Guest Commentary: Treatment for a Disability

By Victor Schwartzman
July 20, 2009

For 21 years I was a Human Rights Officer with The Manitoba Human Rights Commission, until I ran into problems being accommodated for the treatment of a
disability (high blood pressure). High blood pressure felt fine. I only felt sick from the medical treatment of lowering it.

Prescription medications for serious medical conditions, including disabilities, are common in North America. We love our pills! But pills come with a price. Some of the meds I take, the list of side effects is so long they have to print it in tiny type you can’t read (just to squeeze it in). If you are not aware that human rights protections includes the treatment for a disability, read on.

Example: a worker has a disability and takes a med. A side effect of the med causes frequent urination. This gets him into trouble at work because he has to leave his station more than allowed. There are human rights protections to help the worker and employer. If a disability requires a person to stand periodically, most people know this is covered under the law as a reasonable accommodation. But if the medicine can leave the worker tired and confused,
with difficulty doing the job, what then?

Then it all depends on the individual situation. Take nothing for granted. If you, or someone you know, has negative impacts from the medical treatment for a serious medical condition, the responsible Human Rights Commission in your area should be contacted for advice.

Doctoring Your Human Rights

Confidentiality around medical information is always an issue. In a workplace situation, a worker may want
the employer to accommodate her but her doctor may not want to give the employer confidential medical information. How much information to give the employer is an important issue.

To protect a worker, a physician may not even want the employer to know what the disability is. An accommodation request may simply be provided. However, an employer can not be held responsible for facts it does not know. Therefore, it is best if the employer is provided a written diagnosis which includes
what the disability is, the impact of it and its medical treatment on the person at work, and what accommodations are required.

Even if that information is not provided, on receiving an accommodation request the employer can not simply be passive. It can not just receive information. Moreover, that is bad business. If a worker is having problems, surely the best approach is to find out how to help.

If there is not enough information, but clearly a medical problem, a reasonable process requires the employer to ask questions. Normally those are posed in writing directly to the worker’s physician. Such questions should be basic, and do not have to be too intrusive: what is the disability, how does it
and its medical treatment affect the person at work, and what accommodations (and for how long) are required at work?

Ensure your employer has this information. With respect to accessibility issues, building owners also can legally require proof of a mobility disability, for example.

Not Waiting for Planning Committees

I was a Human Rights Officer for 21 years, and have been involved in advocacy outside of that role. I read a recent article in the Accessibility News newsletter( about the
situation in Ontario regarding accessibility, Province Wrong to Make Only New Buildings Accessible.


It sounds as if the process is a bit stalled in Ontario.

For a little history, in Manitoba, human rights complaints began coming in ten or fifteen years ago on accessibility issues. You can see the issue in the public annual reports.

Essentially, some people here got tired of going to meetings. Instead, they started going out and noting businesses which were not accessible. Then they filed individual complaints against each business. This tool is still being used today. It is very effective.

Some businesses were small, some large. The issues usually involved a six or eight inch step keeping someone with a mobility impairment from entering a restaurant, book shop or grocery store. $1000 eliminated most steps or made them accessible. That amount of money is not a burden for any business. It is also a deductible expense. There is simply no reason for such a situation to continue when a human rights tool is available.

More than a step or curb, then it gets complicated. Worst is accessing upper floors, which means putting in elevators. In a private business, this is almost always an undue hardship in older buildings, where the tenants arguably do not generate enough income to make the cost reasonable.

However, a government can not easily claim undue hardship.

See Auton v. B.C., from a few years ago. The court ruled, essentially, that the government can not claim undue financial hardship. It always has the choice of raising taxes. In a health care situation, which includes accessibility, the government legally might be forced to comply with accessibility needs, especially when challenged on a local, individual level.