Q&A on DEI: Focusing on people experiencing disabilities

‘Not everyone who has experienced disability has disclosed it — the decision to disclose is a very individualized one’

Q&A on DEI: Focusing on people experiencing disabilities

Fostering an inclusive workplace isn’t just about equal rights — it’s about accessing talent. Canadian HR Reporter spoke with Joanna Goode, Executive Director of the Canadian Association for Supported Employment (CASE) — an organization promoting employment inclusion of people experiencing disability with resources such as self-assessments and an inclusive best practices toolkit.

Q: How can employers be inclusive in hiring people with disability?

A: “[Job] postings should be written in ways that are accessible through technology for everyone who might be trying to read them — for example, making sure websites are accessibility compliant and that anything online can be accessed through a screen reader.

“Another key point is that sometimes we fall into patterns of describing positions in a certain way, because we've always described them that way, and they may not be accurate to what the position actually calls for. So taking a look at your job descriptions and making sure that they actually reflect what is required is important.

“Thirdly, we want to make sure that postings are shared on multiple platforms — that means looking at all of the different ways that people might come across the jobs. The more broadly positions are posted, the more likely you are to get a diverse group of candidates.”

Q: How are workers experiencing disability often excluded?

A: “Sometimes there are barriers built into our recruitment processes that exclude candidates. A helpful starting place is for companies to develop and live by a commitment to make their workforce inclusive of all sorts of diverse people.

“If you have an intention as a company to be inclusive, the policy framework to back it up, and practices that play out day-to-day, that's a far more responsive approach than trying to guess at what accommodation might be needed by each individual. Those processes that make an employer inclusive of people who experience disability are the same factors that tend to make it a good employer overall with a supportive and engaging work environment.”

The federal government is investing $3 million into programs aimed at improving accessibility for workers experiencing disability.

Q: How can HR ensure their organization is inclusive?

A: “The first thing I would suggest is to reach out to a supported employment service provider. There are funded organizations across the country whose goal is to work with employers and job seekers who experience disability to create the right match between demand and talent.

“Also, working through specific hiring practices to fill specific vacancies can be a great way to notice where, as a company, you're doing well and where you can improve.”

Q: How can HR create positive change to ensure all workers have equal opportunities?

A: “Understand how having a more diverse workforce benefits the company in multiple ways. It certainly improves the bottom line and it allows companies to be the kind of place where many people enjoy working. When HR professionals really understand the value of having employees who experience disability on their team, they can ensure the policy framework is in place to support that.

Joanna Goode

“And equally important is to make sure that it's not something in a document that sits on a shelf, but something that's played out day-to-day. We know that the employers who do this best recognize it as a question of talent and skill that people with disabilities can bring to the workplace.

“HR professionals are informal leaders in many organizations who have a lot of influence on organizational culture, so their commitment to making sure they're pulling from as broad a pool of candidates as possible and not eliminating strong candidates because they may have a disability really sets the tone for the organization about how employees can work together.”

The rise of remote work may be removing barriers for workers with disabilities, says another expert.

Q: How can HR support workers experiencing disability?

A: “[It’s about] recognizing that not everyone who has experienced disability has disclosed it — the decision to disclose is a very individualized one — and having a communication strategy around the availability of accommodation is important. That means not just waiting for an employee to come knocking on your door saying, ‘I need an accommodation,’ but to actively communicate the company's commitment to providing what all employees need to be successful in their role.

“A proactive approach to communication around a company's commitment to accommodation is not only helpful for employees who have a disability, but it sets the tone for the organization as a whole.”

Many business leaders say an inclusive workplace culture is important to the success of their business, but don’t rank it high on their priorities, according to a report.

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