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Removing Barriers for People with Environmental Sensitivities

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

What are Environmental Sensitivities?

People who have environmental sensitivities (ES) become ill through exposure to certain chemicals or products in the environment. For instance, some elements of the environment that commonly trigger illness are:

  • Fragrances, such as perfumes or air fresheners
  • Scented products, such as lotions or deodorants
  • smoke
  • Cleaning products
  • Carpet
  • Paints
  • Solvents
  • Moulds
  • Poor indoor air quality
  • Office machinery
  • Car exhaust
  • Pesticides

Exposure to these chemicals or environments may affect people’s lungs, hearts, or nervous systems. For example, people may experience symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Tightening throat
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty focusing

Barriers for People with Environmental Sensitivities

Review attendees state that there are no rules in the AODA to help organizations become accessible for people with ES. For instance, the Employment Standards outline many of the workplace accommodations workers with disabilities may need, including:

As a result, when a worker requests these accommodations, their workplace knows that it must provide them. Likewise, people with ES may request workplace accommodations, such as a scent-free policy or air purifiers. However, the AODA does not mention people with ES or the accommodations they may need. As a result, many workplaces refuse to provide these accommodations because they do not know that ES are disabilities.

Similarly, customer service providers may not be aware that they should be meeting the needs of customers with ES. For instance, providers could commit to being scent-free in their accessibility policies. Moreover, the previous review of the AODA, in 2014, stated that the Design of Public Spaces Standards should include more requirements to support people with ES. For instance, that standard’s development committee suggested that the standard should include guidelines for air quality. However, these guidelines are not currently in the Ontario Building Code. As a result, Onley’s review recommends that the government reconsider mandating these guidelines.

Without these commitments from workplaces and service providers, people with ES cannot work, shop, or move safely through their communities. Therefore, Onley’s review recommends that the definition of disability in the AODA should include ES. Moreover, the review recommends that the government create a public education campaign to teach people how this disability impacts people’s lives.

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.