Why Canadian Companies Should Do More to Hire People With Disabilities

Published Nov. 10, 2022

Canada has a reputation for being a progressive, caring and inclusive nation, but many Canadian job-seekers with disabilities might argue otherwise.

Only 59 per cent of working-age Canadians who have a disability are employed, compared to 80 per cent of the general population – an employment gap of 21 per cent.1 Canadians with disabilities routinely report having limited access to opportunities based on stereotypes, misconceptions and myths.

And while Canada is currently experiencing a profound labour shortage across all business sectors, one survey found that only around 60 per cent of businesses believe recruiting and hiring people who have a disability increases the pool of qualified candidates.

These outmoded attitudes may be hurting businesses. One in five Canadians2 identify as having at least one disability. When companies overlook this talent pool, they ignore around 645,000 working-age Canadians who could fill these desperately needed roles. “These are creative, dedicated members of the workforce and if they’re not a part of your company, you’re missing out on all they can contribute,” says Donna Bungard, CPWA, senior marketing accessibility program manager at Indeed.

Almost half of people who have a disability think Canadian companies aren’t doing enough to hire employees who have a disability.3 As Yazmine Laroche, Canada’s first deputy minister of public service accessibility, recently put it, “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.”

Benefits of hiring people with disabilities

People with disabilities can also bring unique and valuable talents and perspectives: resolve, adaptability, inventiveness and experience in overcoming significant challenges, among other unique characteristics.

“A person who has a disability will bring increased innovation and problem-solving skills, and the perspective of lived experience to a company,” says Jeannette Campbell, chief executive officer of the Ontario Disability Employment Network, a group of professional employment service providers that seek to increase employment opportunities for people who have a disability. Employees with disabilities often make for empathetic colleagues and help diversify a workplace with new perspectives. “This can be beneficial when designing products and services or building policies and guidelines for the functions of the business – both internal and external.”

Inclusive hiring has trickle-down benefits: Inclusive businesses are six times more likely to be innovative and agile.4 The data bears out the financial benefits, too. Disability-inclusive businesses have 28 per cent higher revenue and 30 per cent higher profit margins than companies that aren’t, and twice the net income of other companies.5

Customers often appreciate and give their business to companies seen to have inclusive hiring practices, and employees with disabilities. A 2021 study revealed that 62 per cent of Canadians would be more likely to do business with a company if they knew the business had specific policies to support employees who have a disability.6 Consumer spending by Canadians who have a disability is expected to rise to 21 per cent from 14 per cent of the total consumer market by 2030,7 which represents a major market.

Tips for tapping this overlooked talent pool

The commercial advantages of inclusive hiring are generally clear. Still, many Canadian companies report being unsure of how to reach this talent pool. A lack of understanding can lead to company hiring processes and systems that create barriers and push people to self-disqualify.

“Inaccessible online portals, job descriptions that are outdated or filled with ‘wants’ instead of the core competencies needed for the job, and hiring managers who do not have awareness and confidence regarding disability: These are all real challenges,” says Campbell.

It’s easy for a company to state inclusion is a core value, Campbell says, but that is not enough. “Learning about, understanding and putting into practice disability inclusion in all aspects of your business is another, entirely.”

For Bungard, it is key to ask the right questions that put every person, regardless of their needs, at ease when hiring. “Ask all applicants, regardless of whether they present as having a disability, what their access needs are,” she says. “Be willing to be accommodating and go from there. And at every stage, a company should work to remove ‘otherness’. Include disabled representation in your media – and not simply to showcase a disabled person, but to showcase a talented person who happens to be disabled. If disability is normalized in your company culture, it will show.”

Some organizations express concern over the potential costs involved in adapting a workplace to the needs of individuals with disabilities. The average cost of workplace accommodations for employees who have a disability is, however, a surprisingly modest $500, and 56 per cent of workplace accommodations cost nothing at all for employers to implement. 90 per cent of businesses surveyed, however, found that workplace accommodations helped them keep a valued employee.8

By making simple changes, Canadian companies can vastly expand their network of potential employees. According to the Conference Board of Canada, by 2030, 15 per cent of Canadians – around 550,000 people –
who have a physical disability would be able to work more hours if workplaces were more accessible.9

A company that becomes known for its inclusive hiring practices and retention of these employees may begin to attract further diverse talent. “When you see yourself reflected in the company it becomes a place you want to bring your talent – and custom – to,” says Campbell. She believes that Canadian companies’ strategy should include expanding talent searches – through intentional recruiting of qualified candidates who have a disability.

Canada has been slower than some other countries to introduce legislation to prevent discrimination against hiring people with disabilities. The Accessible Canada Act, which aims to ‘realize a barrier-free Canada by 2040 only came into force in 2019. Its progress was further stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Campbell, legislative mandates are important, but less so than authentic societal change. “Ideally, we will move from a culture of compliance to a culture of inclusion, not just meet the minimum standards for fear of incurring penalties,” she says. “We should strive to rise above the low bar that has been set, and increase our expectations of ourselves as businesses and as a society.”

7 recommendations for making your workplace more accessible

  • Broaden your company’s talent searches to include the 645,000 Canadians with disabilities who could be suited to fill vacancies.
  • Encourage hiring processes and systems that help remove barriers to entry, and work to ensure applicants do not self-disqualify.
  • Create a culture of inclusion in your workforce so that every employee feels safe, respected and valued.
  • Include people who have a disability in the design of all products and services, to better reflect the community that your business serves.
  • Ensure that all eligible employees with disabilities are placed onto the promotion track, so they can professionally develop and grow alongside other employees.
  • Centre disability in all strategic planning of your business’ recruitment, onboarding, retention and promotion.
  • Make disability part of the Diversity and Inclusion strategy in your company, at every stage, in order to thrive.

1″Accessible Canada Regulations,” Canada Gazette, Part I, Volume 155, Number 7, February 13, 2021

2″A demographic, employment and income profile of Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over,” Statistics Canada, November 28, 2018

3″Corporate Canada gets mixed report card from Canadians living with disabilities,” Angus Reid Institute, November 4, 2021

4″The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths,” Deloitte Review #22, 22 January 2018

5″Getting To Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” Accenture Research, 2018

6″Corporate Canada gets mixed report card from Canadians living with disabilities,” Angus Reid Institute, November 4, 2021

7″Accessible Canada Regulations,” Canada Gazette, Part I, Volume 155, Number 7, February 13, 2021

8″Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact,” Job Accommodation Network, October 21, 2020

9″The Business Case to Build Physically Accessible Environments,” The Conference Board of Canada, February 23, 2018

Original at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/adv/article-why-canadian-companies-should-do-more-to-hire-people-with-disabilities/