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Commission order reinforces rights of riders with disabilities to accessible public transit

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April 7, 2006

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For immediate publication

Toronto - The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) has made an order declaring that paratransit services in Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor and London, are not “special programs.” Rather, these services form part of the legal duty on transit providers under Ontario’s Human Rights Code (the “Code”) to accommodate riders with disabilities who cannot access conventional public transit.

Special programs are permitted under the Code when they are designed to help disadvantaged groups, such as persons with disabilities, achieve equal opportunity. These “affirmative action” type programs are also protected from complaints of discrimination.

In its 2002 consultation report on accessible transit, the Commission took the position that paratransit should not be viewed as a voluntary special program because transit providers already have a duty under the Code to provide this form of accommodation when conventional systems are not fully accessible.  After publishing this report, the Commission travelled across the province meeting with transit providers to explain its position.

A number of transit providers hold the view in complaints before the Commission and at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that paratransit is a voluntary special program and not a required form of accommodation for riders with disabilities.

The Commission decided to exercise its power under section 14 of the Code to inquire into this claim and widely circulated a staff position paper to solicit submissions from transit providers and a large number of other stakeholder groups. After considering the submissions and the staff position paper, the Commission made an order declaring that these paratransit services are not special programs.

Commenting on the decision, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall said, “A service provider cannot abandon its duty to accommodate customers with disabilities through the guise of a special program. This order will give Accessibility Ontario another tool in its work promoting accessible transit under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.” Under that law, public transportation organizations must prepare annual accessibility plans, and consult with people with disabilities to examine all aspects of their operations to identify barriers and the steps to be taken over time to remove these barriers, and to prevent new ones.

For more information on the Commission’s work and reports dealing with transit services, please visit the Commission's Web site.

See Also: Transit Accessibility Page
See Also: Commission's Declaratory Order & Reasons
See Also: Commission's Position Paper on Paratransit Services

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François Larsen

Jeff Poirier
Senior Policy Analyst
Policy Education, Monitoring and Outreach Branch (PEMO)
Ontario Human Rights Commission