Removing barriers and designing inclusively
People with mental health disabilities or addictions face many kinds of barriers every day. These could be attitude, communication, physical or systemic barriers. Organizations should identity and remove barriers voluntarily instead of waiting to respond to individual accommodation requests or complaints. Effective inclusive design reduces the need for people to ask for individual accommodation. Organizations, including government, should use the principles of inclusive design when creating policies, programs, procedures, standards, requirements and facilities.
Example: A municipality passes a bylaw that says that 10% of the units offered in new rental housing developments must be affordable housing. It does this because many groups protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), including people with mental health disabilities and addictions, need affordable housing.
Example: When assessing people’s eligibility for a program, a service provider provides quiet and private spaces to sit. This benefits many people protected by the Code, including some people with mental health and addiction disabilities, who at times may need to have a quiet environment and a place to talk about confidential medical information.
Negative attitudes about people with mental health disabilities or addictions can be barriers too. Taking steps to prevent “ableism” – attitudes that devalue and limit the potential of people with disabilities – will help promote respect and dignity, and help people with disabilities to fully take part in community life.
Duty to accommodate
Under the Code, employers, unions, landlords, service providers and others have a legal duty to accommodate people with mental health or addiction disabilities. The goal of accommodation is to allow people to equally benefit from and take part in services, housing or the workplace.
This means that employers, housing providers, service providers and others may need to change their rules, procedures, policies and requirements to allow for equal access and equal opportunities.
Example: An organization that oversees provincial elections works closely with a community mental health organization to make sure that people with mental health disabilities who are homeless can vote. People in this situation face barriers when voting because they may not have the required proof of identity and residence. The elections organization registers eligible mental health organizations. These organizations then provide people with certificates that can be used at the poll as proof of identity. This helps them to vote without additional identity documents.
Many accommodations can be made easily, and at low cost. Where putting the best solution in place right away may result in “undue hardship” because of significant costs or health and safety factors, the person or organization that accommodates has a duty to look at and take the next-best steps that would not result in undue hardship. Next-best steps should be taken only until better solutions can be put in place.
Accommodation is a shared responsibility. Everyone involved, including the person asking for accommodation, should cooperate in the process, share information, and jointly explore accommodation solutions.
Sometimes, a person with a mental health or addiction disability cannot identify they need accommodation. Accommodation providers must try to help a person who is clearly unwell, or is thought to have a mental health disability or addiction. They must ask if the person has needs related to a disability and offer assistance and accommodation.
Example: An employer is unaware of an employee's mental health disability but thinks that a disability might exist due to noticeable changes in his behaviour. The employer sees that the employee is having difficulty doing his job, and is showing obvious signs of distress that include crying at his desk. The employer asks the man if he has any accommodation needs and offers to refer him to an employee assistance program.
Organizations are not expected to diagnose a person’s illness or “second-guess” their health status. An accommodation provider is not entitled to substitute their own opinion for that of medical documentation provided by a doctor.
If you need accommodation because of your disability, you are responsible for:
- Telling your employer, union, landlord or service provider what your disability-related needs are related to your job duties, tenancy or the services being provided, in writing, if you can
- Providing supporting information about the needs and limitations relating to your disability, including information from health professionals where needed
- Co-operating with the accommodation provider on an ongoing basis to manage the accommodation process.
Employers, landlords and service providers must:
- Accept requests for accommodation from employees, tenants, and clients in good faith, unless there are legitimate reasons for acting otherwise
- Ask only for information they need to provide the accommodation. For example, an employer may need to know that someone needs time off to go to medical appointments related to their disability, but not that they have schizophrenia
- Take an active role in looking at accommodation solutions that meet individual needs
- Deal with accommodation requests as quickly as possible, even if it means creating a temporary solution while developing a long-term one
- Respect the dignity of the person asking for accommodation, and keep information confidential
- Cover the costs of accommodations, including any needed medical or other expert opinion or documents.
Example: An employee sends her employer an email stating that because of her disability, she needs to attend medical appointments every Wednesday morning for the next month. The employer accepts this information in good faith and provides flexible hours on those days as an accommodation.
Unions also have a duty to work with the employer to make sure someone’s needs are accommodated.
Maintaining confidentiality for people with mental health disabilities or addictions may be especially important because of the strong social stigmas and negative stereotyping that exist about these disabilities.
Only share documentation supporting the need for an accommodation with people who need to be aware of the information.
Generally, the organization or person providing the accommodation does not have the right to know a person’s confidential medical information, such as the cause of the disability, diagnosis, symptoms or treatment, unless these clearly relate to the accommodation asked for.
In rare situations where a person’s accommodation needs are complex, challenging or unclear, the person may be asked to provide more information, up to and including their diagnosis. In these situations, the accommodation provider must be able to clearly justify why the information is needed.
Types of accommodation
Here are some examples of accommodations people with mental health disabilities or addictions may need:
- Modified job duties
- Changes to the building (for example, building partitions in an open office space to increase someone’s ability to concentrate)
- Job coaching (someone to help the employee adjust to the workplace)
- A referral to an employee assistance program
- Alternative supervision arrangements (such as having meetings more often)
- Different ways of communicating with the employee (such as giving instructions in writing)
- More training, or training that is delivered in a different way
- Changes in break policies (for example, to allow people to take medication when they need to)
- Short-term and long-term disability leave
- A flexible work schedule
- Job bundling (taking various tasks from existing positions and creating a new job that supports the employer’s business needs)
- Alternative work.
- Many different ways of contacting a service including by phone, in person and by regular and electronic mail
- Extra time (for example, for school exams)
- More breaks, where appropriate (for example, during a court hearing)
- Flexible attendance requirements, where possible, if an absence is linked to a disability
- Flexible rules if someone does not comply with a deadline, if the reason is linked to a disability
- A quiet, comfortable space to sit
- To have one’s disability taken into account if it is related to behaviour that would otherwise lead to withdrawing the service or some other consequence.
- Help filling out application forms (for example, for social or supportive housing)
- Adjusted criteria used to select tenants (such as using a guarantor when other information, such as credit history or rental history, is not available)
- Changed deadlines (such as deadlines to report income changes in social and supportive housing)
- Changes in the ways that information is communicated to tenants (for example, making sure legal language is explained plainly)
- A list of support people the landlord can call in emergency situations
- Structural changes to units (such as sound-proofing)
- The landlord to work with outside professionals to address someone’s needs, if agreed to by the tenant (such as where people collect and store possessions to the point where this becomes a significant risk to themselves and others).
For more information:
If you think you have been discriminated against, you can speak to your service provider, housing provider or employer. You can also file a complaint – called an application – with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO).
You can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre if you need more information about your rights, the human rights process, or need help filing an application. You can also ask another organization or person to file an application on your behalf.
You have the right to assert your rights, complain, or file an application with the HRTO, without reprisal. This means that it is against the Code for you to be punished or threatened with punishment because you object to discrimination.
To make an application, contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario at:
Toll Free: 1-866-598-0322
TTY Toll Free: 1-866-607-1240
To talk about your rights or if you need legal help, contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre at:
Toll Free: 1-866-625-5179
TTY Toll Free: 1-866-612-8627
The OHRC’s Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions and other publications are available online at www.ohrc.on.ca.
 This example describes a collaboration between CMHA Ontario and Elections Ontario.
 For more information about these and other accommodation strategies, please see Great West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, “Workplace Strategies for Mental Health,” online: Great West Life, Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace http://gwlcentreformentalhealth.com/display.asp?l1=175&l2=6&d=6#3 (retrieved April 24, 2014).