Accessibility in the Search for Meaningful Work

The big why that drives the team at Ian Martin is connecting people with meaningful work. We believe people who want to work should be able to find employment that is important to them. Perhaps that’s why some research pointing out the degree to which inaccessible workplaces are holding people back from work caught our attention. 

The Conference Board of Canada’s 2018 report, The Business Case for Accessible Environments, puts some hard numbers around just how deal-breaking poor workplace accessibility can be for thousands of people who navigate their day-to-day life with a physical disability. In Canada alone, it is estimated that ten per cent of the population, or 2.9 million people, have disabilities that impair their mobility, vision, or hearing. As Canada’s population ages, that number will grow quickly. While Canada’s population as a whole is expected to grow by an average of less than one per cent between now and 2030, the population with mobility, vision, or hearing disabilities is expected to rise at nearly double that rate.  

Unfortunately, that equates to a growing number of people not able to find work. According to research from Statistics Canada, employment rates for Canadians with disabilities are only roughly two-thirds those of the general population. Those that are employed also tend to work a slightly shorter work week.  

The Conference Board of Canada asked almost 500 Canadians with physical disabilities to identify the factors that are creating barriers for them and to assess the changes that could improve inclusion. Roughly 60 per cent said their disability prevented them from finding employment that allows them to use their skills, abilities, and training. When asked to select from a list of workplace modifications that would allow them to take on the kind of role in the workforce they would like, it wasn’t just physical modifications that were top of mind. More accommodating management practices, including modified work, telework options, and flexible scheduling were frequently mentioned.  

Respondents asked to describe what they felt were the key features of a truly accessible workplace reported that it is about creating a space that allows them to perform their roles and interact with colleagues easily, comfortably, and with dignity. That sounds like meaningful work to us! The study suggests an ideal environment integrates three things: 

  1. Physical accommodations, like ergonomic workstations 
  2. Accessible building features, such as wheelchair accessibility 
  3. A sense of inclusion that lets those with disabilities access the same facilities and perform the same functions as their co-workers 

Accessibility for the win-win-win 

Workplace accessibility improvements like these could go a long way in allowing Canadians with disabilities to participate more fully in the workforce. In their research, the study authors ran an economic model to estimate potential labour market improvements if Canadian employers invested in better physical access and enhanced inclusive practices. Their estimate found that by 2030 about 552,000 people with disabilities would be able to add about 301 million hours a year to the workforce.   

And the positive impact of those increased levels of employment would have an overflow effect on the national economy: Canada’s real gross domestic product could be increased by $16.8 billion, which would spark a $10-billion increase in consumer spending.  

In addition to being positive for people with disabilities and positive for the economy, tackling workplace inaccessibility also creates positive outcomes for employers. It can significantly expand the pool of qualified talent available for new positions. Companies that have established proactive approaches to accessibility, including Sodexo and TD Bank, have also experienced higher retention rates, driving savings in recruiting and training costs. 

Simple Ways to Initiate an Inclusion Mindset 

Creating a workspace that is more accommodating to employees with physical disabilities doesn’t have to start with a multi-million-dollar renovation. In fact, 34 per cent of survey respondents said basic workspace upgrades, such as ergonomic aids like special chairs and back supports, would improve their ability to enter the labour market or work increased hours. For companies wondering where to start their efforts, simple actions like removing clutter from workspaces can improve access for everyone. Transitioning to an open office space can make it easier for employees with physical disabilities to move around and create an environment that is more conducive to collaboration at the same time. Inexpensive technological solutions such as ergonomically designed keyboards and voice recognition software can make computers more accessible and also improve the lives of employees without physical disabilities that may suffer from repetitive strain injuries. 

If you are a candidate with a disability, Ian Martin’s Hiring Experts are always available to discuss options for accommodation in the recruitment process. And if you are a company that would like to improve the inclusivity of your recruitment process, our Hiring Experts can offer impactful strategies for getting started. Connect with us today.

You can also ccess the complete report that inspired this blog post here.