“Any accessibility feature that we put into an environment, benefits everyone.”
– Mike Greer, Sr. Specialist, Engagement & Accounts for the Accessibility Certification Program at the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF)
Over 1 in 5 Canadians (21.5%) have some form of a disability, be it physical or mental health related. Yet 645,000 people with disabilities (PWDs) that have the potential to work are not in the Canadian labour market. Research shows this discrepancy is due to a lack of inclusive and accessible workplaces that would allow PWDs the opportunity to work.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) highlights key standards for public areas and workplaces to improve themselves for PWDs. However, there are still many businesses that are reluctant to make cultural changes and hire them.
The market for PWDs is an undervalued and overlooked segment. There are negative connotations and stigmas that people have, causing a lack of understanding and awareness towards the community. Businesses often do not take time to vet a PWD for a job because of the costs they may incur when making employment accommodations. What they fail to realize is that in the long run, the return of such an investment will boost them and their business exponentially.
What would happen if we tapped into the PWD market?
In Canada alone, PWDs have a buying power of more than $50 billion. From a global standpoint, that number drastically increases to $1 trillion. Accessible workplaces and stores would enable more PWDs to feel welcomed and respected. This would ensure loyalty to brands that have made accessibility a pillar of their organization.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, improving access in the workplace would allow approximately 550,000 Canadians with disabilities to work more. This would cause a $16.9 billion increase to the country’s GDP by 2030.
Organizations with inclusive cultures are more likely to succeed with the retention and active participation among employees. Implementing inclusive practices lead to positive outcomes, such as:
- Increased innovation and productivity
- Better work performance and quality
- Boost in company morale
- Improved safety
- Increased opportunities of growth for both employers and employees, and many more.
Statistics show that there is an approximate 72% higher retention rate among PWDs in the workplace because accommodations have been made with them in mind. 92% of consumers favour companies that hire PWDs and those who have implemented inclusive and diverse cultures in their workplaces. A further statistic shows that 80% of PWDs require little to no modifications or accommodations in the workplace.
Still, why are there businesses that do not actively hire people with disabilities?
Mike Greer, Senior Specialist in Engagement and Accounts for the Accessibility Program at the RHF and PWD himself, provided more insight in this realm.
Greer explains that there are biases –both conscious and unconscious– towards the community that needs to be addressed. “PWDs are not woven into the social fabric; so, many people do not know how to approach, interact, and engage with someone with a disability.”
For hiring managers, there is not enough training and awareness of PWDs and the challenges they face in the workplace. This results in false stigmas placed towards PWDs, such as a lacking education or skillset that makes them “unfit” or “unqualified” for the job. Businesses should “take the risk” of hiring PWDs; their representation in the workplace will lead to greater acceptance overall. They should be at the forefront of access and inclusion, which will, in turn, become part of everyday normal conversation.
If you are a business owner and you want to be more inclusive towards PWDs in the workplace, here are a few things to do:
For those with a physical disability,
- ensure there is enough space between work areas (like an office or conference room) and furniture for them to move around comfortably.
- Easy accessibility through outdoor walkways, parking, and bathrooms.
- Consider their safety and abilities when needing a first-aid kit or an emergency evacuation plan.
For those with mental health related disability,
- Schedule them for routine check-ins with yourself or other coworkers.
- Make accommodations with regularly scheduled breaks.
- Allow for more training time.
- Offer a work-from-home option, if possible.
For all types of disabilities,
- Listen to your employees and be a critical thinker towards how you view people and spaces.
- Think beyond your personal biases of the PWD community, advocate for them and educate others to look at a person for who they are (not their disability).
- Create an IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equality, and Accessibility) Committee, ensuring all representatives encompass all of the pillars listed, and implement suggestions put forth.
- Be open-minded to PWDs and their needs.
At AEG, we support and try to bring awareness to the employment community, on behalf of people with disabilities. We also thank Mike Greer for his contribution and want to share light towards the Rick Hansen Foundation in creating a world without barriers.