Executive Director of the National Institute of Disability Management and Research (NIDMAR)
For people with disabilities, gainful employment is key to personal empowerment, and here’s what employers can do to accommodate their employees.
At a time of drastic labour shortages across the country, people with disabilities remain a valuable untapped workforce. Yet approximately 1.5 million Canadians with disabilities are unemployed and living in poverty.
An additional half million employed Canadians are unable to work every week due to mental health issues. Both mental and physical health impairments impose negative economic and social outcomes on affected individuals, their families, and society at large.
With an estimated 80 per cent of all mental and physical health impairments occurring during an individual’s working life, one of the most important empowerment strategies for people with disabilities is maintaining their inclusivity in the workforce through effective workplace-based accommodation efforts.
It’s only through a dedicated workplace commitment in support of effective accommodation that people with disabilities can maintain their financial independence. Many jurisdictions around the world have already implemented supportive regulatory conditions, recognizing that employers who accommodate their own disabled workers are also more likely to reduce disability-related stigma across the organization.
As the world marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, similar efforts across Canadian jurisdictions are picking up steam. Under the Accessible Canada Act, the federal government aims to establish a barrier-free Canada by 2040. Accessibility legislation is in force in six provinces so far, including under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The Accessible B.C. Act has now been mandated in 750 public sector workplaces.
Effective accommodation support through workplaces is pivotal in maintaining sustainable workforce participation following onset of a health impairment, and is critical in breaking the often-vicious cycle of disability-unemployment-poverty.
In addition, return to work programs are also on the agenda. Employers’ return to work obligations are embedded under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.
Disability rights champion, Wolfgang Zimmermann, is the Executive Director of the National Institute of Disability Management and Research (NIDMAR) and President of the Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences (PCU-WHS). PCU-WHS is a leading-edge university in the field of disability management and return to work education and research.
Zimmermann asserts, “Gainful employment is key to long-term personal empowerment and self-determination for people with disabilities. But we won’t achieve an equitable, diverse, and inclusive society until employers accommodate their own employees who acquire a mental or physical health impairment.”
When it comes to accommodating people with impairments, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities advocates for accommodations that are reasonable and doable. Job restructuring, changes in assignments, and flexible working hours or breaks are all examples of reasonable accommodations.
In support of the UN’s evidence-based strategy, NIDMAR received funding from the federal government and the BC provincial government, offering employers the opportunity to have their disability management practices assessed free of charge. A Workplace Disability Management Assessment (WDMA) establishes a benchmark, identifies gaps, and creates a roadmap for improvements.
“Effective accommodation support through workplaces is pivotal in maintaining sustainable workforce participation following onset of a health impairment, and is critical in breaking the often-vicious cycle of disability-unemployment-poverty,” stresses Zimmermann.