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Definition of Disability

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) and the AODA include the same definition of disability. However, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) interprets this definition broadly. The OHRC’s Policy on Ableism and Discrimination Based on Disability explains how people who have a disability are protected from discrimination. In addition, the Policy explains that the Code also protects people who are perceived to have a disability.

Definition of Disability

The AODA and the Code state that disability can happen at birth, or through illness or injury. Furthermore, the AODA and the Code also outline several types of disability. These types are examples, rather than a complete list of all disabilities.

Physical Disabilities

For instance, the AODA and the Code state that physical disabilities may include:

  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • A brain injury
  • Paralysis
  • Amputation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Visual impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Speech impairment
  • Reliance on a:

In other words, disability sometimes affects how people’s bodies move, or how they perceive or communicate. In addition, some people with disabilities use service animals or assistive devices, while others have invisible disabilities. Moreover, there are different kinds or degrees of disability. For instance, one person may have one amputated limb, while another has more than one. Likewise, one person may be totally blind while another has some sight.

Other Disabilities

The AODA and the Code then briefly list some other types of disability, which include:

  • Mental impairment or developmental disability
  • Learning disability
  • Mental health disability
  • An injury or disability that allows someone to claim or receive benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act

Here, the AODA and the Code make Ontarians aware of some other types of disability that people may have. For instance, mental health disability is another broad category that includes many medical conditions. These conditions can affect many different aspects of a person, such as:

  • Thought processes
  • Emotions
  • Moods
  • Behaviours
  • Sense of self
  • Capacity to connect with others
  • Ability to cope with stress

Similarly, learning disabilities affect people’s ability to take in, understand, or remember information. However, learning disabilities impact people in different ways. For example, some people may have difficulty with writing but understand speech easily. In contrast, others may not process speech but communicate easily using writing and visual information.

Alternatively, some people may have one disability, while others have more than one. Furthermore, some people have permanent disabilities, while others’ disabilities are temporary or episodic.

Functional Limitations and Barriers

This definition focuses on the impairments that people may have. However, the OHRC points out that disability happens because of how barriers in structures or services interact with these impairments. For example, people with print disabilities are disabled by information or communication barriers.

Recognizing Disabilities

The OHRC also notes that different conditions can be recognized as disabilities. For instance, some conditions recently recognized as disabilities are:

  • Allergies
  • Environmental sensitivities

Now that these conditions are recognized as disabilities, organizations must accommodate the needs of people who have them. For example, people can request accommodations in housing, such as safer products for cleaning or painting. Similarly, students can ask for accommodations in school, such as keeping parts of the classroom or school free from foods they are allergic to. Likewise, the OHRC may recognize more conditions as disabilities in future.

Perceived Disability

Under the Code, organizations cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. Moreover, they cannot discriminate against someone if they believe that person has a disability. For example, employers cannot discriminate against someone if they believe that person has a mental health disability. Similarly, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to an older person based on the belief that this person will soon gain a disability through ageing.

Furthermore, organizations cannot discriminate against someone whose loved one has a disability. For instance, an employer cannot refuse to accommodate a worker whose spouse has a disability, based on the belief that the worker will need time off or leaves of absence to look after their partner. In this example, discrimination could be based on false perceptions or stereotypes. The Code prohibits people from using disability as a reason not to employ, rent to, or serve anyone.