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Law Talk: Human rights in Ontario - Physical disability

Community Legal Services | Pro Bono Students Canada (UWO) | Opinion | September 14th, 2015

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In Canada, both provincial and federal regulations are in place to ensure that everyone has the right to equal treatment and freedom from discrimination. The importance of freedom from discrimination has been recognized as essential to promoting human dignity.

What regulates the protection of human rights in Ontario?

While the Canadian Human Rights Act requires that federally regulated businesses like banks or post offices ensure they do not discriminate, the protection and promotion of human rights provincially falls under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The Code governs all interactions between individuals and ensures that no one is discriminated against on the basis of a protected ground.

What is a physical disability?

The Code includes physical disability in its definition of disability. A physical disability could be something that you could have been born with, sustained as a result of an accident or developed throughout your lifetime. It may require you to use the assistance of a guide dog or you could suffer from diabetes. You may have issues with mobility or you may have epileptic seizures. The definition provided by the Code is not all-inclusive, and therefore open to interpretation.

How are the human rights of those with physical disabilities protected in Ontario?

The Code requires that everyone is entitled to equal treatment and freedom from discrimination because of a disability in the provision of goods and services, access to facilities in their housing and employment and in their ability to join unions, and to enter into contracts.

Further, no one can be discriminated against as a result of a prior disability or because someone believes that they either had or have a disability. In housing and employment, there is an obligation to accommodate the disability to the point of undue hardship. For example, this means that an employer with a sight-impaired employee should provide the necessary accommodations, such as Braille outside of offices and authorization for that employee to bring their guide dog to the office.

Are there circumstances where I don’t have a right to equal treatment because of my physical disability?

These are some situations where a violation of the Code is allowed. For example, a job as a lifeguard may require that an individual has full use of all of their limbs as a safety requirement, and therefore individuals with mobility issues may not be suitable candidates for that position. Further, if it would cause undue hardship to accommodate the individual’s physical disability then either an employer or landlord may not be in violation of the Code. Undue hardship is based on financial costs, if there are sources of outside funds or if it would violate health or safety regulations.

For more information on human rights law in Ontario, please visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission website at and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal website at

This column is brought to you by Community Legal Services at Western University. It provides legal information only. The information is accurate as of the date of publication. If you need specific legal advice please contact a lawyer, your community legal clinic, Justice Net at 1-866-919-3219 or the Law Society Referral Service at 1-800-268-8326.
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