Language selector

Consultation paper: Education and disability - Human Rights issues in Ontario's education system

Page controls

Page content

I. Introduction

Education is central to the life of an individual in the community. It provides opportunities for personal, social, and academic growth and development. It sets the stage for later life experiences, most especially in employment. It is also an important venue for integration into the life of the community.

Canada has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [1], which recognizes the importance of education in the life of a child. Article 28 of the Convention recognizes the right of the child to education, and requires states to achieve this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity; and Article 29 sets out the aims of such education, including the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest, and the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society.  As well the Declaration of the Rights of Disabled Persons[2] affirms the right of persons with disabilities to education.

In Canada, education is recognized as a fundamental social good. A publicly funded education system, accessible to all, is recognized as a core responsibility of government. The Preamble to the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”) sets out the principle that each person should feel a part of the community and able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the community and the Province. Section 1 of the Code guarantees the right to equal treatment in education, without discrimination on the grounds of disability, as part of the protection for equal treatment in services.  This applies to elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities, both public and private.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (“OHRC”) has serious concerns regarding accessible education for persons with disabilities.  In 1999, the OHRC conducted extensive consultations on disability and the duty to accommodate, as part of the development of its Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate [3], released in March 2001. A number of submissions to that consultation raised important issues relating to disability and education.  As well, in recent years, the OHRC has received a number of complaints related to discrimination because of disability in the area of education that raise issues of systemic discrimination. Parents, educators, disability consumer groups, and advocacy organizations have contacted the OHRC on an informal basis to express concerns and identify issues.  These issues are also receiving widespread public attention, not only from the press, but from academics and research institutes. A number of important studies have recently been released on issues related to children with disabilities in education.

Section 29 of the Code gives the OHRC a broad mandate for dealing with issues of discrimination. It is the function of the OHRC to promote an understanding and acceptance of, and compliance with the Code; to undertake research designed to eliminate discriminatory practices; to examine and review statutes and regulations, programs and policies that in its opinion are inconsistent with the intent of the Code; and to inquire into conditions leading to tensions or conflict based on identification by a prohibited ground of discrimination and take action to eliminate the source of tension or conflict.

Pursuant to this mandate, the OHRC has therefore decided to initiate public consultations on human rights issues related to education and disability, with a view to developing a public Consultation Report, as well as specific guidelines in this area.

[1] Entry into force September 2, 1990, ratified by Canada December 13, 1991.
[2] Proclaimed by the General Assembly, Resolution 3447 (XXX) of December 9, 1975.
[3] Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate (March 2001), available online at


Book Prev / Next Navigation