Human Rights and Disabilities
"Equality is a right guaranteed to all Canadian citizens. The values inherent in the concept of equality include self-determination, autonomy, dignity, respect, integration, participation and independent living." - In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues - Values
According to the United Nations, a disability is a temporary or permanent physical, intellectual or sensory impairment, a medical condition or a mental illness. Some examples are blindness, deafness, or paralysis. It can affect an individual's ability to perform an activity within the range considered normal for a human being, for instance, a difficulty in seeing or hearing at what is generally considered a normal level. Having a disability does NOT mean that a person is less capable of fully participating and contributing as a citizen in Canadian society.
Persons with disabilities can face many barriers and challenges, including accessing the tools that make it possible to participate in society. Society's attitudes can also create obstacles to inclusion. There is sometimes a failure to recognize the social and economic contributions of people with disabilities and a tendency to see only the disability rather than the person. A lack of accommodation in employment, education and transportation can present a further challenge. As a result, persons with disabilities do not always have access to the same opportunities as others, and they are more likely to be socially isolated, have higher rates of unemployment, and live below the poverty line.
Equality and full participation are human rights. All persons are entitled to equal access to the basic rights and fundamental freedoms that most people take for granted, e.g. health care, employment, education, participation in cultural activities.
Prohibiting discrimination means ensuring equal opportunity and accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities. In Canada, the right to equality and the duty to accommodate are guaranteed by law.
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enacted in 1982, includes a specific mention of physical or mental disability as a prohibited ground of discrimination. This marked the first time that such a right was guaranteed in the Constitution of a country. Section 15 of the Charter makes it illegal for governments in Canada to discriminate against persons with disabilities in their laws and programs.
Canadian Human Rights Act
Physical and mental disability are prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which also includes a "duty to accommodate " . Under the Act, federally regulated employers are bound by law to prevent discrimination and to provide access and support to individuals with disabilities. However, employers are required to accommodate persons with disabilities only to the point of the employers' "undue hardship." Health, safety and cost reasons may make accommodation too extraordinary, and therefore, too difficult or hazardous for the employer. A Place For All: A Guide to Creating an Inclusive Workplace is a Canadian Human Rights Commission guide to help employers understand their legal obligations regarding the duty to accommodate, and create their own workplace accommodation policies and procedures.
Employment Equity Act
The objective of the Employment Equity Act is to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person is denied employment opportunities for reasons unrelated to ability and to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment (duty to accommodate) experienced by persons with disabilities, women, Aboriginal peoples and visible minority groups. The Act obligates federally regulated employers to make every reasonable effort to eliminate discrimination, which might result from rules, practices or barriers that have an adverse impact on the designated groups.
Provincial and Territorial Legislation
Provincial and territorial governments also have various laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, including human rights codes, acts or charters. See below for suggested Web sites to obtain additional information on these laws.
Federal, provincial and territorial governments and statutory (independent) agencies offer a variety of programs and services related to persons with disabilities, such as accommodation, employment integration and transportation accessibility. For example, human rights commissions are responsible for monitoring the implementation of domestic human rights legislation. Information dealing with disabilities can be found on their Web sites. Human rights commissions are also valuable resources for general information about human rights in Canada
Governments working together...
The Social Union Framework Agreement is a joint federal, provincial and territorial government initiative which works to "reform and renew Canada's system of social services and to reassure Canadians that their pan-Canadian social programs are strong and secure". Accommodating and empowering persons with disabilities is a primary objective in the Social Union Framework Agreement.
In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues calls for a joint effort between federal, provincial and territorial governments to increase disability supports, access to education, job accommodation, and financial assistance. The goal is to empower and encourage all Canadians to be socially independent, as well as to ensure full access to participation in society for everyone.
Canada's reports to the United Nations under the six core human rights treaties should be consulted for additional information on federal, provincial and territorial legislation, policies and programs related to persons with disabilities. They can be found on this Web site under Canada's Reports on UN Human Rights Treaties and Related Official Documents (search words: disability, disabilities).
At the national level...
The Government of Canada has extended its efforts to address the challenges faced by persons with disabilities by creating the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) at the Department of Social Development . The ODI educates Canadians on disability issues, and seeks to improve government policies and programs. A document entitled Bridging the Gap, available through the ODI, provides a listing of Government of Canada services and programs of interest to Canadians with disabilities.
