When asked what the term “accessibility” brings to mind, many people think of wheelchair ramps, wide doors, parking spaces or accessible bathrooms. Yet, for individuals with mental health conditions, accessibility can have a whole different meaning. These individuals face accessibility challenges in many areas of their lives such as education, employment, and housing. They may require additional supports to achieve the same outcomes as others in areas where they face barriers. Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario is committed to providing inclusive and innovative solutions to ensure that individuals living with mental health conditions have a fair chance at achieving the best possible outcomes in all areas of their life.
One inventive solution to accessibility challenges is the use of support animals. Recently, in a Calgary courtroom, a judge expanded the “support person” legislation – which allows a neutral third party to provide emotional support to a victim – to include a trauma dog. The dog provided emotional support to a seven-year-old girl as she recounted her horrifying experiences and testified against her father, who had been charged with sexual assault.
In addition to courtrooms, support dogs have been used effectively in a variety of settings. In post-secondary institutions, they have helped students manage stress, depression and anxiety. They have also been beneficial in therapy, on flights and to assist individuals with autism.
Support animals are just one way to improve accessibility for individuals with mental health conditions. For students in particular, other ways include increased time for assignments or a separate room to write exams. In the workplace, individuals living with anxiety might benefit from having access to a meditation room or taking more breaks throughout the day.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and the Ontario Human Rights Code require public- and private-sector organizations in Ontario to increase accessibility and provide accommodations for people with disabilities, including mental health-related disabilities.
Another relevant project currently under development is called Think Outside the Box: Mental Health Accessibility. It is a web-based resource that promotes human rights and accessibility for individuals with mental health conditions. CMHA Ontario is collecting and sharing success stories about mental health accessibility and accommodation in the hopes of providing tools for organizations to develop their own accessibility solutions.
Do you have any informal or formal practices that you can share? If so, please tell us about what you or your organization does to promote accessibility or accommodations for people with mental health conditions. Here are some examples:
- Focusing on the person, not the diagnosis
- Asking clients about accommodation needs
- Providing honoraria to recognize and support the contributions of people with mental health conditions
- Welcoming all emotional support animals or support persons in your organization
- Developing effective and responsive return-to-work policies and procedures for your employees
To share your story, contact Zahra Ismail, policy analyst at CMHA Ontario: email@example.com.