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4. Intersecting grounds

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Discrimination may be unique or distinct when it occurs based on two or more Code grounds. Such discrimination is said to be “intersectional.” The concept of intersectional discrimination recognizes that people’s lives involve multiple interrelated identities, and that marginalization and exclusion based on Code grounds may exist because of how these identities intersect.

The CRPD recognizes “the difficult conditions faced by persons with disabilities who are subject to multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic, indigenous or social origin, property, birth, age or other status.”[76] It also recognizes that “women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.”[77]

Example: Women with disabilities experience unique forms of discrimination. They may be singled out as targets for sexual harassment and sexual violence due to a perception that they are more vulnerable and unable to protect themselves.[78] They may also experience discrimination related to their right to reproductive freedom.[79] And they are more likely to be under-employed, unemployed and live in poverty.[80]

Discrimination based on a disability could intersect with discrimination based on other Code grounds, including:

  • race, colour or ethnic background
  • creed
  • ancestry (including Indigenous ancestry)
  • citizenship (including refugee or permanent resident status)
  • gender identity and gender expression
  • sex (including pregnancy)
  • family status
  • marital status (including people with a same sex partner)
  • another type of disability, including mental, learning, cognitive and intellectual disabilities
  • sexual orientation
  • age
  • receipt of public assistance (in housing)
  • record of offences (in employment).

Stereotypes or treatment based on a person’s socio-economic status may also intersect with discrimination based on disability. A person’s experience with low income may be highly relevant to understanding the impact of discrimination on someone with a disability, and this may result in specific experiences of discrimination. This experience may be complicated further as a person ages.[81]

People with disabilities who are aging may have different needs where rights and entitlements to public services and supports are concerned, because aging may perpetuate low socio-economic status. For example, aging people with intellectual disabilities who have lived with parents might find themselves without these supports as these parents themselves advance in age.[82]

As part of the duty to maintain environments that are free from discrimination and harassment, service providers (e.g. health care professionals, police services, legal services), employers and housing providers must take steps to design their programs, policies and environments inclusively, to take into account the needs of people from diverse backgrounds, with a range of unique identities.

Example: Housing accommodation should address disability-related needs associated with aging. Housing design should integrate current needs and be flexible enough to accommodate future disabilities. This type of up-front, barrier-free design promotes “aging in place” and is more cost-effective than retrofitting inaccessible dwellings if or when disability develops.[83]

Organizations that provide services to the public should make sure their staff members have cultural competency skills.[84] The ability to interact comfortably and effectively with people from diverse cultural backgrounds is an important first step towards recognizing and meeting the human rights-related needs of different populations, including people with disabilities.

When interacting with people, organizations should not rely on preconceived notions, assumptions or stereotypes, but should use an individualized approach that recognizes the unique identity of each person and the fact that each person is uniquely situated to understand their own needs.

[76] From the Preamble (p) to the CRPDsupra note 6.

[77] From the Preamble (q) to the CRPDibid.

[78] See, for example, Fiona Sampson, “Globalization and the Inequality of Women with Disabilities,”
(2003) 2 J. L. & Equality 16; Susan Fineran, “Sexual harassment and students with disabilities,” (2002) Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, Washington D.C.; and Susan Fineran, “Sexual Harassment Between Same-Sex Peers: The Intersection of Mental Health, Homophobia, and Sexual Violence in Schools,” (2002) Social Work, 47. Both papers are discussed in James E. Gruber and Susan Fineran, “The Impact of Bullying and Sexual Harassment on Middle and High School Girls,” Violence Against Women, Volume 13, Number 6, June 2007, 627 at 632.

[79] Women with disabilities have faced unequal treatment relating to many aspects of their reproductive freedom, including infringements of: “the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to marry and found a family; the right to comprehensive reproductive health care including family planning and maternal health services, education, and information; the right to give informed consent to all medical procedures including sterilization and abortion; and the right to be free from sexual abuse and exploitation.” See, Centre for Reproductive Rights, “Reproductive Rights and Women with Disabilities: A Human Rights Framework” (2002), available online at:

[80] See Vera Chouinard, “Legal Peripheries: Struggles over disAbled Canadians’ Places in Law, Society, and Space,” in Rethinking Normalcy, Tanya Titchkosky and Rod Michalko, eds. (Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.) 2009, 217 at 218, 221.

[81] Arim, supra note 14 at p. 7.

[82] Information taken from a written submission to the OHRC made by the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (April 2015).

[83] Human Resources Development Canada reports that while 14% of Canadians have disabilities, the rate for older people is much higher, at 43%. After the age of 75, the rate is more than 50%: Human Resources Development Canada, Federal Disability Report: Seniors with Disabilities in Canada, Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2011 (available online at: For more information on disability
and aging, see Time for Action: Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians, Ontario Human Rights Commission, (2001), available online at:, and the OHRC’s Policy on discrimination against older people because of age, available online at:

[84] “Cultural competence” may be defined as “an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, particularly in the context of human resources, non-profit organizations, and government agencies whose employees work with persons from different cultural/ ethnic backgrounds. Cultural competence comprises four components: (a) Awareness of one's own cultural worldview, (b) Attitude towards cultural differences, (c) Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews, and (d) Cross-cultural skills. Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.” See: (Retrieved: April 6, 2016).

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