In 1999, the Government of Canada released its disability agenda, entitled Future Directions to Address Disability Issues for the Government of Canada: Working Together for Full Citizenship. Seven key areas were identified to help people with disabilities achieve full inclusion: increase accountability and improve policy and program coherence; build a comprehensive base of knowledge; build the capacity of the disability community; address the acute needs of Aboriginal people with disabilities; improve access and remove barriers to disability supports and income; enhance employability of persons with disabilities; and reduce injury and disability rates by prevention and health promotion. In December 2002, the Government issued a progress report on disability issues, entitled Advancing the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. This report presents a profile of disability in Canada and measures progress in five areas: disability supports; skills development, learning and employment; income; injury prevention and health promotion; and capacity of the disability community.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission works to make the Human Rights Act a meaningful guide in the lives of Canadians. One of its main objectives is to "help reduce the barriers to equality in employment and access to services." The Canadian Human Rights Commission publishes annual reports about human rights complaints and outcomes, which offer more information on disability issues.
In your province or territory...
• Premier's Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities : The council works on improving the status of individuals with disabilities within the province. In particular, it develops provincial strategies, and produces publications and status reports.
• Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons : This council was created as an advisory body for the provincial government as well as the general public on matters of disability. It consults on and studies issues relating to persons with disabilities.
Newfoundland and Labrador
• Northwest Territories Council of Persons with Disabilities*
Phone: (867) 873-8230
*There is no Web page available
• Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission : The commission makes sure that the concerns of persons with disabilities are heard and considered within the province, in particular for decisions about policies, services or programs concerning them. It reviews these policies, services and programs and communicates their availability to the public.
• Accessibility Ontario : This site has information on accessibility issues, opportunities, and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001. It is a source for programs and services available from the province.
• Ontario Human Rights Commission
Prince Edward Island
• Prince Edward Island Council of the Disabled : This non-profit organization provides awareness of and education on services and programs for persons with disabilities.
• Office des personnes handicappées du Québec (French only) : The office coordinates and provides services for persons with disabilities. The site also provides general information about disabilities and is a resource for finding what benefits are offered throughout the province.
• Office of Disability Issues : This office acts as a focal point for government initiatives on disabilities, such as directing development of public policy or programs for individuals with disabilities. The office also addresses issues such as education, employment, health and citizenship.
• Yukon Council on Disability : The council acts as a resource for issues of equity, community, awareness, government policy and employment.
Canada has taken a leading role in promoting disability rights internationally. For example, in 1992, Canada introduced the first resolution on disabilities at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Canada also hosted Independence '92, an international congress on disability. That same year, Canada hosted the first International Conference of Ministers Responsible for the Status of Persons with Disabilities. For more information on Canada's international role in disability issues, please consult the Web site of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
At the United Nations...
The effort to ease social integration for individuals with disabilities and ensure enjoyment of equality and human rights has been made worldwide. In 1975, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of the Disabled Person , which sets out the standard of equal treatment and access to services for persons with disabilities. In addition, most of the core human rights treaties of the UN contain anti-discrimination clauses that guarantee the rights therein without distinction of any kind. The Convention on the Rights of the Child includes a specific prohibition of discrimination on the ground of disability (Article 2) and a specific provision (Article 23) on the rights of children with disabilities.
There is at present no UN human rights convention which applies solely to persons with disabilities. However, in December 2001, the UN created an Ad Hoc Committee "to consider proposals for a comprehensive and integral international convention to protect and promote the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities". This Committee is presently discussing issues related to the new proposed convention.
The UN has undertaken a number of additional initiatives related to persons with disabilities. The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1982, attempts to fulfill the mandate of social integration by focussing on three areas: prevention, rehabilitation and equalization of opportunities.
In 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities , which represented a moral and political commitment from governments to take action. The Rules also called for a monitoring mechanism to support their implementation. This led to the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Disability at the Commission for Social Development in 1994.
For more information on UN related activities on disabilities, please consult the Human Rights and Disability Web site of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
• The Canadian Centre on Disability Studies : dedicated to research, education and dissemination of disability issues and information, this university-affiliated centre promotes "full and equal participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of society."
• EnableLink: Linking people with disabilities to a world of resources : this Web site has various links to information on disabilities, such as assistance programs, accessibility issues, and a variety of publications.
• L'Arche Canada : l'Arche is an international organization that provides community residences and coordinates day programs for individuals with developmental disabilities. The goal of l'Arche is to provide specialized care for people with disabilities through volunteer work.