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Health and Safety Concerns about Accommodating People with Disabilities

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), employers, landlords, and service providers must accommodate people with disabilities. In other words, organizations have a duty to make changes in order to meet the needs of workers, tenants, customers, or clients with disabilities. Accommodation providers must implement accommodations unless they would cause the provider undue hardship. There are only two reasons a provider can have to claim undue hardship. One is the cost of accommodation for people with disabilities. The other is health and safety concerns about accommodating people with disabilities.

Health and Safety Concerns about Accommodating People with Disabilities

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 different forms of discrimination. According to the OHRC’s Policy on Ableism and Discrimination based on disability, accommodation providers do not have to make accommodations if doing so will cause undue hardship. However, it is the responsibility of the accommodation provider to prove that making an accommodation would cause them undue hardship.

To prove undue hardship, an employer, a landlord, or a service provider must show that an accommodation would negatively impact the health and safety of the accommodated person, or of other people. However, they cannot prove undue hardship simply by stating that they believe an accommodation would negatively impact health and safety. In other words, an accommodation provider cannot use stereotypes about people with disabilities in statements about health and safety.

For example, a landlord may try to prove that they cannot rent to a family if one of the parents is blind. The landlord might believe that people who are blind cannot move around safely. As a result, the landlord might feel that a blind tenant would be a health and safety risk. However, people who are blind can move around safely, maintain homes, and care for families. As a result, the landlord cannot claim undue hardship due to health and safety concerns. Instead, the landlord should learn more about how people who are blind, or have other disabilities, perform every-day tasks. In addition, the landlord could start a discussion with the prospective tenant and implement any accommodations they may need. For instance, the tenant could place Braille labels on the buttons of appliances, such as the oven or washing machine.

Minimizing Health and Safety Risks

On the other hand, some situations may pose real health or safety risks for people with disabilities. In these cases, accommodation providers should discuss these risks with the person needing accommodation. Some activities pose risks for everyone, and each person accepts the possibility of risk. In these situations, someone with a disability has the same right that non-disabled people have to accept the possibility of health and safety risks.

For example, sports may pose a risk to all players. However, a sports program coordinator may feel that someone with a disability should not be part of their program, because a player with a disability could be taking a larger risk. Nonetheless, a player with a disability may be willing to take the risks involved in the sport. For instance, they may sign a waiver stating that they take responsibility for any risk to their health and safety. In this way, someone with a disability can be part of many integrated sports, such as:

Alternatively, there may be ways for accommodation providers to minimize real risks that an accommodation poses, either to the person needing it, or to others. Before claiming undue hardship, accommodation providers must assess how likely or severe these risks will be. Then, they must create plans or rules to prevent risk or reduce its impact.

Finally, if the organization finds evidence that a health and safety risk is severe and will impact many people on a regular basis, even after all possible accommodations are in place, the organization may be able to claim undue hardship.