While the majority of Torontonians understand and support the values of diversity and human rights, accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities are often overlooked. People with disabilities often face barriers in their daily lives, especially in employment and cultural activities.

Over 400,000 Torontonians with disabilities feel left out every day. Here are five things you can do to make Toronto more accessible:

  1. See the person, not the disability. Treat people with disabilities the same way you would want to be treated.
  2. Include people with disabilities in your conversations – and speak directly with them.
  3. Ask first. Don’t assume people with disabilities want help and don’t force your assistance on anyone.
  4. Don’t ask people with disabilities awkward and inappropriate questions about their disability. It’s an invasion of their privacy, especially if you don’t know them.
  5. Speak up! When you see something that’s not accessible, report it. You can take action at sites like AccessNow and Stop Gap, others.

Download: Disability Awareness & Inclusion Poster – American Sign Language (ASL)Disability Awareness & Inclusion Poster – Braille

If we all live long enough, we will all have the opportunity to be disabled

– Tobin Siebers

Typically, when we think about disability, we think about a medical problem or an accident that happened to an individual. However, Toronto For All wants to encourage you to think about who we include in our city and the ways we make space for other people. Our bodies are constantly changing. We may one day become disabled; wouldn’t it be great for disability to be just another way of being in Toronto? The following are a list of links, resources and literature to learn about inclusion.

While every effort has been made to include accessible resources here, the resources that are linked below are hosted by external organizations and may or may not be fully accessible.

  • As the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has noted, defining disability is a complex and evolving matter.
  • The Ontario Human Rights Code contains the following definition of disability:
      1. any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
      2. a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,
      3. a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,
      4. a mental disorder, or
      5. an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.
  • These definitions can be very medical in their description. For the purposes of inclusion, it can be helpful to think about disability through a social model. More explanation of the Social Model is provided below.
  • Episodic disabilities are experienced by people living with life-long health conditions who have periods of good health interrupted unpredictably by periods of disability. If you are interested in learning about invisible or episodic disabilities check out Realize and their work on the lives of people with episodic disability.

Think about disability not as a collection of individual medical experiences, but as a social issue.

  • The social model of disability sees disability not as a medical problem inherent to an individual, but as a disconnect between an individual living with an impairment and a world that is not designed to include people living with impairments. Regardless of how you define disability, people with disabilities face many barriers to participation in society that others do not. It is precisely because people with disabilities are left out that this Toronto For All campaign addresses the inclusion of people with disabilities.
  • Check out this short animation, for an audio-visual explanation and example of the social model.

  • Stella Young, an Australian educator, media personality and disability activist, provides an informative TED-talk: I’m not your inspiration thank you very much, that builds on the notion of disability as a social issue rather than an individual problem.

Ableism Defined

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Ableism refers to attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. Ableism is…analogous to racism, sexism or ageism, [and] sees persons with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others. Ableism may be conscious or unconscious, and may be embedded in institutions, systems or the broader culture of a society. It can limit the opportunities of persons with disabilities and reduce their inclusion in the life of their communities.”

In plain language, ableism is discriminating against someone because they are disabled. This can be through intentional refusal to make spaces accessible, or it can be more subtle discrimination, such as the assumption that there is only one authentic way to do things or the notion that people with disabilities lack inherent value.

Dylan Marron provides a tongue-in-cheek example of “Unboxing ableism.”

An interesting guided narrative about Everyday Ableism, including a mix of statistics and narrative.

An article about “6 Ways To Be A Better Ally To People Living with Disabilities

The word intersectional means that something connects or exists with something else. When disability is said to be intersectional, it means that disability can exist with another identity. For example: someone can experience issues of race while also experiencing disabilities. People with multiple marginalized identities can experience multiple types of oppression.

Kat Blaque provides more information on intersectionality and on the scholar who coined the term.

For additional resources that discuss disability, intersectionality, and justice see:

Ontario Human Rights Code

  • Disability is a protected status under the Ontario Human Rights Code. You cannot discriminate against someone with a disability; in the same way you could not exclude someone, because of their race or sexual orientation.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA)

  • The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) is an Ontario law mandating that organizations must follow standards to become more accessible to people with disabilities. The goal for the province is to be fully accessible by 2025. Public sectors, private sectors, and non-profits in Ontario must comply with this legislation. For more information, please visit the “What is the AODA?” page on their website.

Additional links related to AODA

Bill C-81: The Accessible Canada Act

Bill C-81 (The Accessible Canada Act) is proposed federal legislation, the purpose of which is to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, through the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada. It would require the Government of Canada and the federally-regulated public and private sectors to identify and remove barriers, and to prevent new barriers, that hinder the full and equal participation in society of persons with disabilities. It would focus on barriers in the areas of employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, the procurement of goods and services, the delivery of programs and services, transportation, and other designated areas.

Text is taken from the Department of Justice Charter Statement on Bill C81.

Here are five things businesses can do to make Toronto more accessible:

  1. Make your business more accessible, from the entrance to your office, to the technology you use. Whatever you can do helps.
  2. Provide accommodations for your visitors and employees.
  3. Produce accessible and alternative formats for your communications, including on the web.
  4. Integrate accessibility into your hiring practices.
  5. Take advantage of existing resources to learn more about this issue:
    1. Find out about and implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
    2. Universal Design Principles
    3. The World Wide Web consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative Guidelines

Our campaign partner, the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, recommends the following resources as a starting point. A web search of services nearby, may help to provide other options for you based on your specific location and needs.