Shining the light on disability legislation in Canada


I had trouble doing squats the other day at the gym as a result of an old injury–it turns out I have a degree of osteoarthritis in my hip. I can work with it, but it could get worse one day.

Would an employer see me as diminished? Would an employer begin to build a case for dismissal because it became difficult for me to get up stairs? Would they manage me differently knowing I was physically challenged?

It’s a sad reality that employers routinely get rid of loyal, engaged, dependent employees instead of working with them through their challenges.

It’s also short-sighted. Our research shows that on the whole, helping people adjust to physical and mental health changes costs less than planning and executing tactics to abandon them. Many employers, focussed on quarters instead of careers, miss the chance to capitalize on the efforts of people who can often be accomodated for a few hundred dollars.

The unofficial practice is base; it aims to externalize the cost of addressing a team member’s challenge to the community at large; to our health care systems and other support services. People’s lives can easily spin out of control when they’re dismissed in their time of need, and this process plays a role in converting a contributing member of society to a dependent. It’s cold, crass, and no one wins except for a few shareholders, in the short term.

Not in Ontario. We’ve got the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”).

The AODA is designed to remove the barriers that prevent or limit people with disabilities from participating in a variety of activities in Ontario – including employment, receipt of goods and services, transportation, the built environment and information and communication – through the enactment of legislated accessibility standards.

The AODA complements the requirements under the Human Rights Code and other laws that protect disabled people from discrimination or harassment. Its goal is to have organizations take proactive measures to address accessibility issues related to employees, customers and other members of the public.

It includes clear, progressive (perhaps obvious in hindsight) guidelines like:

  • All new buildings require affordances for accessibility.
  • All renovations are subject to the requirement of building these features.
  • All employers are required to have training in their workplaces.

In other words, Ontario has made it illegal to discriminate against people based on their physical or mental condition.

If it wasn’t embarrassing enough that these stigmas are institutionalized to the degree that we need laws to address them, consider the sad fact that Ontario is a progressive leader in this space; the other provinces have some catching up to do.

And we’re going to do everything in our power to help them.

The second in-person Canada Council meeting brought each of the elected “Workers with Disabilities” leaders together to introduce and discuss our “Shining the Light” campaign.

To increase the ability of employers to get people back to meaningful work, we’re starting by spreading the word about the foundation Ontario has set. We hope that our fellow provinces will seize best practices and adopt them.

We’ll share updates here, but feel free to ask about Shining the Light, the Canada Council for Workers with Disabilities or the AODA in the comments.