manual sites.
AOL: Again, good question. The Accessibility Procurement Resource Center is working toward making procurement documents, including tender documents, accessible. Recently we completed a study of procurement documents on the CanadaBuys website to assess accessibility. And we're still reviewing those findings. There's no timeline for templates specifically, but it is on our radar and we'll be sure to inform the procurement community when that becomes available.
IR: Excellent. How can we apply these criteria when acquiring complex scientific instruments?
AOL: Um, I'm going to call Stefania.
[Angus and Isabelle chuckle.]
IR: I was going to say, that sounds a bit—
AOL: Stefania, you may as well just stay on screen with me here.
[He chuckles, and Stefania's window reappears. She smiles.]
SL: No problem. And I do actually really like the question. Funny enough, we do get that one often enough, so I will try to answer it as best as I can. When it comes to accessibility in scientific equipment, again our first reflex should always be that accessibility should apply, as opposed to not applying. So always start with that mind frame and then start to work it through that way, and it does take practice.
It really also then depends on the type of specific equipment that you're procuring. Again, what is your commodity? What is the good or deliverable within that commodity that you're looking to purchase? There may be some questions that you might want to think of when it's specific to scientific equipment.
Again, does the good present a barrier to an end user who's interacting with the good? The end user possibly might have some visual barriers, maybe hearing, physical. And is there any alternative to actually remove those barriers? Maybe it's something as simple as an instruction manual. And we get this often where maybe we're procuring very specific equipment, whether it's scientific equipment, it could be engines for vessels. Of course, again, just like policing, we're not asking to necessarily change the particular good in those cases itself. But maybe they come with instruction manuals, and those can easily become accessible. Maybe the text is going to be made easier by using light font, high contrast. Maybe sometimes they might come in braille, for example.
So, in those cases you might want to look at even the instruction manuals, and then maybe again, that's something that's quite rated. If you're able to offer that in plain text or an alternative format, that would be one way that you're meeting accessibility criteria.
Another example, if you're looking at things like measuring devices, is the print large enough on the device? Is there high enough contrast markings on the actual label and print on the device itself? Is the labelling maybe available in braille if the need be? There are some resources online when it comes to specific criteria or specifications when it comes to scientific equipment.
Like I said, it's funny we do get this question often enough, so we actually already have some information available on it and we're most certainly happy to provide that if you email us at our generic email and you can provide additional information on this topic.
IR: Excellent. Thank you, Stefania. I don't know if you want to stay with us and let me know if there's more questions.
[Isabelle laughs, and Stefania smiles. She looks at a side screen for a moment, then nods.]
Yes. There's more questions. Okay. I'll just wait for the questions. Sorry, we're monitoring and so we're going through different mailboxes in order to manage the event. So that's why I don't have access to any incoming questions.
Okay. Here's this question. Some products used in the public service make the physical workplace inaccessible to employees. Recent examples include pandemic products like hand sanitizers and wipes that are scented. These are strong triggers for employees who have a medical intolerance to scented products, and can lead to serious illness. As the government of Canada aims to become a scent-free workplace, can avoidance of these products be considered as part of the procurement practices? That's a great question.
AOL: Yeah. It is a great question and scent-free products are a great example of what we refer to as being "accessible by default," so definitely something that should be considered at the initial stages of procurement. I do, however, know that at the beginning of the pandemic, finding these products, period, was an almost impossibility, let alone finding scent-free.
[Stefania's window disappears.]
But nonetheless, this is definitely a key area to build in by design from the beginning of the process to ensure that those requirements are taken into consideration.
IR: One other question is, will there be more robust and practical training offered to contracting and technical authorities on accessible procurement?
AOL: Yes. The APRC and PSPC is currently working on additional micro-learning videos. There's two videos already created that are posted up on the Accessibility Hub and the APRC is also working on training PSPC employees to be made available on Alto, and in the future we're looking at more robust training through the Canada School itself. But we do agree that there is a need for better training and more improved and accessible training across government, for sure.
IR: Excellent. Thank you. I'm waiting to see, I think that might be towards the end of the questions we've received. I'll give it just a few seconds to see if there's anything else that's coming in.
[She pauses for a moment.]
Okay. I don't think we have more questions. What I'll do is I'll thank you, Angus, and I want to say that the Federal Public Service is stronger and most effective when we do reflect the diversity of Canada's population we serve.
I did note many great takeaways for today's session, namely the use of acquisition card for lower value accessible goods, and the role of managers in ensuring accessibility is taken into account in all our procurement needs. It is our hope that the information and tools shared with you today will be helpful as we continue to make progress to increase representation of persons with disability.
[Isabelle's window fills the screen.]
On behalf of the School, the NMC, I'd like to thank, Yazmine, Arun, Angus, and Stefania, recognizing that one of the strengths of Canada is our diversity. And on behalf of the NMC and the school, I'd like to thank you for being part of today's discussion from coast to coast. I hope that you have enjoyed today's event and that it will leave you feeling inspired.
As mentioned earlier, the presentations from the three events in the series are available on the accommodations resource page of the Accessibility Hub on GCpedia. There you'll also find the SSC process and guide to the acquisition of IT related adaptive technology, the joint message that was mentioned by Yazmine from the Comptroller General of Canada, Roch Huppé, and herself to encourage the use of acquisition cards for accommodations, the GC workplace accessibility passport, and a wealth of other information related to the five goals of the accessibility strategy for the public service.
Your feedback is very important, so I encourage you to complete the electronic evaluation that you will receive in the next few days. This week, the NMC is recognizing events for National Public Service Week with various partners, and we encourage you to make your voices heard and celebrate your successes and recognize those of your teams and your colleagues.
[A website URL pops up on the bottom of the screen: www.managers-gestionnaires.gc.ca.]
I greatly encouraged you to follow our Twitter handle, @NMC_CNG, our Facebook, LinkedIn, and GCconnex pages, as well as our newsletter for all updates and registration details. For more information, you can also visit our website, which will be posted, or is being posted on the screen right now. The School offers many events, and I encourage you to check the CSPS website regularly for updates and to search for other learning opportunities.
[A URL appears in the bottom left corner of the screen: canada.ca/school-ecole.]
Once again, have a great afternoon. Thank you.
[Isabelle smiles, and the Zoom call fades out. The animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background. Its pages turn, closing it like a book. A maple leaf appears in the middle of the book that also resembles a flag with curvy lines beneath. The government of Canada Wordmark appears: the word "Canada" with a small Canadian flag waving over the final "a." The screen fades to black.]