If Canada is truly going to build back better after COVID-19, we will need the support and expertise of all Canadians, Yazmine Laroche writes. By Yazmine Laroche
Thu., July 7, 2022
As the pandemic lingers, Canadian employers are experiencing a human resources crunch, commonly referred to as “The Great Resignation.” Adequate staffing and training are a significant challenge for many employers.
But this challenge also comes with an opportunity.
As we are forced to reconceive many of our workplaces, we can do so with 21st vision. It’s time to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace – but that means disability inclusion too.
There is a 21 per cent gap in employment rates between persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 (59 per cent) and those without disabilities (80 per cent). TD Economics projects that by decreasing this gap and hiring persons with disabilities, 450,000 net new jobs could be added to the Canadian economy, resulting in an increase of almost $50 billion to our GDP.
A new $9-million funded research team, Inclusive Design for Employment Access at McMaster University recognizes the opportunity in this employment gap and promises to reimagine workplaces for persons with disabilities by building up employer capacity and confidence in hiring persons with disabilities. It’s the right approach.
So why does the employment gap for persons with disabilities persist – even during a human resource crunch? A couple of pervasive myths refuse to die.
First, employers frequently believe hiring persons with disabilities would be costly due to necessary workplace accommodations. But a 2020 U.S. Job Accommodation Network survey laid that myth to rest. It found 56 per cent of employers reported no costs whatsoever for workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Which leads to the second pervasive myth – one that the pandemic has burst wide open: that flexible workplaces and schedules are not possible.
COVID-19 showed us that having employees working from home with flexible schedules is a viable alternative.
We can channel that flexible, agile work culture toward our post-pandemic recovery too which opens up our hiring strategies to broader pools of talented individuals, including persons with disabilities.
But let’s not stop there. Disability inclusion is more than adding persons with disabilities to the workforce. It’s a cultural shift that prioritizes creating an environment where every employee can flourish to their highest potential.
That’s been our goal in the Public Service of Canada.
As part of the federal government’s first Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service, a Workplace Accessibility Passport is being piloted across more than 20 organizations.
The Accessibility Passport supports conversations between an employee and their manager and records the agreement about workplace accommodation tools or measures to be provided. And it starts from the principle of “tell us once,” so that employees no longer have to “relitigate” every time they change managers or jobs, which is currently too often the case.
Feedback is critical and our early adopter community is helping us to refine and redesign the pilot-project so it works for everyone. We meet informally to troubleshoot, share promising practices and find solutions. And this year, we will be launching a digital version of the Accessibility Passport with the goal of making it available throughout the Public Service.
If Canada is truly going to build back better after COVID-19, we will need the support and expertise of all Canadians – including those living with disabilities – to get there.
Yazmine Laroche was Canada’s first deputy minister of Public Service Accessibility and the former deputy minister champion for federal employees with disabilities. She is also a board member and the past chair of Muscular Dystrophy Canada.