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Chair, Accessibility Committee, TD Bank Group

Every day, Canadians with disabilities face unique challenges when performing various activities, such as using public transportation, navigating communication technologies, seeking employment and doing daily tasks at work.

This year, the federal government is scheduled to bring into effect its long-anticipated legislation to address these challenges and advance accessibility standards for people with disabilities across the country.

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However, the reality is that private organizations also have a responsibility to build accessibility into their business practices and decision-making processes.

Fostering an environment where disabilities are no longer considered limitations

The number of people who identify as having a disability in Canada is on the rise – many are unable to hold a job or work at a company for various reasons, such as workplaces that are physically inaccessible or have discriminatory hiring practices.

Discussions about whether to make workplaces accessible are important and should centre on individual abilities versus disabilities and on celebrating each other’s differences.

I’m part of an organization with more than 85,000 employees. Approximately 6 per cent of our employee base identifies as having a disability, either visible or invisible (a learning disability, mental-health condition or injury that may be non-apparent).

It’s an individual decision to declare a disability, especially when it is invisible, so it’s paramount we build supportive environments where people can bring their whole selves to work.

For instance, providing tools and training so people can self-accommodate to make their work experience more comfortable in order to be productive and realize their full potential. Or researching, developing and testing new technologies (websites, tools or apps) designed to improve accessibility for employees.

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Companies can and should encourage the kind of open conversations that build allies and support career development through active engagement and storytelling, with employees from all walks of life. Products, services and customer interactions can all be improved when employees, colleagues and leaders are encouraged to engage diverse perspectives and keep accessibility top of mind.

It’s an ongoing journey and, undoubtedly, there is always more work to do. The more people are included in accessibility conversations, the more they are able to improve outcomes within the company, for everyone.

A diverse team is a winning team

When companies bring together different backgrounds, perspectives and skill sets, they create accessible cultures that harness peoples’ talents and unique skills. Conversely, when accessibility policies are only implemented as a matter of compliance, companies miss out on massive amounts of talent and create silos.

Accommodating employees with different needs in the workplace has many interpersonal benefits, such as increasing individual feelings of accomplishment, improving interactions with co-workers and generating positive overall company morale.

Accessibility in the workplace needs to be more at the forefront of conversations in Canada.

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National AccessAbility Week, May 27-June 2, is a great time to look at establishing workplace policies and implementing processes that drive accessibility and broaden talent pools. If your company is new to accessibility, it can be as simple as committing to hiring persons with disabilities, taking the time to learn about accessible computer programming features, making documents readable for everyone or ensuring a work space meets a person’s specific requirements.

It’s time to move beyond awareness to action and offer accessible workplace environments that accommodate everyone, not just the one-off individual.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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