Inspirational Articles

Much More Than a Disability

Much More than a Disability

Conscious Living Column
By Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak

In 2008, the government of the Province of Ontario passed into law, a unique and comprehensive law entitled The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, (also referred to as AODA). The intent of the legislation is to make this province accessible to all persons with disabilities by the year 2025. While there are many jurisdictions which have policies assisting persons with disabilities, this legislation places Ontario in a cutting edge role as the first in the world to have such sweeping policies including specific time-lines for its enactment. Now 10 years along since the Act became law and still 10 years from the target date of 2025 for its full implementation, the government is ramping up its effort to ensure the province meets its accessibility target date. 

This first round of implementation is focused towards all businesses, public, non-profit or private, even if they have but one employee, that provide goods, such as retail and food stores; services such as your family doctor, dentist and bank, and then additionally the third is facilities. Facilities covers every building from schools and malls to community centres. Certainly all new construction will be subject to accessibility building codes however older buildings are not required to alter their structures unless the building is being substantially renovated. It is not the government’s intent to force undue financial hardship on building owners and tenants adapting them to new codes. It is their intention that where possible all persons with disabilities will have access in newer structures from this point in time forward.  This law has substantial regulatory provisions to enforce Ontarians to provide accessible facilities, with goods and services, as is possible. 

It does not give persons with disabilities any special standing that would change criteria for entrance to a bar or being called to the bar as it is known within the legal profession.  These regulations are to ensure inclusion, not to distinguish any one person or group, for any reason, which would preclude equal access and opportunity across the board.

Origins  

Arising out of the Province of Ontario’s Human Rights Code, proclaimed in June, 1962, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact such a comprehensive Human Rights Code. The preamble to Ontario’s Human Rights Code is virtually identical to, and is acknowledged, as the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations back in 1948.

Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibited discrimination on 17 protected grounds including race, gender, age, creed, disability, ancestry, marital status, family status etc. It is still an evolving code, as not until the year 2000 was sexual orientation added and as late as 2012 when transgendered persons were included in the Code providing protection from discrimination. Of the now 22 protected grounds The Code covers only 5 protected social areas or standards in which discrimination is prohibited, they are: 1) housing, 2) employment, 3) contracts, 4) goods, services and facilities and 5) memberships in unions, trade, and professional associations. While the Customer Service Standard is receiving attention now, the remaining 4 social standards have been put into a separate bill and became law in 2011, called The Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.  

The Ontario Human Rights Code is perhaps the most important piece of legislation ever passed in Ontario as all other legislation within the province must observe and adhere to the Code. According to the Disabilities Survey of 2012 by the Canadian government, 38 million adult Canadians or 13.7% of the adult population reported having a disability, which doubled to 26.3% between ages of 65 to 74 and not quite doubled again to 42.5% at age seventy-five and above. The number will grow substantively as the baby boomers reach retirement age with disabilities increasing as we age. The numbers just quoted are a reality check for future planning.

Customer Service Standard

We have a tendency in Canadian society to be very polite. That translates into we never talk about someone’s disability, certainly not to the person directly. Do you remember being chastised for looking at or pointing out a disability and how rude that was? We converse around people’s disabilities not wanting to centre them out or make them feel uncomfortable. This “politeness” of silence translates into stereotypes and stigmas developing around various identifiable disabilities and illnesses, HIV carries enormous stigma attached to it, as substance abuse, a very real disability does yet is often diminished to having no willpower. 

Here are some things to consider in any interactions:

  • The majority of disabilities are not visible. We associate disabilities as involving an assistive device like a wheelchair or a white cane. However, mental health, learning disabilities and hearing loss are only a few of the nonvisible disabilities people work with.
  • Acknowledge the person and their disability, although we may think we are being polite by not discussing their disability, it becomes very awkward when their disability has become the proverbial elephant in the room. Everyone knows it is there but we walk and talk around it, and one risks chastisement should you be the one that actually points it out.
  • Be aware of the language we use, words from the past that once bound person and disability into a single word such as “crippled’, are not used. Today’s awareness brings our attention to the person and then as necessary to the disability. Almost always, person with a disability, is proper usage.  
  • It is important to communicate with people directly and ask them how you can best meet their needs. They know how best to work with their own disability, allow them to tell us and not us second guessing, how their needs are best met. In the event a person has a support worker who asks a question on their behalf, always address the answer back to the person with the disability. It is our first instinct to respond to the person who asks the questions but the person using a wheelchair would possibly be talked right over and the person with the disability becomes invisible. 
  • Things like wheelchairs, white canes and hearing aids are only part of an increasing set of assistive devices including the use of service animals and support persons all which open up the world to people who only years ago would not be out and about in their own communities. Things like TTY make telephone use possible as do special enhancements that can be built into a website for anyone with auditory or visual disabilities to use today’s technology.  
  • Anyone who has direct contact with the public as part of their job is expected to be trained in communicating with various disabilities, the use of any assistive devices at their place of employment and assuring that persons with disabilities will receive equal access to goods, services and facilities within the province.

There are no extra rights or privileges being conferred through the Customer Service regulations. Persons with disabilities do not want our pity or sympathies but want what every other person in the province takes for granted and that is access to the same opportunities for employment, transportation and housing. Simply, it asks we respect and promote the principles of dignity, independence, integration and equal opportunity for people with disabilities, or restated, for all people on the planet.

Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak are therapists and co-founders of the Transformational Arts College of Spiritual and Holistic Training. The College offers professional training programs in Spiritual Psychotherapy, Spiritual Director, Holistic Health, Coaching and psychospiritual courses through a 10-part program “Discovering the Total Self”. The next start date for the Total Self program is March, 2015. For more information on these programs, call the College at 416-484-0454 or toll free 1-800-TAC-SELF or visit www.transformationalarts.com. To receive our monthly e-newsletter email marketing@transformationalarts.com