It’s Time!

 

By Cameron Graham, PhD.

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I’m writing this from Hyderabad, India. I’m here on a research trip with Disability Rights Promotion International, a program run by my York University colleague Professor Marcia Rioux, who also happens to be the Canadian Abilities Foundation’s longest-serving Board member. We’re looking at employment for people with disabilities in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Actually, we’re doing more than looking—we’re actively working with local employers and disability organizations to increase employment for this group.

What we’re finding here is that quotas for hiring people with disabilities don’t work. These well-meant policies create an attitude of cynicism among employers, who pay lip service to regulations, knowing that enforcement is non-existent. Government officials just look the other way.

If that sounds to you like some sort of “third-world” problem, consider the situation in Canada.
We have legislation requiring employers to be fully inclusive of people with disabilities. It covers employee relations, physical spaces and customer service. It is not national because our constitution leaves these issues up to the provinces, so the actual requirements vary from province to province. This means that people with disabilities will have different experiences in Alberta than they do in Nova Scotia.

In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) says all kinds of good things about what businesses should do. The problem is, no one enforces it. According to disability rights lawyer David Lepofsky, approximately 70 per cent of Ontario companies required to file AODA compliance reports had not done so almost a year after the deadline, and the office tasked with enforcing their compliance was sitting on a $24 million budget surplus. That’s right. They had the money, they just didn’t spend it. I think that counts as “looking the other way.”

It’s time to change. We need to get businesses to recognize the power of disability. The reason people with disabilities find it hard to get work is that most employers don’t believe they can do the job. They presume that people with disabilities will be less productive than non-disabled employees. Calculate how much less productive, they say, and you can figure out the cost of including people with disabilities.

This is nonsense. The research is in, from people such as Rich Donovan (see Issue 94 of Abilities), and it shows that disability pays. If you take the time to figure out how to get the most out of employees with disabilities, guess what? You have just figured out how to get the most out of all your employees. This comes from treating people with disabilities as regular folk, each with a particular array of strengths and weaknesses. And if you take the time to figure out how to design products or services that will work for customers with disabilities, guess what? You have just figured out how to make your products and services better for all your customers.

It’s time for companies to start reconnecting with all their employees. It’s time for them to start rethinking products and services with everyone in mind. It’s time for us all to start recognizing the power of disability. It’s been there all along, just waiting to be acknowledged. If you don’t believe me, ask the folks at the posh Lemon Tree hotel in Hyderabad. You might have to use sign language, though, as many of the housekeeping staff are people with hearing loss. The Lemon Tree has found these staff to be more disciplined and productive than other employees, so everyone is learning sign language to keep up.

On behalf of the Board,

 GrahamSignature

Cameron Graham, PhD
Chair, Canadian Abilities Foundation

 

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