Color & Control:

Corporate Canada gets mixed report card…

From Canadians living with disabilities

Against the backdrop of an aging population and  compounding labour shortages, there is a substantial talent pool that is currently being overlooked.

A new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute in partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation finds that two-in-five (40 per cent) of those living with a disability say that companies fall short when it comes to hiring those who are disabled.

Barriers also persist in the workforce, with another two-in-five (39 per cent) of those living with disabilities saying that Canadian companies have a way to go when it comes to supporting their employees  who have a disability. Half (48 per cent) of those with severe disabilities say that companies are bad at hiring those with disabilities, while 46 per cent say the same about the supports offered by corporate Canada to disabled employees.

More key findings:
• Over half (55 per cent) of those with a disability between the ages of 18 and 34 say companies do either a bad or terrible job when it comes to hiring disabled Canadians.
• When it comes to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policies in the workplace, four-in-five (78 per cent) Canadians say disability should be included.
• Three-in-five (62 per cent) Canadians say they would be more likely to give their business to a company if they knew that they had specific policies to support those living with disabilities.

Assessing accessibility
When a space is said to be “accessible,” it means that it is easy to get into and move around in for everybody who might need to use it including those who are injured, the elderly, parents with children, and those living with disabilities.

Previous studies have found that there is broad-based support for improved accessibility within Canadian society with nine-in-ten (91 per cent) agreeing that accessibility is a human right, not a privilege. Another done in 2019 found that seven-in-ten think universal accessibility should be the goal for newly constructed buildings.

Earlier this year another partnership study with RHF found that nine-in-ten (92 per cent) Canadians agree that taxpayer funded projects should be held to the highest accessibility standards.

Despite this broad-based support for higher levels of accessibility, disability advocates have highlighted that many barriers to accessibility persist and that there remains much room for improvement across Canada.

Private businesses
When asked specifically about how accessible they found restaurants, shops, and other private businesses to be on a scale out of ten, three-in-five Canadians rated them as accessible to very accessible (between 6 and 10 on the scale).

There is an important difference, however, in how those living with disabilities perceive the accessibility of private businesses versus those who have no exposure to disability at all. Of note, only half (54 per cent) of those living with a disability think that accessibility at Canadian private businesses ranks as above average, with few saying that it’s great.

Part of the accessibility of a private business stems from the government provided infrastructure that surrounds it (e.g., curb cuts, accessible public transit, snow removal, etc.) and to what extent it facilitates, or not, access to the business in question. A second factor are the decisions made by companies as to how they train their staff and design their stores or offices—i.e., how accessible are the experiences they are providing their customers and clients.

On this second point, three-in-five (62 per cent) of those with disabilities think Canadian companies do a good or great job of providing accessible experiences for customers and clients living with disabilities.

The perception of corporations would appear to correlate with the severity of the disability that the respondent is living with. Two-thirds (69 per cent)) of those whose daily activities are least impacted by their disability say that Canadian companies do at least a good job. This number falls to 55 per cent among those with the most severe disabilities.

Working with a disability
Overall, 40 per cent of those surveyed said that corporations were either bad or terrible when it comes to hiring those with disabilities.

These opinions reflect divergent employment realities in Canada. A comparison of employment rates of Canadians aged 25 to 64 by disability status done in 2016 indicated that only 59 per cent of Canadians with disabilities were employed at a time when the national average sat at over 80 per cent. Echoing trends witnessed here, this study further found that employment outcomes were correlated with severity of disability—the more severe the impact of the disability the less likely an individual was to be employed.

There are also variations in opinion by age and gender. Women living with disabilities are more likely to say companies are doing a poor job of hiring those with disabilities (45 per cent) than their male counterparts (35 per cent). Of note, those at earlier stages of their careers have the most negative assessments: over half (55 per cent) of those with a disability between the ages of 18 and 34 say companies do either a bad or terrible job when it comes to hiring disabled Canadians.

Supporting employees
In addition to the barriers faced when trying to enter the workforce, those living with disabilities can encounter further challenges in the workplace. These can range from inaccessible workplaces (e.g., cubicles or offices not having enough space for wheelchair users, no elevators, etc.) to not being provided with the appropriate tools for the job (e.g., screen readers, modified workstations, etc.).

There is broad support in Canada for removing barriers to employment and ensuring that those with disabilities are able to fully participate in the workforce. Four-in-five (91 per cent) Canadians agree, for example, that it’s unacceptable that those with physical disabilities are underemployed because of workplace barriers.

When it comes to how Canadian companies fare in providing workplace supports, however, those living with disabilities highlight that there is much room for improvement. Echoing a 2019 study done by Statistics Canada, those with the least severe disabilities had the most favourable views with almost half (46 per cent) saying that companies did a good job.

Among those with the most severe disabilities, the same number (46 per cent) instead ranked Canadian employers as either bad (33 per cent) or terrible (13 per cent).

Almost half (46 per cent)) of men living with disabilities responded that companies do a good or great job of supporting disabled employees. In contrast, only one-third (33 per cent) of women said the same while another quarter (26 per cent) said they didn’t know.

(Re-)Assessing policies
Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policies are often seen as an important vehicle for both promoting a healthy workplace and leveraging the skillsets of all team members. If EDI strategies are often associated with questions of race, sexuality, or gender expression, an article in the Harvard Business Review warned that only four per cent of companies considered disability to fall under the scope of such policies (note: the original report that contains this number appears to have been taken down).

In stark contrast, among respondents who reported having an EDI strategy in their workplace, three-in-five (61 per cent) said that, as far as they knew, it contained provisions for supporting employees with disabilities. When it comes to whether disability should be included in EDI strategies, eight-in-ten (78 per cent) Canadians responded yes.

Appetite for new initiatives
As conscious consumerism grows, there have been a number of initiatives designed to help consumers decide where they want to spend their dollars. These range from initiatives such as the fair trade movement, which seeks to ensure that small-scale farmers and agricultural workers get fairly compensated, to allowing businesses to tag themselves as LGBTQ-friendly on Google Maps. Respondents seemed broadly open to the possibility of similar programs geared towards those living with disabilities. Three-in-five (62 per cent) of all Canadians say they would be more likely to give their business to a company or organisation if they knew there were specific policies in place to support those living with disabilities. 

To read the full report, visit

Photo: Cottonbro, Pexels.

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