For businesses, accessibility is a key consideration that plays a role within their day-to-day operations. For the 6 million Canadians with disabilities, accessibility is a fundamental component in shaping both their personal and professional lives. As someone with single-sided deafness, I know some of the struggles faced with partaking in the workforce, but I also know the pride and fulfillment of finding a company to work for that supports and appreciates your experiences.

Individuals with disabilities add incredible value to any organization, especially considering their job retention rates are 72% higher than the Canadian average. As some of the most resilient individuals, their lived experiences can also lead to unique forms of problem solving, heightened empathy, and  valuable insight. Through inclusion, we can build a workforce as resilient as the individuals behind it and ultimately, address issues in a more humane and economically efficient manner. 

A barrier-free work environment not only betters the quality of life for persons with disabilities, but also can create a more sustainable future of work. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Canada is nearly 5 times higher than the national average. These individuals are an untapped pool of talent seeking to take part in our workforce but cannot due to lack of accessibility. Furthermore, it’s been proven that diverse and inclusive workplaces lead to higher levels of trust and improved productivity with employees, as well as higher revenue growth and an increased likelihood of outperforming less diverse competitors. 

That said, in order to access this talent, businesses need to eliminate any barriers that are within their control, as well as create a more inclusive work environment. The first step to achieving this is taking the time to educate yourself on the experiences of people with disabilities, as well as assessing any unconscious biases you may have. There is often a stigma or fear that hiring a person with a disability means that they will not be able to fulfill the entire scope of a role or that they will need substantial assistance, but that could not be further from the truth. People with disabilities are just as capable in the workplace, and often the biggest accommodation needed is an accepting, respectful, and understanding work culture. Employers should focus on an individual’s abilities and how truly easy adaptability can be.

The next step is to ensure your entire team is of the same mindset and knows how they can play a role in creating a more accessible workplace. Not only senior management, but mid and junior level employees as well, need to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusivity so that individuals feel supported at every level. Human resources also need to rethink how different work environments, priorities, and lifestyles affect their employees. Additionally, continuing to check-in and support employees long-term is crucial.

Hiring managers also play an imperative role in ensuring that people with disabilities can access information pertaining to a job role. It’s important that job descriptions clearly articulate the responsibilities of the role and identify day-to-day responsibilities rather than listing broad descriptions such as “communications skills required”. Detailed information like this is needed because for someone like myself, who is hearing impaired, I may see communications skills as a barrier and be hesitant to apply for a role, but if I know the task associated with the role is writing content, I know that I’m still qualified to apply. Ultimately, clearly stating what the job actually requires will open the doors to a more diverse candidate pool. It’s important these accessible actions continue by making the interview process inclusive for people with disabilities as well.

You will also want to identify and address any barriers someone with a disability may face in the workplace, which can be done through an accessibility audit. A holistic assessment looks at your workplace policies and procedures, web accessibility, built environment, as well as customer service. For example, Canadians with disabilities historically are paid less than those without for the exact same role. To address this, your audit may include ensuring there are no pay disparities within your organization, and if there is, addressing it immediately.

Lastly, the most important element is offering employees with disabilities continued support. Being an inclusive workplace doesn’t end at hiring someone with a disability, it’s important that your company takes the proper measures to continue to be accessible and promote an inclusive work culture where everyone is treated with respect and empathy. It’s important that all employees, especially those with disabilities, feel supported and that they have the resources they need to succeed in the workplace.

For ways to improve workplace diversity and inclusion, we have tools and resources available for you here.

Alita Fabiano

Author Alita Fabiano

Specializing in strategic communications, digital accessibility, as well as diversity and inclusion, Alita Fabiano has a passion for championing a stronger workforce through inclusion. Alita’s insights have also been published in the Ottawa Business Journal and Canadian SME Magazine, as well as she has been invited to speak to several organizations about inclusivity and accessibility.

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