By Linda White
Special to The Sun
The new Ontarians with Disabilities Act will usher in new standards in accessibility, creating a win-win situation for employers and an untapped labour pool, disabled advocates believe.
"This legislation allows an organization to open their door to employees with disabilities, which increases their labour pool, while opening their door to customers with disabilities, which increases their customer pool," says David Lepofsky of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee.
The new law promises to make the public and private sectors more accessible to the estimated 1.5 million Ontarians with physical, sensory, hearing, mental health, developmental and learning disabilities. The government will work with the disabled community and private and public sectors to develop standards to be achieved in stages of five years or less, leading the way to a fully-accessible province by 2025.
According to the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, standards could include adaptive technology in the workplace, accessible washrooms and accessible pedestrian routes and entrances into a building. Once a standard has been adopted as a regulation, all affected people and organizations will be required to comply with established timelines.
Inaccessible public transit
"There's a lot of work to do. I expect there's going to be progress not only under the bill, but around the bill," Lepofsky says. "We have a very inaccessible public transit system in Toronto, for example, which affects the ability of employees with disabilities to get to their workplace. It also affects the ability of customers with disabilities to get to businesses.
"We have barriers in our education system, which limits the ability of someone with a disability to get an education in order to get a career. The beauty of this law is that it will target all of those things."
Accessibility Advisory Committee
With an aging population, 20% of Ontarians are likely to have a disability in 20 years, up from about 13% today. "As companies address barriers, employees will be able to stay around longer, even if they become disabled," Lepofsky says.
$25 billion spending power
People with disabilities already have an estimated spending power of about $25 billion a year across Canada, the ministry reports. South of the border, the hospitality industry increased its annual revenue by 12% by implementing standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"In addition to its being the right thing to do, there is a strong business case for making Ontario accessible to all," maintains Tracy MacCharles, a fellow member of the Accessibility Advisory Committee. She has more than 18 years' experience in human resources management and operates TM Consulting.
"There is research that speaks to lower turnover rates among the disabled, which should be appealing to employers," she says. "Four out of 10 persons with disabilities have education beyond high school, but many are unemployed. There is an untapped labour pool here."
She hopes the new law will help dispel the myth that it's expensive or a burden to accommodate an employee with a disability.
"The biggest barrier is really attitude," she says. "It's understandable that people think of physical disabilities when they hear the word 'disability,' but there are many other kinds of disabilities, including learning, visual and sensory. Some don't need accommodation. Some need understanding."
DID YOU KNOW?|
The new Ontarians with Disabilities Act will usher in standards that could include adaptive technology in the workplace.
An estimated 20% of Ontarians will have a disability in 2025, up from about 13% today.
Four out of 10 persons with disabilities have education beyond high school, but many are unemployed.
Opening the door to employees with disabilities is the first step to removing barriers. "The next tier is the promotion and advancement of people with disabilities," MacCharles says. "Are their talents really being tapped once they get in the door? Are they getting the right training and opportunities? The spirit of the new legislation is that there be no discrimination -- not unlike women achieving senior positions in the workforce. It would be great to see diversity in the workforce."
Some companies have already made great strides, including asking job applicants to inform them of any accommodation needed to complete an interview. "The person with the disability must decide how best and when to articulate their needs, which isn't unlike addressing salary expectations and hours of work," MacCharles says.
"Workplaces, in my mind, are becoming more flexible and less paternalistic. I think the focus should be on the result, not on how the job gets done. That focus makes it easier for the disabled to make a difference."
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