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Workers with disabilities will soon become the new norm

Disability inclusion is driving the future of work in this country. You may not be aware of this, but it’s happening. And businesses that don’t make a culture shift and fully embrace disability inclusion are going to get left behind.

Why? In part, especially because the number of Canadians who have a disability is increasing.

Right now, about 6.2 million Canadians (22 per cent) have a disability. That’s expected to rise to 25 per cent by 2025. It’s important to remember that “disability” is a broad term; disability is diverse.

Numbers are growing 

Now consider this: Conference Board of Canada research found the number of Canadians who have a physical disability alone is expected to increase 1.8 per cent each year, reaching 3.6 million by 2030.

In Nova Scotia, 30 per cent of the population (or 229,430 people) has at least one disability. That’s higher than any other province.

So, for certain in the years ahead, businesses across Canada — not just in Nova Scotia — will have more employees and job candidates who have a disability. Workers will have more colleagues who have a disability.

There are other reasons why disability inclusion is driving the future of work.

Remote work creates opportunities

The shift to “working from anywhere” as businesses made modifications to the way employees have worked during a global public health crisis, is one of them.

This created employment opportunities, where previously there were barriers, for some people who have a disability.

Another reason: public expectations of companies around disability are shifting. And Nova Scotia businesses — all 20,479 of them — need to heed their publics. Your brand reputation and bottom line are at stake.

An Angus Reid/Rick Hansen Foundation survey in November 2021 found 62 per cent of Canadians would more likely do business with a company if they knew the business had specific policies to support employees who have a disability.

It’s all part of making the culture shift. Looking at accommodations — “modifications” is a better word — as a forced exception to your standard practices is short-sighted; it will hinder creating an inclusive culture and will be a barrier to growth and success.

Don’t set yourself up to choke on the dust of competitors. An Accenture study found that businesses focused on disability inclusion grow sales 2.9 times faster than other companies, and profits 4.1 times faster.

You can no longer be inflexible and expound, “This is the way we do things.” You need to reframe the mindset. Think: “How can we change things to make sure all employees succeed?”

Inclusion as a strategy

For this column, I reached out to a couple of leaders in Nova Scotia’s disability sector to get their views on the inclusiveness of businesses in the province. They were quick to respond that overall, inclusive employers are few and far between.

This is reflected in Nova Scotia’s employment rate for people who have a disability (55.4 per cent). It’s 23.4 per cent lower than the rate for people without disabilities — and is lower than the national rate (59.3 per cent).

Don’t get me wrong — progress is being made. Not so long ago in this country, there was a lot of resistance to disability inclusion in business and employment, largely because of attitudes towards, and perceptions of, disability. It was never given a thought in strategic business planning.

But today, astute business leaders understand — or are beginning to understand, when their business goals and disability inclusion are closely aligned — that inclusion can drive future business success.

Notwithstanding progress, there’s still a lot of educating businesses about disability and inclusion to be done, not just in Nova Scotia, but across the country.

The question is, when will we finally get to the point where no more education, no more advocacy, is needed? It’s taken over a century for disability inclusion to finally be recognized as a change agent in the future of work. That’s far too long.

Jeannette Campbell is CEO of the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN). This column is reproduced with permission from ODEN and first appeared on Saltwire.com, Atlantic Canada Business edition.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint, official policy or position of the Future Skills Centre or any of its staff members or consortium partners.