Review Finds Ontario Far From Accessible but Report Includes People With Environmental Sensitivities

The Honourable David C. Onley, the 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario (2007-2014) was appointed to lead the Third Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

The report has now been released.


For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers

Thanks to everyone who wrote in, those of us with environmental sensitivities have been recognized, and thanks to David C. Onley, we’ve been included in the report and the final recommendations:


7. Ensure that accessibility standards respond to the needs of people with environmental sensitivities.


Other mentions of environmental sensitivities and details:

pg 24:

Definition of Disability

Another series of questions surrounds the meaning of disability. A researcher observed that the AODA definition of disability is grounded in a medical approach that equates disability with health impairment. She and others argued that the definition of disability should be revisited and brought in line with the definition in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (This reads: “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or  sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”) The UN approach reflects a social model of disability that puts the focus on environmental barriers rather than individual health.

The Review is also aware of a suggestion raised at an international expert conference that accessibility legislation like Ontario’s should add “aging” to the determinants of physical disability, which now include bodily injury, birth defect or illness. The reason of course is that aging and disability raise the same kind of accessibility issues.

As well, the consultations showed that many people with non-visible disabilities feel left out of the AODA. Some believe this state of affairs could be improved by changing the definition of disability – which now includes physical, developmental, learning and mental disabilities – to cover non-visible disabilities explicitly and mention conditions like environmental sensitivities and dementia.


* see SStP notes at the end of this post regarding definitions and  sensory impairments

pg 40:

Other suggested revisions to the current standard include such low-cost measures as:
­ Designating an employee to ensure accessible customer service is provided, and that complaints about accessibility are heard and resolved.
­ Communicating by diverse and adaptable methods.
Posting signage about scent-free policies.
­ Ensuring accessibility of cash registers or tills with price displays.
­ Providing accessible restaurant menus.


SStP note:

*** posting signs without enforcement is not only misleading,
it’s dangerous

A better recommendation would be:

“Implementing and enforcing scent-free policies”


pg 44:

Barriers Facing People with Environmental Sensitivities

People with environmental sensitivities report seeing no benefit from the AODA.

If they request that scents, fragrances or other products not be worn in workplaces or places where services are provided, the reaction is often disbelief. Some organizations may say they are striving to be scent-free, but that does not make it so at public events. Though warning signs about chemicals and fragrances are often posted in hospitals and other health care settings, they are rarely enforced.

Safe housing is described as the primary medical need of people with ES but is virtually impossible to find, leading in some cases to homelessness. Even with a somewhat accessible home, a woman told how she has to remain housebound due to barriers outside.

Many people are forced to ask if every service or thing they need is safe to access – an exhausting task. An Ottawa woman related how she could not be hospitalized with a life-threatening condition as no area hospital would accommodate her needs.

Individuals at the severe end of the spectrum end up losing their families and living in isolation without support for basic survival. In moderate cases, employees give up careers because of lack of workplace accommodation and students cannot go to school.

A public education campaign was suggested to portray the impact of these disabilities on a person’s life. As well, the government was urged to implement the recommendations of the Interim Report of Ontario’s Task Force on Environmental Health (July 2017).

This called for action to increase understanding and recognition of these conditions and lay the groundwork for a patient-centred system of care, including making hospitals and long-term care homes safe for these patients.


pg 54:

Accessibility for people with non-visible disabilities was felt to require more support than it is now receiving. One stakeholder called on the ADO to establish a working group of non-visible disability experts, including those with lived experience, to develop a series of resources, tools and training modules to help providers of goods and services meet AODA obligations to these consumers.


pg 59:

A woman with environmental sensitivities reported that the ODSP no longer covers air purifiers, water purifiers, organic food, organic beds, respirators, oxygen or other assistive devices she needs to be functional.


pg 64

C. Update the definition of “disability”.

From consultations and research, the Review learned that the trend internationally has been to shift from the medical model of disability to a social model that focuses on environmental barriers rather than individual health. The Review also heard that people with non-visible disabilities feel left out of the AODA.

I am confident that the current definition of disability in the AODA is comprehensive and does in fact cover non-visible disabilities, or invisible or non-evident disabilities, as they are sometimes called.

However, I also believe that the law should serve as an educational tool and it would be helpful to mention non-visible disabilities explicitly in the definition. I would suggest that Ontario consider adopting the definition in the pending Accessible Canada Act, which does this. The federal definition also aligns with the international emphasis on the social model of disability. It reads as follows:

disability means any impairment, including a physical, mental, intellectual, cognitive, learning, communication or sensory impairment – or a functional limitation – whether permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, or evident or not, that, in interaction with a barrier, hinders a person’s full and equal participation in society.

As well, adopting the federal definition would be a positive gesture toward federal-provincial cooperation on accessibility.

Another option, if the government prefers to largely maintain the present definition, would be to add “aging” to the determinants of physical disability, which is now described as caused by “bodily injury, birth defect or illness”.

Again, this amendment may not be necessary from a legal point of view. But it could help raise awareness of the connections between aging, disability and the need for accessibility.

In addition, “environmental sensitivities” could be added to list of health conditions specifically included under physical disability, in order to increase the profile of these debilitating conditions.

The AODA currently uses the same definition of disability as the Human Rights Code. It would be wise to keep this consistency so, if the AODA’s definition is amended, the Code’s should be too.


*** see SStP notes at the end of this post regarding definitions as well as comment on sensory impairments


Pg 67-68


Recommendation 4:

The Review also heard many calls for the government to confirm that the Health Care committee has a mandate to consider the entire health care sector, not only hospitals. I agree, having observed accessibility issues in medical offices myself.

pg 69

Recommendation 7:

Ensure that accessibility standards respond to the needs of people with environmental sensitivities.

