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Putting people first: A new framework for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities

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March 22, 2001

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For immediate publication

Toronto - The Ontario Human Rights Commission today released its Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate.

The new Policy creates a framework for promoting and clarifying the rights of persons with disabilities. Key elements include:

  • a focus on the dignity of the person and on full integration and participation in society;
  • the obligation to design programs and facilities with persons with disabilities in mind;
  • specific recognition of the rights of persons with non-evident disabilities, including mental disabilities;
  • guidance for employers and unions, including how to handle return-to-work situations and access to alternative jobs, and
  • a high standard for meeting the requirements of the Human Rights Code and for accommodating persons with disabilities.

Chief Commissioner Keith Norton commented, "This Policy is critical. It establishes standards to ensure that persons with disabilities are vital participants in community life and contribute equally in the workplace."

Studies have shown that persons with disabilities are underrepresented in the job market and continue to face barriers in housing and services. As well, many employers and other organizations need help in understanding their legal obligations. Mr. Norton added, "Society itself creates many obstacles that are faced by people with disabilities. This Policy allows us to tackle these obstacles and to focus on how society should best respond."

The new Policy sets out the obligation to accommodate persons with disabilities and provides legal standards, based on case law that should be met. As 75% of human rights complaints are in the area of employment, the Policy also provides more specific guidance to employers, unions and employees on how they can fulfill their duties and rights under the Code.

Disability is one of the most frequently cited grounds of complaint to the Commission. The annual report shows that disability makes up about a quarter of all grounds cited each year. Since many complaints cite more than one ground, practically speaking, this means that about 40% of the 1,800 complainants who file complaints each year cite disability.

The Commission is committed to supporting the people of Ontario with useful and accessible tools to implement this Policy. The Commission will consult with the public in 2001 to develop workplace guides in plain language for both employers and employees. A separate plain language guide will also be developed to inform people of their rights and responsibilities in other areas, such as services, education and housing. As well, Commission staff can be contacted to answer questions on the new Policy.

The Policy complements the Commission's ongoing work on disability issues, which includes a discussion paper on the accessibility of transit services in Ontario that was released last month.

The Policy replaces the Commission's 1989 Guidelines on Assessing Accommodation Requirements for Persons with Disabilities. The Guidelines created a standard for the interpretation of 'undue hardship' for the first time in Canada, and have become an important interpretative tool before Boards of Inquiry and the Courts. The standard is upheld in the new Policy. However, since 1989, several legal decisions, notably from the Supreme Court of Canada, have set fundamental new directions in other areas of disability rights. These include the definition of disability and the nature and extent of the duty to accommodate and are reflected in the new Policy.

The development of the new Policy was based on consultations with over 150 stakeholders, including persons with disabilities, advocacy groups, employers, service providers and associations. The final document is the result of an extensive process of review of our existing standards and the submissions received.

Commission policies and guidelines are approved public statements setting out the Commission's interpretation of specific provisions of the Code. The public has the right to expect that that the Commission will deal with cases in a way that is consistent with its published policies.

The Policy is available in English and French as well as in alternative formats, The Policy is also posted on the Commission's Web site at:

Contact information:
Tel: 1-800-387-9080
TTY#: 416-326-0603

François Larsen