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Job accessibility and accommodation needs have changed since the onset of the pandemic as hybrid work becomes the new norm.

“The rise in work from home has allowed people, including those with disabilities, to build their career around their lives instead of their lives around their career,” says Michelle Slater, director of Indeed Canada.

In today’s competitive talent environment, accessibility and inclusion should be a priority that begins with the hiring process.

Ms. Slater adds. “There are also many more disabilities to consider other than physical limitations.”

For those people with disabilities who can do their work remotely, predominantly traditional office workers, work-from-home may be a real opportunity, says Maureen Haan, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work. However, there could be potential pitfalls, Ms. Haan adds.

More than half of employed people with disabilities work in hospitality, retail and service sectors that can’t allow for work from home, she says. People with disabilities are often over-represented in those sectors.

“We know that people with disabilities have a higher unemployment rate, but they also have higher rates of working in precarious employment,” Ms. Haan says. “Of all of the people with disabilities who are working, only about 10 per cent are in typical white-collar jobs.”

Hybrid work helps to break down barriers

The rise of work-from-home has helped reduce some barriers for people with disabilities and provided the opportunity for them to explore new possibilities, Ms. Slater says.

For instance, she explains that getting to the workplace has sometimes been a challenge for workers with mobility issues. She says employees may have had to navigate crowded public transit or had limited accessible ride-share opportunities. They may have faced further issues at their worksite, in addition to unconscious bias and assumptions.

Like working parents and those who live in rural and remote areas, Ms. Slater says the ability to work from home has helped to free them from geography and mobility limitations and opened the doors to a host of employment possibilities.

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Accessibility starts at the hiring stage

Employers can continue to help foster those opportunities by being mindful of accessibility even before posting a job. Ms. Slater suggests using inclusive wording and having a diverse group of internal staff review the posting.

“Job descriptions may often use language that is subtly coded as masculine or feminine or ableist,” she warns.

Try to be aware of unconscious bias and the unintentional role it can play in limiting your talent pool and the diversity of your staff, she says, which impacts all aspects of a business, in particular the ability to innovate.

Hiring managers can often look for prospective employees that will fit in at their organization. But to use best practices, it’s important to ensure that preference doesn’t extend to things like race, gender identity, age or ability.

Ms. Slater suggests asking all job applicants about accessibility needs to convey that your organization believes those needs are important and is prepared to meet them. Even before the interview, consider offering a range of options for communication that demonstrate a willingness to be flexible, she says.

After hiring, employers should be open and flexible to support employees working from home.

“Creating an inclusive environment for all employees is key to normalizing disability”, Ms. Slater says. And remember that not all disabilities are visible, and not all employees are comfortable disclosing their challenges.

“The simplest answer is to ask everyone,” she says. “Everyone, whether they’re disabled or not, has access needs. A lot of the disabled community may not feel comfortable disclosing their disability, there is a long history of stigma and job opportunities disappearing because of unconscious bias. Focus on creating an inclusive culture.”

WFH expands job options for people with disabilities

There are 6.2 million Canadians aged 15 and older who identify as having a disability, about 22 per cent of the population, according to Statistics Canada’s 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability. These include visible and invisible disabilities that can affect mobility, vision, hearing, mental health, learning and memory. Fifty-nine per cent of working-age adults with disabilities were employed, compared to about 80 per cent of those without disabilities.

Ms. Haan agrees that employers can help reduce some of the barriers for disabled Canadians by creating an inclusive culture, as Ms. Slater suggests.

“Hire that person with a disability, not for just that entry-level job but for lots of other jobs. Hire them for the positions they are already qualified for - including management positions,” Ms. Haan says. “Let’s shift that landscape.”

Ensure WFH is an opportunity, not a limitation

Employers should remember that they have a duty to accommodate all employees both at home and at the office, Ms. Haan says.

Ms. Haan recommends that employers ensure working from home is simply an option and does not become an expectation for disabled employees.

“We know that a lot of people with disabilities live in isolation and quite often going into the office may be their social network, so now we’re further isolating by saying, ‘Isn’t working from home great,’” she says.

According to Indeed data, only 11 per cent of Canadian job postings mention remote work.

Hybrid work is the reality for many companies, and employers should support staff no matter where they’re working from, Ms. Slater of Indeed says. For some employees, working from home may be preferred.

Employers should communicate their expectations of remote or hybrid work with all employees and be flexible, Ms. Slater recommends. A gradual return to the office can help keep staff happy in the transition.

Ms. Slater suggests asking employees for advice on how to best support them. “Meet your teams where they are by offering brainstorming sessions, asking all employees about access needs, and stay focused on building trust while still allowing for anonymous feedback,” she says.

“Creating an inclusive workplace can help foster a space where employees with access needs feel comfortable voicing their concerns, ensuring a thriving workplace.”


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Indeed. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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