DEAM 2022 – October is Disability Employment Awareness Month

Shannon BlackBlogs

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Blog By: Sean McEwen, Director of the GEDI Hub
The business ‘winners’ in this unfolding scenario will be those who build their diversity and inclusion capacity early, something that workers with disabilities and publicly-funded employment inclusion services can help with. 

October is Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM), an annual celebration of the contributions of workers with disabilities and acknowledgement of our ongoing work as Canadians to reduce employment accessibility barriers (that we as ‘able’ employers often create). Awareness of this diversity group is a great start but action would serve us all much better. After all, this is a diversity group that essentially ‘coaches’ inclusive workplaces and builds employer capacity to attract and retain other diversity groups. Thinking and planning have a place in workplace Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, but doing gets us much farther than merely thinking about doing. What is your organization doing to take action on the recruitment of employees with disabilities?

One of the biggest barriers to employment for job seekers with disabilities is that a majority of HR professionals feel they lack the knowledge or training to effectively design workplace accommodations for this group. The mistakes inherent in this assumption are many. Yes, one in five Canadians identifies as having some type of disability and that’s a very big group to accommodate – but we don’t accommodate groups – we accommodate individuals, so let’s proceed with that perspective. First of all, not all workers with disabilities require accommodations. Secondly, the most common accommodation requests from workers with disabilities, involve minor changes to work schedules, job duties, or use of assistive technology with which they are already familiar. This type of accommodation is far simpler than a ‘return to work’ scenario involving medical professionals, insurance companies and lawyers.

Keeping workplace accommodation design simple and straightforward is a key element. This helps us to design and manage the accommodation, eliminates confusion, and improves our capacity to accommodate employees in future. Focus on the following:

  • How does the disability create a limitation?
  • How will the requested accommodation effectively address the limitation?
  • Are there other options that will effectively address the limitation?
  • How will the proposed accommodation enable the employee to perform essential duties?

HR professionals need to remember that disability is not the most important part of who a person is – nor does disability negate a person’s talents, passions or other qualities that make them an asset to a workplace. Moreover, hiring inclusively makes our workplaces more resilient and innovative. In 2019, the Institute for Corporate Productivity released its ‘Inclusive Talent Pool’ report which described the business benefits of hiring workers with (intellectual) disabilities including lower employee turnover and improved market representation, employee engagement, etc. The most notable benefit in this report however was that the inclusion of workers with disabilities improved employers’ diversity and inclusion capacities across the organization. Disability inclusion clearly made workplaces stronger.

Then there’s the workforce sustainability factor; over the next 10-15 years Canada is projected to lose 25% of our workforce as people ‘age out’ and our birth rate declines. The replacement of these workers will happen through immigration and the inclusion of diversity groups - and generational groups who statistically care more about workplace diversity and inclusion. The business ‘winners’ in this unfolding scenario will be those who build their diversity and inclusion capacity early, something that workers with disabilities and publicly-funded employment inclusion services can help with. In short – disability can help employers ‘hack’ workplace diversity and ensure that they are ‘employers of choice’ in a future of work that will reflect a job seeker’s market.

Disability is diversity but it’s, unfortunately, the most overlooked diversity group. Unfortunate because the benefits this group brings to a business are significant – and unfortunate because there are literally hundreds of free, publicly-funded services across Canada that can help employers source talent in this diversity pool as well as provide ongoing inclusion coaching and support.

The human capital resources that Canadian business needs for tomorrow are right here right now. The opportunity to move past awareness to action is here.

Learn more about Disability Employment Awareness Month, and Alberta-based service providers that can help you source talent and onboard workers with disabilities at these websites: