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, discrimination 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. When these attitudes influence many of an organization’s structures, policies, or practices, systemic discrimination has occurred.
Systemic discrimination happens when an organization’s structures, policies, or practices disadvantage people who belong to groups that the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) protects. For instance, people with disabilities experience systemic discrimination when many of an organization’s policies are designed in ways that exclude them. People do not design exclusive policies on purpose. Nonetheless, such policies and practices are still discriminatory.
For example, web developers often fail to consider that some visitors to their websites will have disabilities. As a result, the sites these designers create do not work well with accessibility hardware and software. Although designers may not intend to discriminate, their designs exclude people. Moreover, such discrimination can have widespread consequences. For instance, many job application processes now take place online. When companies’ online job applications are not accessible, they lose the chance to hire qualified, talented workers.
Furthermore, it is often difficult for organizations to know when they are discriminating systemically. For instance, a company with an inaccessible job application process may not realize that people with certain accessibility needs cannot apply. In addition, stereotypes and stigma help to make the absence of applicants with disabilities seem normal. For instance, many people responsible for hiring may believe the stereotype that people with disabilities cannot work. Therefore, they would not expect to receive applications from people with disabilities. Likewise, people with this mindset may not recognize that this lack of applicants could be due to a discriminatory practice in their company.
Decreasing Systemic Discrimination
However, under the Code, organizations have a responsibility to be aware that systemic discrimination happens. Moreover, they must take steps to decrease systemic discrimination in their workplaces, or in spaces they own.
For example, a company that builds houses and apartments might realize that some of their tenants will have accessibility needs as they age. In other words, these tenants are protected under two code grounds, age and disability. The company has a duty to create and maintain an environment that does not discriminate against these tenants.
Managers of this design firm could fulfill this duty by learning about the accessibility barriers that ageing tenants with disabilities may face, including:
- Physical or architectural barriers
- Information or communication barriers
- Technology barriers
- Organizational barriers
- Attitudinal barriers
Then, the company should update its designs and practices to prevent building any of these barriers. In addition, the company could consult with people who have lived experience or other expertise in accessible housing, at the design stage. Therefore, the company could ensure that people who have a wide variety of abilities can access the housing they build.
In short, organizations can reduce systemic discrimination by being aware that the public they serve includes citizens with disabilities.