Principles are normative, and can act as a catalyst to change attitudes and awareness about persons with disabilities. They are also by their nature aspirational, and can help us to identify the goals which law and policy should seek to achieve with respect to persons with disabilities. A principles-based approach can assist in ensuring that the goals of the law are in harmony with the aspirations of persons with disabilities, while recognizing that those aspirations (and the law itself) are constantly evolving.

The law as it affects persons with disabilities is vast and complex.[4] There are dozens of laws that directly target some or all persons with disabilities. Many of them, like special education and the Ontario Disabilities Support Program, involve extensive and complicated webs of policies and processes and significant bureaucracies. And of course, by definition, all laws of general application affect persons with disabilities, sometimes differently or disproportionately compared with persons who do not have disabilities. Not surprisingly, the law as it affects persons with disabilities is often fragmented and difficult to grasp, let alone navigate. A principles-based approach potentially provides a clear and consistent yet flexible means of assessing this wide range of laws.

As well, a principles-based approach builds on the extensive work that has been completed over the past few decades. Persons with disabilities, together with organizations that represent, serve or advocate for them, have worked to articulate principles that address their experiences and their aspirations, and to see them reflected in laws and public policy. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code (together with the caselaw developed under them), statutes like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, public policy documents like In Unison and international documents like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities all reflect, to varying extents and according to their particular contexts, these fundamental principles. A principles-based approach therefore ensures that the work of the LCO builds on and complements all that has gone before, and can make a contribution to the ongoing evolution of this area.

Because principles are abstract, a principles-based framework must meet the significant challenge of grounding these abstract principles in lived experience, and ensuring that their implications and interpretations are sufficiently concrete to permit practical application, a challenge that is discussed at greater length in Part VI of this Paper. 


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