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. This right has two elements, procedural and substantive accommodation. Under the Code, organizations must accommodate people in both ways.
Procedural and Substantive Accommodation
Procedural accommodation is the process of assessing what forms of accommodation an organization can provide. To accommodate a worker, tenant, or client, an organization must learn what forms of accommodation will best meet the person’s needs. Then, the organization must assess their ability to provide these accommodations.
For example, when a worker needs accommodations, the worker and employer should discuss how the worker will perform certain functions of the job. For instance, job functions a worker could perform with accommodations include:
- Accessing the workplace or workstation
- Communicating verbally or in writing
- Maintaining focus, organization, or energy level
The worker and employer should then list tasks the worker performs differently, such as:
- Climbing stairs
The worker and employer should then identify all job functions involving those tasks, such as:
- Entering the workplace or visiting the manager’s office on the second floor
- Written communication with colleagues, and awareness of company events and policies
- Multi-tasking and keeping track of appointments
The worker and employer must list accommodations that would allow the worker to perform each function, such as:
- Moving throughout the workplace without using stairs
- Receiving written information in accessible formats
- Accessing records of appointment times and tasks needing priority
Finally, the worker and employer should outline strategies for implementing these accommodations, such as having:
- A ramp at the front door or meetings on the first floor
- Digital versions of all documents, and screen reading software
- Calendars and flowcharts and/or tasks given priority levels when assigned
Substantive accommodation means implementing an accommodation. In other words, once an organization has recognized the need for a specific accommodation, they must take steps to implement it.
For example, steps to implement the above workplace accommodations would be:
- Installing a ramp or arranging meeting space
- Buying or downloading screen reader software on the worker’s computer
- Buying a calendar and creating a priority system
Moreover, the employer must designate these steps to certain workers or departments, who will become responsible for carrying out the accommodations. For instance, colleagues responsible for carrying out the steps of accommodations could include:
- Human resources
- maintenance personnel
- The worker’s manager
Procedural Accommodation Needed
In some cases, an organization may not be able to provide substantive accommodations. For instance, a small business may not be able to afford to install an accessible washroom. Furthermore, they may not access a grant for funding. However, the organization must still assess whether accommodation is possible.
In other words, under the Code, organizations must always perform procedural accommodation, even when substantive accommodation is not possible.
Reducing Stereotypes and Stigma
Furthermore, procedural accommodation helps organizations avoid stereotypes and stigma that could lead to discrimination. For example, without procedural accommodation, a landlord could try to claim that they cannot meet a tenant’s need for accommodation. However, the landlord may be making this claim because they believe the stereotype that people with disabilities cannot look after their dwellings. This stereotype may cause the landlord to fear renting to someone who has developed a disability. As a result, the landlord may claim that they cannot accommodate, in hopes that the tenant will choose to move out.
However, procedural accommodation requires the landlord to find out about the details of needed housing accommodations and assess how to implement them. Therefore, through this process, the landlord will learn about the accommodations their tenant uses. In addition, the landlord may realize that accommodations allow tenants with disabilities to care competently for their homes. Through the process of assessing accommodations, the landlord may discover that they are able and willing to meet the tenant’s needs.
In addition, procedural accommodation can help organizations improve the accommodations they offer, over time. For instance, an organization may not be able to afford an elevator. However, procedural accommodation allows them to recognize that an elevator would be the most appropriate accommodation for a worker and improve access for customers. Therefore, they may create a fund so that they will be able to afford an elevator in a few years. Meanwhile, they must implement another accommodation while waiting for the elevator, such as holding meetings on the first floor.
Procedural and substantive accommodation are both vital parts of the accommodation process. Assessing and implementing accommodations ensures that people have the supports they need in their work, their homes, and their communities.