Think outside the box when it comes to mental health

by Sheela Subramanian

It’s often assumed that people with disabilities are hyper visible. It’s also often assumed that disability accommodations or accessibility measures are hyper visible, too. For example, when people think about disability and accessibility, they often picture accessible bathrooms, elevators and parking spaces.

The reality, of course, is that many disabilities, including mental health disabilities, are not visible.  The same is true for effective accommodations or accessibility practices. In fact, we need to think outside the box when it comes to mental health accessibility. It’s not about building ramps or widening doors – it’s about innovation and inclusion.

Think Outside the Box: Mental Health Accessibility Project is a Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario initiative that promotes innovation in mental health accessibility. To do this, we are collecting and sharing success stories about mental health accessibility and accommodation. The result: a web-based resource that profiles information and innovative practices about mental health accessibility and accommodation.

Individuals have told us that organizational policies welcoming emotional support animals and support people make a significant difference in their day to day lives. Service providers have told us that partnerships with mental health organizations help them identify creative solutions to accessibility barriers for people with mental health disabilities.

As you know, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) and the Ontario Human Rights Coderequire public- and private-sector organizations in Ontario to increase accessibility and provide accommodations for people with disabilities, including mental health-related disabilities. CMHA Ontario receives regular requests from public-sector stakeholders for advice on mental health accessibility. These requests often include misunderstandings or misinformation about the nature of mental health-related disabilities and what accessibility means in this context. It is our hope that this project will provide stakeholders with the needed tools to develop their own accessibility solutions.

CMHA Ontario’s expertise in mental health accessibility and accommodations include a number of overlapping and complementary initiatives or activities:

  • Mental Health Works, a workplace mental health program
  • Enabling Minds project to promote mental health accessibility in the recreation sector
  • Think Outside the Box, a mental health accessibility and human rights web-resource
  • Ongoing activities related to supported employment and supportive housing initiatives
  • Advocacy and public policy analysis related to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)
  • Appointment to the Elections Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committee
  • Participation in the development of the AODA and its standards

In addition, CMHA Ontario receives requests from governmental and non-governmental organizations regarding compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act,2005(AODA) and its standards. In general, organizations are seeking information and resources about how to increase the accessibility of programs, policies, and practices for people with mental health disabilities. CMHA Ontario has received requests from the Ontario Human Rights Commission; the Canadian Transportation Agency; the Family Responsibility Office at the Ministry of Community and Social Services; Presto, a division of Metrolinx; and Elections Ontario. At the local level, CMHA branch public educators also receive similar requests.

How can you help? Tell us about what you or your organization does to promote accessibility or accommodations for people with mental health disabilities. Do you have any informal or formal practices that you can share? Here are some examples:

  • Focusing on the person, not the disability or diagnosis
  • Asking clients about accommodation needs
  • Providing honoraria to recognize and support contributions of people with mental health disabilities
  • Welcoming all service animals, including emotional support animals in your organization
  • Developing effective and responsive return-to-work policies and procedures for your employees

To share your story, contact Sheela Subramanian at ssubramanian@ontario.cmha.ca. This project is advised by the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, ARCH Disability Law Centre, CMHA Champlain East, CMHA Sudbury/Manitoulin, CMHA York and South Simcoe, Mental Health Works and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Sheela Subramanian is a Policy Analyst with CMHA Ontario.

This piece originally appeared on our Mental Health Strategy Page.