How to include people with disabilities in your workplace

Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care. 

Though most employers understand the importance of equity and diversity in a successful and thriving business, some may not know how to approach making their workplaces inclusive spaces for employees with disabilities. Learning how to incorporate accessibility into their workplaces not only expands companies’ labour pools, but also works to make employment an accessible, tangible possibility for all Canadians, says Linda Simpson, director of rehabilitation at Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care (PPRC) in Ottawa.

In celebration of the United Nations’ International Day of People with Disabilities, OBJ publisher Michael Curran spoke with Simpson on how businesses can approach accessibility in the workplace in order to help bring more attention to this important issue. This is an edited version of that transcript.

MC: In preparation for today's broadcast, Linda, you really left me with one point. There's lots of societal reasons for integrating people with disabilities. But you also believe there's a really strong business case.

LS: In today's environment we know, according to Deloitte, that 33 per cent of businesses are experiencing a labour shortage. We have another 77 per cent of people in the workplace who need more interventions in terms of mental health services. So we know that disability is really touching the workplace more than ever before, and this is a perfect time for organizations and businesses to think about their agenda for disability inclusion in the workplace, and that you really need to support your staff so they understand what disability and inclusion really is. Also, 1.3 billion people across the world self-identify as having a disability. So when you include all of their family members and their friends, this touches a broad group in the marketplace. So you need to understand this in order to access that talent pool, not only (by recruiting) people within your organization, but also understanding your customers so that you can develop a better brand for yourself. 

MC: Give us some examples, Linda, about the type of work you're doing with companies to integrate people with disabilities.

LS: So I'll give you an example of a situation where we had someone who was deaf, who we placed with the Holiday Inn. The manager, when we approached them to place this person directly, was a little confused at the beginning, going, “Well, I really don't know how to do this onboarding process.” So what we did is we actually went in and did some disability awareness and etiquette (training) with their management team, and gave them some strategies around how to work best with the person with a disability. And they were excellent. They just thought that this person was wonderful. And that particular individual who belongs to the deaf community had a friend, and that particular friend actually ended up getting a job there through that network. So they hired a second person. So obviously, it was a great success. 

MC: Tell us some tips that you might share about integrating people with disabilities once that decision to recruit is made.

LS: I think the most important thing is to treat others how you want to be treated with respect and dignity. Listen and inquire about their accommodation needs and collaborate with that individual. We've learned that over time, collaboration with the person with a disability is the key to success, so we can source out what that person needs. In most cases, there's very few costs related to accommodation in the workplace. And you can also do some self examination. I'll say to people, “Remove those planters from those elevators. They look beautiful, but really, at the end of the day, that could be an obstacle for a wheelchair user coming in to access the elevator. They can also be an obstacle for someone who has vision loss and is navigating with a cane or who uses a guide dog.” And we can help you with some of these tips. To me, it’s a commitment to be willing to listen.