Broadening the scope of disability in Canada


When we think of disability, we are often quick to associate this term to someone in a wheelchair, a person who has paraplegia or a person who is blind or deaf. We imagine someone using a cane, a service animal or hearing aid.


But a disability isn’t always something physical we can see. Disabilities are often hidden beneath the surface.


Many of us rely on an inaccurate definition of what it means to be disabled that ignores the difficult reality faced by thousands of Canadians.


It’s estimated that 3.8 million Canadians live with some form of disability — and many are affected by disabilities that are not obvious when we look at them. Intellectual, developmental, memory, learning and mental health disabilities are all examples of disabilities that can go undetected, unless a person chooses to disclose their condition.


The number of people living with disabilities in Canada continues to grow as our large population of baby boomers and seniors grow and age.


We also tend to correlate disability with permanency. Usually, we don’t affiliate the term disability with temporary injuries or mobility impediments caused by an accidental slip or fall, or even sporadic epileptic episodes, for example. But the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has found that these types of hindrances and incidents are disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

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