Michelle Dawson won her human rights case.


Here is Michelle’s blog entry about it.

Here is the HTML copy of the decision.

Here is the PDF copy of the decision.

I will quote a similar part to the part Michelle quoted:

[242] Be this as it may, the Tribunal finds it disturbing for the future of autistic people that they be seen because of their condition to pose a threat to the safety of others and some form of nuisance in the workplace. An employer has a duty to ensure not only that all employees work in a safe environment but also that ill perceptions about an employee’s condition due to poor or inadequate information about his disability lead other employees to have negative and ill-founded perceptions about him.

[243] An autistic person should expect that his workplace be free of any misperception or misconception about his condition. It goes to the right of autistic individuals to be treated equally, with dignity and respect, free of any discrimination or harassment related to their condition. In this respect, in a society where human rights are paramount, an employer has the duty to dispel such misconception or misperception about such individuals.

[244] This duty stems from the Canadian Human Rights Act and the need to get rid of any discriminatory behavior in the workplace as well as in society in general. It is worth reminding employers as well as society as a whole that the purpose of the Canadian Human Rights Act, as stated in section 2 of the Act, is to give effect to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.

[245] Autistic people, if they want to be able to accomplish themselves in a workplace or in society, need to be reassured that everything possible short of undue hardship will be done in order to ensure that misperceptions and misconceptions about their condition are properly handled by their employer, so that co-workers have a proper understanding of their condition and are not inclined to discriminate against them or harass them.

[246] To discriminate on the basis of somebody’s physical appearance or social behavior might be one of the cruelest forms of discrimination. Here, Ms. Dawson was seen or perceived, at one point in her career at Canada Post, to be a threat to her co-workers because she had self-injured in the past, not because she had assaulted colleagues. She was later on perceived as a form of nuisance because she insisted on obtaining rational responses to her queries and never backed down. The fact of the matter is that Ms. Dawson was, until her diagnosis became officially known to Canada Post in 1999, seen as an excellent employee.

[247] The Tribunal is of the opinion, in view of the evidence, that the Respondent needs to review its policies in relation to discrimination and harassment and put in place educational programs that will sensitize its employees as well as management to the needs of disabled individuals in the workplace, notably autistic individuals, so that individuals such as Ms. Dawson will not have to suffer from a lack of knowledge and understanding of their condition. In this respect, given the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s expertise in these matters, the latter can surely provide assistance, which should be welcomed, to the Respondent.

Congratulations, Michelle. This decision ought to make things not only better for you, but for all autistic Canadians who might be in your position.

My only concern is that I hope that other autistic people will be taken as seriously as Michelle was, if they are not able to maintain the standard of perfection in employment that she did for a long time. She had, until very near the end, never taken a sick day, and never complained.

I do not know precisely why that was, in her case. But I do know that in general, disabled people, like many other people viewed with suspicion by those with more power in a society, have to work harder than everyone else, and hold ourselves to a higher standard than everyone else, in order to be considered anything close to equal.

This means that for many of us, me included, we learn that even in the event that we are capable of communicating about health problems, then we should not do so. This often leads to the eventual collapse of our health when things that could possibly have been caught and treated early, are left to get to emergency levels. In the worst cases, it leads to our deaths. Living in constant physical pain has negative effects on the body, but many of us do exactly that rather than risk being perceived as slacking or incapable.

In the book Real Eyes by Ruth Ryan and Dave Hingsburger, I read about a woman who was referred to Ruth Ryan, a psychiatrist, for “hysterical” abdominal pain after she collapsed trying to get to work one morning. Turned out she had not only one but two conditions causing it, and either of them alone would have made most non-disabled people not even attempt to get out of bed, let alone to work.

Something’s wrong when that happens, but it’s a constant theme in the lives of nearly every disabled person I know, as well as non-disabled people working or living in settings where people like them have historically been frowned upon. Let people see weakness and you’re frequently perceived and treated as either incompetent (and an example of how incompetent everyone like you is) or lazy (and an example of how lazy everyone like you us). So we learn that even when it is possible for us to do something about these things, we should do so in total privacy if at all.

That can be a necessary survival tactic in some contexts, and it can give us added credibility once something goes so wrong that we can’t hide it. But it shouldn’t have to be. As I said, I don’t know Michelle’s specific reasons for her excellent work record, it could just be a result of her personality. But I hope that, had Michelle needed sick days, and had she needed more extensive barriers removed for her in the workplace from the start, that the Human Rights Tribunal would have decided in her favor anyway. And I hope that in the event an autistic person in the future needs drastic modifications to the job from the beginning, or has to take time off periodically, and in the event that something happens to them that is as awful as what happened to her, then they will be treated far more fairly than what Michelle Dawson had to go through to get to this point.

I hope that is the direction that this victory leads Canada in, and I hope that people in other countries take note as well.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

9 responses »

  1. Congratulations to Michelle!

    I have also been the victim of the phenomenon you describe. I probably have exercise-induced asthma, but I don’t know for sure because my parents refuse to take me to a doctor. I once was forced to go biking with them, and when I collapsed on a long uphill stretch, hysterical, weeping, and unable to breathe, all at the same time, they prodded me with their feet and yelled, demanding that I get up and get on the bike again.
    I also have dysmenorhia (I think that’s how it’s spelled), or excruciatingly painful menstruation, and I miss school every month because I can barely stand up. The school is not very sympathetic. Although I have a doctor’s note excusing me on any day I have my period, they don’t believe that it’s really that bad. As a result, a lot of the time I do try to go to school even when I really can’t, and end up having to come home halfway through the day feeling even worse.

  2. I don’t think having to prove yourself not only comes with being disabled, but being poor. Being disavantated in some way. I’m proably asbergers but after a rather intersting life (most of it not in a school setting) I was diagnosed with ADD, CAPD (now called central audio processing something but not disease), dyslexia and one of the other dys’ that makes me say (and occasinally write) words out of order.
    Most of these I can hide on any given day at work. But what really gets people is a) I look like I’m 14 and b) I’m fairly poor. I have to work very hard to get people’s attention, and to maintain that attention I have to work even harder not to make mistakes that are bound to happen becuase of my problems. I have a co-worker who finds it hysterical to mercisly rag on me becuase of this….even though I’m now her boss.

    I hope more victories are won like this so people who are struggling in work (or in school) can be upfront and honest about disabilities.

  3. “An employer has a duty to ensure”… “that ill perceptions about an employee’s condition”… “lead other employees to have negative and ill-founded perceptions about him.”

    Doesn’t sound quite right!

  4. sanabituranima: Actually, I had an IEP throughout my educational career. Throughout at least most of it, increasing frustration levels wasn’t a goal.

  5. It’s a common unstated goal of IEPs, but it is not even remotely normal for it to be written on them or directly acknowledged in any way. When they wrote it, they were not attempting to come clean about their own stated goals. They were just being unintentionally factual.

  6. Pingback: Disaboom | DayAlMohamed | Disability Blog Carnival #47 - Policy (Cross-Posted from www.DayInWashington.com)

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