As standards development work proceeds, the needs of people with environmental sensitivities should receive attention.

For example, as the Moran Report observed, the Built Environment standard originally proposed by the standards development committee included air quality and ventilation provisions, but these requirements did not appear in the final regulations in the Building Code.

I believe this question should be revisited. In the health care sector, standards could be considered to help make hospitals and long-term care homes safe for people with environmental sensitivities.


pg 73

A. Establish a complaint mechanism for reporting AODA violations.


pg 75 – 2nd last point

A. Issue clear, in-depth guidelines interpreting accessibility standards.

One of the priorities emerging from the consultations is for the ADO to issue clear, extensive and authoritative guidelines interpreting standards so it becomes easier to apply them to real-world conditions. The Moran Report made a similar recommendation.

Some of the areas where guidelines could be considered, as noted by participants in the Review, include:

­ – Websites and web content
­ – Conditions under which organizations can exclude a service animal from the premises
­ – Service animals, such as autism assistive dogs, in schools
­ – How self-service gas stations should serve people with disabilities
­ – Quality standards for the content of training under the AODA, including how to ensure cultural sensitivity
­ – How to enforce priority seating in public transit vehicles
­ – Design of accessible playgrounds
­ – How to respond to the needs of people with environmental sensitivities
­ – Strategies for communicating with Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.


pg 80

7. Ensure that accessibility standards respond to the needs of people with environmental sensitivities.


SStP note re sensory impairments:

There is some misunderstanding among disability advocates and others who erroneously believe that chemical and environmental sensitivities are sensory impairments. I don’t know what the UN take is, I couldn’t find details.

Sensory impairments or sensitivities are not the same as environmental and chemical sensitivities… but some people could have both.

Environmental sensitivities need to be added to the UN definition too.


SStP note re definitions:

Environmental sensitivities ARE specifically  included in the OHRC definition of disability, but  not in the section used by the AODA.

They appear in a following section, under 2.2 Non-evident disabilities, as well as in the paragraph on Disability under Code Grounds.

The simplest definition is under the OHRC Code Grounds:

“The Code protects people from discrimination and harassment because of past, present and perceived disabilities.  “Disability” covers a broad range and degree of conditions, some visible and some not visible. A disability may have been present from birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time.

There are physical, mental and learning disabilities, mental disorders, hearing or vision disabilities, epilepsy, mental health disabilities and addictions, environmental sensitivities, and other conditions.”


Links to several resources are there too, including this from the CHRC:

Policy on environmental sensitivities
(Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2014)

This next part is where the AODA definition falls short to the point of seeming deliberately non-inclusive or discriminatory.  The accessibility barriers faced by people in these unmentioned groups are systemic.

When they only use the first part of the definition, which does include SOME invisible disabilities, while excluding other non-evident disabilities like environmental sensitivities, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), it does nothing to encourage removal of the systemic accessibility barriers we face.

What is disability? (OHRC)

… First part is the section the AODA uses …

The section the AODA doesn’t use:

2.2 Non-evident disabilities

The nature or degree of disability might render it “non-evident” or invisible to others. Chronic fatigue syndrome and back pain, for example, are not apparent conditions. Other disabilities might remain hidden because they are episodic. Epilepsy is one example. Similarly, environmental sensitivities can flare up from one day to the next, resulting in significant impairment to a person’s health and capacity to function, while at other times, this disability may be entirely non-evident. Sometimes, a person’s disability may be mislabeled and misunderstood.

Environmental sensitivities need to be added to the definitions used by the AODA, the UN,  and the pending Accessible Canada Act, in order to reduce the systemic accessibility barriers we currently face.

I am grateful to the Honourable David C. Onley for his  report on the state of the AODA and for having listened to the people with disabilities living in Ontario.

Because currently:

“We are the only minority group in our society that faces blatant,
overt discrimination and whose civil rights are infringed upon every day
from multiple directions.”


If and when the Ontario government adopts the recommendations, and the general public realizes we’re all in this together, we’ll all have cause to celebrate!


Full report can be found at the link here:


9 responses to “Review Finds Ontario Far From Accessible but Report Includes People With Environmental Sensitivities

  1. Thanks for this summary on the MCS/ES end of things. I haven’t finished reading the entire review yet, it’s a lot!

    • Thanks! I know the effort people made to have their voices heard was great, and I was happy to see that we were included!

      I hope it will all make a difference coming from someone who has held a prominent position, being a person who experiences accessibility barriers themselves.

      It’s really not that difficult to make accessibility a part of life once you get over the attitudinal barriers.

  2. Thank you for reviewing the report, Linda, and for pointing out the relevant sections. Knowing what is going on in Ontario helps us in BC and other provinces and territories to know what to expect of, and aspire (push) our governments to.

  3. Thank you for this information. I had a meeting via phone and sent in a submission to have ES/MCS included in the review for Manitoba. It was not included. I sent them a copy of the Ontario review.

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  7. From 2020

    Removing Barriers for People with Environmental Sensitivities

    August 4, 2020
    Lisa Kovac

    “In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. One of these improvements is the need to address accessibility for people who have environmental sensitivities (ES). During the public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees outline the need for removing barriers for people with ES.

    Removing Barriers for People with Environmental Sensitivities

    How New Standards Can Meet the Needs of People with Environmental Sensitivities

    In addition, committees developing new AODA standards should create mandates addressing the needs of people with ES. For instance, the upcoming healthcare standards could mandate that healthcare spaces must be safe for people with ES to access. Similarly, review attendees suggest that a committee should create a standard for housing. This standard could include guidelines on removing barriers for people with environmental sensitivities, to make their homes safe.”

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