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Inclusion Now: Human rights complaints in N.L. often disability-related

In downtown St. John’s, many people’s shopping experiences are cut short at the front door of a business.
In downtown St. John’s, many people’s shopping experiences are cut short at the front door of a business.

A significant number of complaints filed with the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador are disability related.

Inclusion Now

Kim MacKay, vice-chair of the commission, said there were 80 complaints made in 2015-16, and out of the 108 grounds for complaint identified, 43 of those — or 40 per cent — were related to disability.

“Most of them relate to employment. Unfortunately, we have situations where ... someone might apply for a job, and then attend at the premises and physically not be able to access the premises,” she said.

“Up in the Stavanger (Drive) area (of east-end St. John’s), there is a problem with wind, so some of the businesses up there constructed wind shields, which unfortunately were not constructed thinking about disability or accommodation needs for people with physical disabilities. So those wind guards were great for allowing the doors to be opened, but you couldn’t physically get through them.”

She said often, it boils down to education.

“I don’t think that people generally want to be malicious or exclusionary,” she said. “It may be that a disability isn’t apparent. It could be a mental disability, it could be a learning disability, and it’s really just a lack of awareness most times. … But most people, when you have that conversation, it’s kind of like a light bulb goes off. ‘Aha! Oh, I get it! I hadn’t thought of that.’”

She said one the one hand, businesses need to know their customers to create an inclusive space.

“If people can’t access a space or don’t feel welcome, then businesses are losing out, and they’re excluding a large number of people.”

On the other hand, she said it’s incumbent on customers to identify their needs, too.

“People can’t accommodate without knowing what the possible barrier may be. So the business owner, or the service provider, has to really take steps to identify possible barriers and avoid those. Similarly, the users have a duty to do their best to come forward and identify questions or problems that they’re having, and then allow the service provider to respond accordingly. People have to talk to each other. It’s as simple as that.”

The Human Rights Commission invites anyone with questions, concerns and complaints to get in touch by phone at 1-800-563-5808 (toll free) or by email at humanrights@gov.nl.ca.

 

By Louis Power 

and Ashley Fitzpatrick

lpower@thetelegram.com

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

 

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