As somebody who has lived with life threatening allergies most of my life, and recently developed extreme environmental sensitivities, I have mixed feelings about the recent announcement by Food Allergy Canada. Earlier this month they announced the New Ontario Human Rights Commission Policy recently released by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
The new policy – Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability – is very much-needed as it provided clarity on a number of areas especially regarding school and workplace accommodation.
However, for the first time anaphylaxis and environmental sensitivities are specifically detailed as disabilities that require accommodation to the point of undue hardship (p13-14).
My mixed feelings are due to the fact that it is pretty much impossible to fully accommodate such allergies and sensitivities.
I love the fact that this policy does place the responsibility for accommodation on employers, housing providers and service providers.
Hopefully it will lead to more scent free environments generally.
However, the issue is going to be what is undue hardship?
Lets put my current random allergic reactions to one side for the moment and just go with my most serious long-term allergen – citrus fruit.
Is it realistic to expect that a shopping mall will refuse to rent space to Orange Julius because I can’t be in proximity to it without putting my life at risk? Probably not.
Yet, the top 8 allergens (Milk, Eggs, Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod), Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp), Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans), Peanuts, Wheat & Soybeans.) are fairly often accommodated with schools being completely peanut free in compliance with Sabrina’s law.
The difference is that the top 8 are not usually airborne allergies. They require touch to trigger a reaction. The amount of the allergen may be miniscule but people still generally need to touch it to have a reaction.
My allergy to citrus is airborne. I only need to be in the vicinity of somebody peeling an orange to have a life threatening reaction.
So are we setting up a discriminatory system? Are those with airborne allergies automatically going to not be protected by the revised policy due to the ‘undue hardship’ clause?
More recently my latex allergy has become a lot worse. From needing direct contact with it I am now reacting to it being present in the same space which makes visiting a dentist almost impossible.
Thankfully, my local lab is completely latex free. However, they’re located in a mall which often has balloon displays. I’m hopeful that as I can access the lab through an external door and there is quite a distance between the lab and where the balloon displays are most often that it will continue to be safe for me. However, if I become truly airborne allergic to latex that may no longer be the case.
How then do I request accommodation? The service provider I’m using, the lab, is completely latex free. It is another service provider, the store with balloon displays, that I need to accommodate me. However, I am not actually being provided with a service by them. So do they still have a duty to accommodate?
As I said, I have very mixed feelings.
Perhaps the best that somebody like me can hope for, from this new policy, is that in general there will be better awareness of anaphylaxis and environmental sensitivities and more will be done to make public spaces safer for us.
For those that have contact based allergies I am hopeful that this new policy will improve the lives of many and allow people to continue working and contributing to society that maybe couldn’t before.
So overall, I do think that the new policy is a good thing and I’m very thankful to Food Allergy Canada for working so hard to get anaphylaxis and environmental sensitivities recognised.
However, I will be watching with interest to see how the defnition of “undue hardship” will be defined as the policy is implemented and challenged.