The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) writes policies to help people understand what types of discrimination are. In addition, these policies outline how to prevent and respond to instances of discrimination. According to the OHRC’s Policy on Ableism and Discrimination based on disability, discrimination on the basis of disability happens through ableism, stereotypes and stigma. In other words, discrimination happens when people have negative attitudes about what it is like to have a disability.
Discrimination on the Basis of Disability
Discrimination means treating people who belong to certain groups, or have certain traits, in a negative way. For example, people can discriminate against others based on:
- Ancestry, colour, or race
- Ethnic origin
- Place of origin
- Family status
- Marital status
- Gender identity, or gender expression
- Receiving government assistance (for housing)
- Record of offences (in employment)
- Sexual orientation
For instance, an employer may believe myths about workers with disabilities, or other stereotypes and stigma. As a result, the employer may choose not to give workers accommodations when they request them, because the employer:
- Thinks these accommodations will always be expensive or complex
- Thinks their company must cover the cost of all accommodations, including:
- Building renovations
- Computer hardware or software
- Does not want the inconvenience of implementing accommodations, such as:
- Arranging communication supports, such as Sign language interpretation
- Using accessible formats, such as accessible websites
When employers act on these fears by choosing not to implement the accommodations workers need, those employers are discriminating.
Similarly, landlords and other service providers also discriminate when they deny or offer lower-quality service because of people’s disabilities.
People who experience discrimination can appeal to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), which can order an organization to change its behaviour or policies. In addition, the HRTO can require organizations to pay damages to someone they have discriminated against.
To prove that discrimination has taken place, a person must show that they belong to one of the groups that the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) protects. For example, a person could show a doctor’s note stating that they have a disability. Then, the person must explain how the actions or policies of the organization discriminated against them based on disability. However, the organization then has the chance to argue that their actions or policies are not discriminatory. For instance, a person could state that an organization has discriminated against them by refusing to hire them due to their disability. However, the organization could have a valid reason for not hiring the candidate, such as:
- Qualifications the candidate does not have
- Essential requirements of the job, such as vision for a pilot
Nonetheless, if the organization does not have a valid reason to explain their behaviour, it is likely that they have discriminated.
Moreover, the HRTO does not distinguish between intentional or unintentional discrimination. In other words, organizations must change their behaviour when they discriminate, whether they acted on purpose or not. As a result, organizations should develop their policies and practices to be as welcoming as possible to people of all abilities. Otherwise, they may find that they have discriminated without meaning to.
Our next article will outline some of the forms discrimination takes.