Color & Control:

Making the Law Work for Persons with Disabilities


A Law Reform Project of the Law Commission of Ontario

How do we make sure that the law takes into account the everyday lives of persons with disabilities? The Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) is working on a project to address this question.

The law may affect almost every aspect of the lives of persons with disabilities. Anti-discrimination protections; minimum physical accessibility requirements; education for children with disabilities; the Ontario Disability Support Program; exemptions for fishing license requirements; disabled parking permits; and involuntary treatment for persons with psychiatric disabilities are just a few examples of areas where the law directly affects persons with disabilities.

The law as it relates to persons with disabilities is confusing and complex. It doesn’t always work the way it should and may have unintended negative effects. Too often, the needs and circumstances of persons with disabilities are not taken into account when laws are developed and implemented. The LCO is developing a framework for evaluating and reforming the law, with the goal of removing the confusion and making the law more responsive to what persons with disabilities really experience.

The LCO will not make recommendations for reforming any specific area of the law, such as substitute decision-making or mental health law. Rather, the LCO aims to create a principle-based tool to help legislators and policy-makers consider the interests, legal rights and needs of persons with disabilities in the design of laws and policies. This tool is intended to help legislators and policy-makers simplify the law and increase access to justice for persons with disabilities.

The LCO began work on this project in 2009. Our work is guided by an advisory group made up of representatives of government, academia and organizations working with, or for, persons with disabilities. The LCO has funded seven research papers by experts in the area of disability and the law, and has also conducted considerable research of our own. Since the beginning, the LCO has consulted with the community on priorities, methodology and key issues.

In the spring of 2010, the LCO held 17 focus-group discussions in London, Ottawa, Toronto, Owen Sound and Thunder Bay. The consultations helped the LCO to better understand how the law works—or does not work—for persons with disabilities. They were also instrumental in identifying key themes and issues that arise in the relationship between persons with disabilities and the law.

In meetings with well over 100 people who live with various disabilities, and over 60 representatives from organizations working with or on behalf of persons with disabilities, the LCO heard that:

  • persons with disabilities are often treated with disrespect and endure dehumanizing processes to access supports and services;
  • services offered to persons with disabilities often fail to take into account the needs of the whole person, so that those with complex needs fall through the cracks;
  • persons with disabilities are rarely consulted about the design and implementation of programs and policies that affect their lives;
  • there are multiple barriers to accessing information about rights and relevant programs and services;
  • persons with disabilities may be dissuaded from complaining about the violation of their rights by vulnerability and the fear of retribution;
  • the high level of poverty among persons with disabilities creates barriers to accessing the law; and
  • those who live at the intersection of disability and marginalized gender, race or sexual orientation experience unique additional barriers.

The LCO is now developing a consultation paper to be released in the fall of 2010. This paper will identify issues and directions based on what we have heard to date, and will seek input from the disability community, government, experts and others, in preparation for the development of the interim report and final report in 2011.

For more information on the project, to fill out our online survey about your experiences as a person with a disability, or to add your contact information to our stakeholder database, please visit our website at www.lco-cdo. org. As the consultation paper and our interim and final reports are released, they will also be added to our website. Lauren Bates, staff lawyer, is the head of this project.


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