June 15th 2017 marks the first BC Disability Pride Celebration and March. This has me thinking about how more of us can celebrate Canadians of all abilities, and how to create more inclusive workplaces.
An estimated 334,000 Canadians aged 15 to 64 have a disability. This represents an important and under-utilized employee talent pool. The unemployment rate for this demographic, however, is 4.5 percent higher than for people without disabilities despite the fact that people with disabilities are highly educated and perform just as well or better than their coworkers in work quality, task consistency, overall proficiency and attendance. I believe that the first step in creating a positive change is simply getting this information out there.
As someone with first-hand experience in navigating the working world with a disability (I happen to have Cerebral Palsy), it brings me no greater pride to be able to help highlight individuals for their abilities and not what some consider disabilities. I do this as an Accessibility and Inclusion Consultant for the Presidents Group. This group is co-chaired by Tamara Vrooman, President and CEO of Vancity, and Craig Richmond, President and CEO of the Vancouver Airport Authority and is a network of change-driven BC business leaders who are champions for accessible, inclusive workplaces.
Members of this group engage with other leaders around the province to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities. As a consultant, my colleague, Mahin Rashid, and I work closely with the Presidents Group members and other businesses to research, pilot and develop a toolkit of resources, approaches and processes that support increased success rates in the recruitment, hiring and employment of people with disabilities.
You don’t need to identify with having a disability in order to make an impact. We all have the ability to take tangible and profound steps towards a future that is barrier-free – whether that’s to do with employment or any other challenge. The key is recognizing how someone’s diverse-abilities add to a future where we’re all given the tools to contribute in a meaningful way. That’s something we can all be proud of.
Here are 4 tips for creating more inclusive workplaces:
1. Set the tone at the top: Whether you’re a small, medium or large-size business, work with your leadership team to set a top-down commitment and vision for an accessible and inclusive workplace using strategies and policies. Showcase your inclusive strategy and approach on your website and public-facing materials.
2. Offer workplace accommodation support: Every team member has different needs. Providing accommodations like desks that are adjustable in height, task lighting for those who may have low-vision or specialized software to assist in job duties often costs very little, but can have a big impact on productivity. Work with your colleagues to understand their needs and how you can best assist them.
3. Create barrier free pathways and aisles: Ensure all major pathways in key areas/functions of your workplace are clear of obstacles. Regardless of a person’s abilities, it is nice to know that there aren’t any tripping hazards.
4. Use large print and photos in documentation and signage: Provide documents (both internal and external) with alternate print sizes (at least 18pt and signage with at least a 72pt font). This size and easier to read in sans-serif font types (e.g. Verdana, Arial.) This is ideal for individuals with low-vision and it also will decrease navigational barriers and accommodate employees and customers who may be Deaf. Adding photos and other visuals that support the materials will also make it easier for employees or customers who more strongly identify with picture symbols instead of letters and numbers.
Creating a community that is inclusive and accessible is not about meeting the needs of people with disabilities, but rather, meeting the needs of people.