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Accessibility for people with disabilities

Accessibility for people with disabilities is a basic human right, not a privilege

Cristina Lavecchia, Editor, HRinfodesk, published by First Reference, September 2016

On April 25, HRinfodesk conducted a poll asking readers whether they think accessibility for people with disabilities is a basic human right or a privilege. The results were telling: 93 percent of respondents believed that accessibility was a basic human right. This leaves 7 percent of respondents not being very familiar with not only human rights legislation in their jurisdiction, but also accessibility legislation, federal employment equity law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, among others.

For instance, in Ontario, under the Human Rights Code (Code) everyone has the right to be free from discrimination because of disability or perceived disability in the social areas of employment, services, goods, facilities, housing, contracts and membership in trade and vocational associations. That is, persons with disabilities have the right to equal treatment, which includes the right to accessible workplaces, public transit, health services, restaurants, shops and housing. All provincial, territorial and federal human rights legislation includes disability as prohibited ground of discrimination that has the same effect as in Ontario.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) also places a legal duty on employers to make their facilities accessible. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), “even after being designed with inclusion in mind, there is still a legal duty to accommodate people with disabilities to the point of undue hardship”. The Code stipulates three considerations in assessing whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship: cost; outside sources of funding (if any); and health and safety requirements (if any).

The AODA applies to all levels of government, non-profits and private sector businesses across Ontario, who have one or more employees. Compliance with the AODA is in addition to the obligations employers have under the Code and other employment related laws. “Requirements under the Code should not be confused with the AODA. The Code deals with individual discrimination while the AODA is about transforming accessibility for persons with disabilities in the whole province.” The AODA requires all businesses and organizations in the public and private sectors (with some exceptions) to meet five accessibility standards. Such standards have been created through regulations and will come into force in stages on or before January 1, 2025. (The Human Resources Advisor) One of the standards includes the “Accessibility Standard for Employment”, which requires employers to make their employment practices accessible to meet the needs of employees and job applicants with disabilities. For guidance on how to meet your obligations as an employer under the employment standard, consult the discussion AODA Employment Standards in The Human Resources Advisor. Manitoba recently implemented the Accessible Manitoba Act (AMA) that has the function as the AODA. The Employment Standards under the AMA is not yet in force, but the government is working on it.

The OHRC has affirmed the sentiment that, in many situations, people ranging from hotel managers to police officers are not aware of their duty to either follow or enforce the law. This outlook came after the OHRC had seen several media reports of people with service animals facing barriers in restaurants, hotels and other amenities.

Ontario's Code and Blind Persons' Rights Act make clear the duty to accommodate people who use service animals. Employers should make the following considerations, among others, when it comes to such legislations:

  • A service animal is not a pet.
  • Hotels, restaurants, taxis and other service providers must accommodate people with disabilities who use service dogs.
  • Service providers and their staff have a legal obligation to be aware of their duty to accommodate.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to the topic of accessibility for people with disabilities. It is very important for not only the general public, but also employers, to be aware of the issue and the laws governing it. Being knowledgeable on the issue is not only the right thing to do, but also the responsible thing to do when it comes to running an organization. For instance, in Ontario, under the AODA monetary penalties are set to enforce compliance with accessibility standards. A corporation that is found guilty can be fined up to $100,000 for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues to occur. Every director or officer of a corporation who has a fiduciary duty and fails to carry out that duty, is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine of not more than $50,000 for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues to occur.

For more information on human rights, accessibility and employment equity law in relation to the topic of accessibility for people with disabilities in your province, consult the chapter Workplace Accommodation in The Human Resources Advisor. Request your free 30-day trial here!

In addition, one of our bloggers Christopher Lytle provide much needed understanding in his blog post on why accessibility is a human right and not a privilege. Read his blog posts here.