As more people become chemically “sensitive”, different types of human rights scenarios emerge. In their latest elearning module, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has included a case study with someone who “has been diagnosed with a chemical sensitivity disability”.
Some people think that our need for clean air interferes or competes with their imagined right to use toxic products, especially those with fragrances, but no, there is no inherent right to wear perfume or use other fragranced products!
Sometimes, though, someone may need to use a product for a disabling condition of their own. The problems arise if that product has fragrances (or some other problematic ingredients) added which cause disabling effects on another person, as the following case study from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) shows.
Competing rights at the office
This example involves two Code rights, both on the ground of disability.
Mira works in an office with 25 other employees. She has been diagnosed with a chemical sensitivity disability. Perfumes and scented hand creams give her migraines, nausea and make her feel dizzy. Her manager is aware of her disability and has tried to make sure that the other employees don’t wear perfumes or scented products to the office.
Recently Ramon, another employee at the office, was diagnosed with a severe skin condition. He has to use a medicated skin cream several times a day to treat his condition. The skin cream is scented, and causes Mira to react.
Mira told Ramon and their manager that Ramon’s cream is giving her migraines, nausea and dizziness when she comes to work.
Ramon told the manager that he understands Mira’s situation, but if he doesn’t use the cream, his condition will get worse and it will be hard for him to work.
This is a competing rights situation, because both Mira and Ramon have a Code right to have their disability accommodated.
We’ll talk more about how to resolve competing rights situations in Module 5 of this course, but not all competing rights situations are complicated. In fact, many can be resolved by talking.
In this case, for example, a conversation with their manager might find that moving Mira or Ramon to cubicles on opposite sides of the office might solve the problem. Ramon could also see if there’s an alternative or unscented cream, or one of them could work remotely until Ramon’s condition has resolved.
Here are some discussion questions to think about:
In this case, do you think one right is more important than another? Why?
What do you think is the best way to resolve this competing rights situation?
Who will be affected by your solution?
There are more examples in their “Competing Human Rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code” module here.
And, if you want to learn even more about human rights and the law, the OHRC has shared more elearning modules here.
I personally think it’s time for people with MCS/ES to have a right to breathe clean air (which benefits everyone), and to “be allowed to stay”, instead of always being the ones who have to leave in order to avoid feeling like we’ve been run over by a truck, suffer cumulative damages from exposures, and require more and more time to recover our abilities.
Having to work (learn, socialize, shop, live) remotely and electronically, being forced into isolation just so the rest of the world can use toxic products, has been going on for far too long. It is not a humane way to live, especially considering that when we are “accommodated”, everyone benefits from being in a healthier environment.
If people with chemical “sensitivities” can find safe, harmless ways to treat skin problems and other treatable health issues, then so can the general public.
It’s time to prioritize health and well-being over questionable products, and make the world a healthy and accessible place for one and all!