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. The right to accommodation ensures that people can work productively, live independently, and access services open to non-disabled people. In this article, we outline the human rights principles of accommodation. Accommodations that follow these principles create a society that respects all people.
Principles of Accommodation
Respect for Dignity
First, accommodation must respect people’s dignity. When employers, landlords, and service providers implement accommodations, they must show that they respect the people they are accommodating. In other words, accommodations are most effective when they do not marginalize or stigmatize anyone.
For example, one form of accommodation is a ramp leading to a building entrance. Building owners can install a ramp at different locations, from the main entrance to the rear of the building. These two choices change how the accommodation respects the human dignity of the people who use it.
An accessible main entrance allows all people to use the front door. In contrast, an accessible back entrance means that some visitors may always need to search for a useable door. Moreover, a ramp in this location is often near garbage cans and other items that people ignore. When building owners locate ramps in these areas, they send the message that people without disabilities are more valued than people with disabilities. In other words, when the building owner places the ramp at the rear, they disrespect people’s dignity. On the contrary, when they place the ramp at the main entrance, they respect dignity and treat all people as valuable clients.
In addition, employers, landlords, and service providers must accommodate people on an individual basis. People with different disabilities need different types of accommodations. Moreover, two people with the same disability may use different accommodations. Accommodations should respect that each person has their own needs, and a solution that works for one person may not work for another.
For example, a service provider may want to make a brochure accessible for customers who are visually impaired. To do so, the service provider could decide to create large-print copies of the brochure. However, some people who are visually impaired do not read print, no matter how large. As a result, this accommodation effort excludes people. The service provider should recognize that people may need to read the brochure in different ways, and that one solution will not be suitable for every customer.
In contrast, the service provider could create an accessible digital version of the brochure to post on their website. This form of accommodation can adapt to meet the individual needs of customers. For instance, customers who read large print can read the brochure by enlarging the text. Alternatively, customers who do not read print can read the brochure on their computer or phone using a Braille display or screen reader.
Integration and Full Participation
Finally, accommodations should allow people with disabilities to do their work or receive service in the same way as their nondisabled counterparts, whenever possible. Furthermore, accommodations should help people participate fully in the work or service. In other words, accommodations should not separate the people who use them from people who do not use accommodations. Likewise, accommodations should allow people to access all the aspects of a job or service, rather than only a part.
For example, a newly-hired worker may request the accommodation of working from home because travelling requires time and energy they would prefer to spend on their work. Since all other workers work at the office, the employer could assume that the remote worker should only be assigned job tasks they can complete alone. Therefore, the employer may try to accommodate by giving this worker a part-time position involving only tasks that do not require them to interact with their distant colleagues. However, this accommodation increases the separation between the worker and colleagues. Moreover, the remote worker does not have the chance for full-time work.
Alternatively, the employer could implement accommodations allowing the worker to participate in meetings and other activities with colleagues. For instance, the employer could arrange meetings by video-conference. This accommodation would allow the remote worker to collaborate and communicate with colleagues. Furthermore, access to this level of collaboration could allow the remote worker to take on more job responsibilities. In other words, the worker could integrate and fully participate while physically distant.
In our next article, we will discuss how employers, landlords, and service providers can achieve the same goals of integration and full participation using universal design.