Fostering Workplace Inclusivity and Accessibility for People With Disabilities in BC
September is Disability Employment Month in BC, a time to celebrate workplace inclusivity and diversity and to acknowledge the vast contributions people with disabilities make. It’s also an opportune time to assess your business practices to ensure they aren’t creating inequitable barriers for employees and new hires with disabilities.
In British Columbia, the commitment to workplace inclusivity and accessibility is not just a legal obligation but a moral imperative. Creating an environment where people with disabilities can thrive and contribute is essential for fostering diversity and ensuring equal opportunities for all.
This article explores several strategies on what BC businesses can do to help foster workplace inclusivity and accessibility for people with disabilities.
#1 Know the Legal Landscape
British Columbia has robust legislation, including the British Columbia Human Rights Code, which mandates that employers must provide equal opportunities and make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Understanding these legal obligations is the first step in fostering inclusivity.
#2 Accessibility Starts with the Hiring Process
Creating an inclusive workplace begins with inclusive hiring practices and workplace policies. Employers should ensure job postings are written in plain language and consider using a statement welcoming applications from individuals with disabilities. Additionally, during the interview process, provide options for accessible interviews, such as video conferencing platforms with closed captioning or sign language interpreters. This guide from the Government of Canada Job Bank offers excellent information for employers on how to make your workplace more inclusive, including recruiting, accommodating and retaining employees with disabilities.
#3 Mindful Communication
Be mindful about using respectful language and preserving your prospective and current employees’ privacy. It helps employers to know beforehand what is in their right to inquire about versus what is considered protected information. Bear in mind that some disabilities are invisible and not always apparent, and prospective and current employees may feel highly vulnerable about disclosing their disabilities. This Legal Guide for People With Disabilities in BC from Disability Alliance BC is designed to help people with disabilities understand their rights. It’s also an excellent resource for employers and includes what an employer is entitled to ask during the hiring process and course of employment.
#4 Make Reasonable Accommodations
British Columbia law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. This may include providing assistive technologies, modifying workstations or equipment, offering flexible work hours or adapting job duties. It helps to engage in open and proactive communication with employees to understand their needs and determine the most suitable accommodations. The Government of Canada Job Bank, WorkBC, InclusionBC, and BC Centre for Ability offer helpful information and resources on where people with disabilities and their employers can access funding for assistive technology services, wage subsidy programs, skills development, community partners and more. In addition, this recent article by WorkBC offers additional resources for employers on creating an inclusive workforce and eliminating workplace barriers.
#5 Promote Accessibility in the Physical Workspace
Ensure that the physical workspace is accessible to all employees. This includes providing ramps, elevators, and accessible restrooms for individuals with mobility impairments. All pathways should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, and there should be designated accessible parking spaces.
#6 Foster Digital Accessibility
In today’s digital age, digital accessibility is equally important. Ensure all digital content, including websites, intranet, and software, is accessible. This means using alt text for images, providing closed captions for videos, and ensuring that software and websites are compatible with screen readers.
#7 Develop a Comprehensive Accessibility Policy
Creating a workplace accessibility policy is essential. This policy should outline the company’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility, detail the steps taken to accommodate employees with disabilities, and provide guidance on requesting accommodations. Make sure all employees are aware of this policy and know how to access it. It’s also wise to have a trusted HR consultant or business lawyer review your policy to ensure it is comprehensive and reflects local laws and ordinances.
#8 Educate and Raise Awareness
The language we habitually use has the power to make people feel included or unwelcomed. Comments between colleagues that are said in jest can sometimes cause unintended offence. Regular training and awareness programs can go a long way in fostering mindful communication and inclusiveness. These programs can help employees understand the challenges faced by their colleagues with disabilities, raise awareness about the importance of accessibility, and train staff on how to use assistive technologies and support their colleagues.
#9 Encourage Employee Feedback
Create a culture of open communication and encourage employees to provide feedback on accessibility and inclusivity. Conduct regular surveys or focus groups to gather input and make necessary improvements. Doing so shows your commitment and ensures that your efforts align with the needs of your workforce.
#10 Celebrate Diversity
Recognize and celebrate the diverse abilities and contributions of employees with disabilities. Highlight their achievements and involve them in diversity and inclusion initiatives. Such efforts not only boost morale but also send a powerful message about the value of diversity and inclusion and help make all employees feel valued and safe.
#11 Continually Assess and Improve
Finally, ensure that inclusivity and accessibility efforts are ongoing. Regularly assess your workplace’s accessibility and inclusivity and be open to making adjustments and improvements based on feedback and evolving needs. Stay informed about best practices and technological advancements that can enhance accessibility.
By implementing these strategies, employers can create a workplace where individuals with disabilities are valued, supported, and empowered to excel in their careers. Fostering an inclusive workforce also delivers tangible benefits to businesses. British Columbia’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity is reflected in its legislation, and businesses can take part in pioneering a more accessible and inclusive society by embracing these principles. Accessibility and inclusivity are not merely checkboxes but the foundations upon which a more equitable and prosperous future for British Columbia is built.
Spraggs Law Can Help
If your business is located within British Columbia and you have questions about fostering workplace inclusivity and accessibility, our Human Resources Consultant and Employment Law Experts can help. Contact us today at (604) 359-1627 or reach out to us online.
Please note: This article does not contain legal advice. If you would like advice on your specific situation, please contact Spraggs Law.