Legal practitioners are responsible for providing the accommodations needed to communicate effectively with Deaf and hard of hearing clients. A legal practitioner who fails to provide accessible communications with a client is not meeting his or her duty of competent and zealous representation under the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Rule of Professional Conduct. Furthermore, legal practitioners have a legal duty to accommodate Deaf persons and people with hearing loss by providing accessible and effective communication under the Ontario Human Rights Code and Ontario Human Rights Commission Policy and Guidelines on Duty to Accommodate Persons with Disabilities:
Many barriers to the equal participation of members of Francophone, Aboriginal and equality-seeking communities in the legal profession exist because of inadvertence or lack of awareness of special needs, and not because people have deliberately sought to discriminate. Law firms and the legal profession have the responsibility to remove barriers and to adopt proactive measures to attain equality and inclusiveness. The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) and the Rules of Professional Conduct require these changes in order to give meaning to the rights to equality and freedom from discrimination. The duty to accommodate
applies to all the grounds enumerated in the Code. However, in the context of employment and the provision of services, the most common requests for accommodation are based on disability, family responsibilities, pregnancy and/or creed.
Historically, persons with disabilities have borne virtually all the costs, both financial and personal, of their special needs. Providing effective accommodation means that law firms should adopt a proactive approach in undertaking systemic accessibility audits, developing action plans and implementing the necessary changes to make facilities, procedures and services accessible to members, staff and clients with disabilities. Accommodation can also be understood as a means of removing the barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from enjoying equality of opportunity in a way that is sensitive to their individual circumstances so that we all may benefit from their active participation in the community.
The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) provides for equal rights and opportunities, and freedom from discrimination. The Code recognizes the dignity and worth of every person in Ontario. It applies to the areas of employment, housing, facilities and services, contracts, and memberships in unions, trade or professional associations. In other words, the inability to communicate directly with a Deaf or hard of hearing
person in mutually understood language does not automatically preclude the lawyer’s representation of that Deaf or hard of hearing person. It is important to provide adequate legal services; there must be an effective communication access provision.
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