The AODA – An Effort in Making Workspaces More Accessible

Today, over 6.2 million Canadians live with a disability and 71 per cent of those are persons with a chronic or ‘invisible’ disability.

In Ontario, one in seven people has a disability and that number is anticipated to rise with the aging population across the province.

At the same time more than 40 per cent of Ontarians with disabilities have some type of postsecondary credential. And workers with disabilities generally provide a different perspective leading to more workplace innovation and design.
Yet, 70 per cent of small businesses say they have never hired a person with a disability.

Perhaps the biggest barrier that persons with a disability face are misconceptions held by employers about the skills of disabled people, their absence rates and the insurance costs they would pay if they hire those individual. In actuality, when businesses have reported a cost to accommodate an employee with a disability, the average amount spent is $500.

People with disabilities are ready and able to work so I am posing the questions: How are their needs accommodated in the workplace and; what can the Not-for-profit Sector do to lead the way?

The needs of workers with chronic and disabling conditions can be met through the redesigning of jobs and workplaces, or modifications to the work environment to remove job-related barriers.

In 2015, Ontario celebrates 10 years of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which made Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada with legislation that sets out a clear goal and timeframe for accessibility by 2025. Under this historic legislation, the government of Ontario has developed mandatory accessibility standards that identifies, removes, and prevents barriers for people with disabilities.

The AODA will help Ontario organizations, including Not-profit organizations, make accessibility a regular part of recruiting, hiring and supporting employees with disabilities.

But Ontario is falling short of its 2025 goal to ensure the province’s 1.8 million people with disabilities have the opportunity to learn, work and play to their full potential. For example, in 2013 it was reported that $24 million in government funds earmarked to oversee the law since it was passed remain unspent.

More than 60 per cent of businesses are still in violation of the province’s accessibility legislation, according to new government data. And while organizations that do not comply with the AODA could face financial penalties, court enforcement and prosecution, penalties are not being enforced.

This past July, the Ontario government published a plan to lay out some steps the government is taking to re-energize the movement and ensure that we reach the goal of an accessible Ontario in the next decade.

The plan reinforces that the biggest hurdle organizations face are are the misconceptions about employees with disabilities. Critical to changing these assumptions is organizations building and promoting a culture that embraces inclusion and diversity.

There is a tremendous opportunity for the Not-for-profit Sector to lead by example and promote this cultural shift. After all, for many organizations in the Not-for-profit Sector, the requirements of the AODA reflect the existing organizational values, vision and mission.

A Not-profit’s endorsement of the act is a public demonstration of its commitment to accessibility, inclusion and diversity.

The Ontario Non-profit Network is highlighting Non-profits that are championing accessibility, and so far there is only one case study on the website that focuses on embracing inclusive communities. I expect the number of examples to grow throughout the year.

Below is a condensed list of recommendations for organizations to consider:

  1. Start the conversation –Open the dialogue within your organization. Consider how the issues surrounding employing people with disabilities apply to your business.
  2. Determine your track record for hiring and accommodating people with disabilities – How inclusive is your organization? Look at the demographics of your organization chances are you already employ or serve people with disabilities. This is a great opportunity for you to develop a formal strategy for reaching these important stakeholder groups.
  3. Start with human resources – Does your HR team include people with disabilities? Are team members sensitive to the issues and trained to hire from this talent pool? Have they reviewed job descriptions with hiring managers to confirm that requirements are genuine?
  4. Check your website –Ensure you are not screening out people with disabilities by using inaccessible technology, and that you are providing opportunities to give people with disabilities a fair chance to compete.
  5. Engage and educate your people –Invest in education to dispel myths and give people the facts, tools and language they need to manage and work with people who have disabilities.
  6. Find community partners – Reach out to agencies, non-profits, and other organizations focused on training and employing people with disabilities.
  7. Partner with educational institutions – Establish relationships with offices for students with disabilities at colleges and universities—perhaps those where you already have hiring experience—to recruit students with disabilities.
  8. Collaborate within your industry – Develop alliances with external associations and agencies and share resources, tools and best practices you have adopted for workplace accommodations.
  9. Share successes with the world – Share your organization’s experiences on your website, in your annual reports and in your advertising. Not only will you elevate the dialogue, you will benefit from marketplace goodwill and increased access to the massive consumer market made up of people with disabilities.

Not- profit leadership is critical in implementing these steps. Organizations need to formalize their commitment to hiring people with disabilities in company policies and guidelines. The role of the board should be to provide oversight and governance of this commitment.

What role do the rest of us play in dispelling misconceptions about persons with a disability? Are there steps that we can take to inform leaders and help create a more inclusive environment?

These are some of the questions I will try to answer in my next blog post!