Gathering Momentum for An Inclusive Workplace

On June 1, 2021, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities co-hosted and participated in a roundtable discussion on "The Role of Innovative Technologies in Recruiting and Increasing Retention of Employees with Disabilities" with Facebook and Inclusion Canada. The event featured a keynote address by the Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion .  The roundtable considered how technology can be used to help recruit, retain, and provide career advancement for people with disabilities, and to promote remote work.  The roundtable concluded with a discussion of lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, including its effects on work and the workplace. We summarize below some notable takeaways.

With respect to accessibility and recruitment, participants considered how technology can be better utilized to hire and recruit people with disabilities. As part of the discussion, participants raised the following points:

  • Job postings and application forms need to be accessible, and designed with inclusivity in mind. For example, forms that contain excessive fields and require specific formatting or narrative input are time consuming, and may discourage applicants with disabilities from applying.
  • For people with intellectual disabilities, use of plain language is also important because application support is typically limited in an online setting.
  • Currently, collection of job applicant data is heavily reliant on text, and there may be opportunities to think beyond written documents and expand to other formats such as video or audio submissions.
  • While some public resources and guidance is available to employers, it can be overwhelming and difficult for employers to navigate how to address these challenges. Employers may also have misconceptions regarding how expensive it is to implement certain adaptation technologies.
  • Engaging and collaborating with people with disabilities to help design, test, and provide input with respect to the application and hiring processes is one important way to help achieve this objective.
  • While technology is a useful tool, especially with respect to remote interviewing and hiring, it is not always easily available to people that are experiencing financial hardships.

With respect to remote work technology, participants considered the challenges that people with disabilities experience when working from home, including the following:

  • For people with physical disabilities, it can be liberating to be able to participate in conferences, seminars, and other gatherings in a virtual format. Noting however, that virtual formats and work from home environments are not without fault, and can lead to feeling a sense of isolation and deterioration of work-life balance.  For people with intellectual disabilities, remote work can also pose additional challenges.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated that a hybrid approach with respect to remote work is achievable, and employers can continue the trend in accommodating employees that require such accommodation, including support in terms of home equipment, technology, and ergonomics.
  • Remote work has also illustrated the importance of high speed internet to accessibility, which can be a challenge in rural places especially.

With respect to workplace technology, participants considered the practices that companies may implement to make technology more accessible in the workplace, noting that:

  • It is important for organizations to involve people with disabilities in discussions relating to implementation and adoption of new workplace technologies. This will help ensure that unintended barriers do not accompany technological changes.
  • Employers that are small or medium sized businesses may have limited resources, and may not have the knowledge necessary to prioritize and focus on accessibility.

With respect to lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, roundtable participants anticipate that a hybrid office/Work From Home (WFH) model will remain, noting that:

  • The technology and infrastructure necessary for WFH is not always available to all people with disabilities.
  • COVID-19 has raised awareness with respect to disability, social isolation, accommodation, and technology, and has given organizations the opportunity to experiment with new strategies for using assistive technology.
  • The boom in remote work has given people with disabilities the opportunity to look for employment across Canada.

We are grateful for the time our attendees took to attend this roundtable discussion on the role of technology in recruiting and retaining people with disabilities in the workplace. 

CCD’s Chairperson Roxana Jahani Aval provided closing comments at the Roundtable.  She noted that, “It is essential that multi-sector conversations about how to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities continue beyond this [AccessAbility] week and become more inclusive, bringing in people from excluded communities that historically have been pushed to the margins.” In the coming weeks, CCD will be working to ensure that diverse voices of people with disabilities are at the table to ensure that measures called for during the Roundtable are developed and implemented using an intersectional lens.