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Intersectional Discrimination

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) protects people from discrimination on the basis of disability. In addition, the Code recognizes that people may belong to more than one group that the Code protects. As a result, they may experience intersectional discrimination, or discrimination on the basis of multiple aspects of their identities.

Intersectional Discrimination

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), people who belong to two or more of the Code’s protected groups may experience different forms of discrimination than people who belong to only one of these groups. This discrimination can come from the intersection of stereotypes and stigma about various identities people may have. For instance, black people with disabilities may experience different forms of discrimination from white people with disabilities, or from non-disabled black people. When black people with disabilities search for employment, some employers may hesitate to hire people from racialized minorities. These employers are discriminating on the basis of race. Furthermore, other employers may be reluctant to hire applicants with disabilities. Black applicants with disabilities may experience both these attitudes. Therefore, they may be more likely to experience discrimination than job-seekers who only belong to one of the Code’s protected groups.

Moreover, people who belong to two or more of these groups may experience unique forms of discrimination. For instance, some landlords may believe that people with disabilities cannot care for a home. Similarly, these landlords may also believe that single women with children are less reliable tenants than two-parent households. As a result, this landlord may be especially reluctant to rent to a single mother with a disability. In other words, this landlord might discriminate on the basis of:

  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Family status

Reducing Intersectional Discrimination

The OHRC states that organizations must develop programs and services that support people who belong to multiple protected groups under the Code. For example, housing providers should recognize that their tenants may gain disabilities as they age. As a result, they can prevent intersectional discrimination, on the basis of age and disability, by installing features that will meet tenants’ changing needs, such as:

Furthermore, if housing providers design barrier-free housing from the start, they can avoid the need to retrofit buildings and spaces as an afterthought.

In short, people have a variety of backgrounds and identities. If organizations recognize how diverse people and their experiences are, and prepare to serve people of all identities, they can avoid intersectional discrimination.