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Canada’s Accessibility Standards Compass

A sign demonstrating accessibility standards

There has been a lot of debate recently about Canada’s perceived labour shortage – on one side, that it’s a dark cloud looming on the horizon, and on the other, that there may not in fact be a labour shortage so much as there is a skills shortage, and that too many Canadian organizations are too eager to fill openings with temporary foreign workers rather than train Canadian citizens to do the same jobs. Whatever the case, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce predicts that over the next decade, construction, oil and gas, nursing, trucking, steel, and the hotel industry will each suffer a combined worker shortfall in the hundreds of thousands. To make things even more ominous, Canada also currently lags behind many other OECD countries in both innovation and productivity.

“We could find our way out of these economic doldrums and prevent ourselves from going into a tailspin if we took advantage of a sizeable, yet untapped resource – the 795,000 unemployed Canadians with disabilities who could, if given a chance, be trained and become productive members of the workforce,” says Russ Gahan, Vice President of Operations for Excellence Canada: an independent, not-for-profit organization – of which Adecco is a founding and active member – that provides advice, training, certifications, and recognition in its efforts to improve organizational excellence across the country. “By harnessing the potential of this population, of which more than half have post-secondary education,” continues Gahan, “we could put a major dent in this country’s skills shortage and, by extension, our labour shortage.”

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act – Setting Accessibility Standards

Gahan points to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) as a beacon of hope, not only for Ontario but for the whole country, when it comes to implementing proper accessibility standards and realizing the economic benefits that come with them. “According to the Martin Prosperity Institute’s report, Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario, increasing the participation of people with disabilities in the workforce could increase the GDP of Ontario alone by up to $600 per capita every year,” he says. “The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is unique in the world, but hopefully its contents will catch on across Canada in the near future. Canada needs it and Ontario organizations are beginning to do more to ensure their AODA compliance which is just the first milestone on the journey to Accessibility Excellence and inclusion of people with all abilities.”

Applying to both the public and private sectors, the AODA was enacted in 2005 after the Ontario Disabilities Act of 2001 was deemed insufficiently enforceable. The goal of the AODA is to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025, and while some organizations took action to ensure their AODA compliance as soon as the law was enacted, many more could use guidance. Gahan understands how crucial inclusiveness is to success. “A welcoming workplace is a productive workplace,” he says.

Accessibility standards by the numbers

Citing the “Return on Disability (RoD) Index” by Fifth Quadrant Analytics, which is broadcast on the Bloomberg Exchange, Gahan stresses that the numbers for hiring people with disabilities are remarkable. “The top 50 Canadian companies out of the 282 on the TSX that were analyzed demonstrated a superior focus on serving people with disabilities both as customers and employees”, says Gahan. “The RoD Index,” he adds, “outperforms numerous stock market indices and consistently delivers higher shareholder value.”

In light of the skills, motivation, and profit people with disabilities bring to the workforce, Gahan is hopeful that the AODA will give Canadian society the push it needs to overcome what ultimately boils down to employers’ attitudinal barriers rather than people with disabilities’ physical or mental barriers. “People with disabilities are self-sufficient, driven, fully capable, and don’t require nearly the level of accommodation some employers think they do,” stresses Gahan. “Skills shortage or labour shortage or whatever you want to call it, we have an impending problem, particularly in certain sectors, that we can help solve by leveraging a dedicated demographic of Canadians right here at home that will make up about 16% of our population by 2026. It’s time for employers to call all those people off the sidelines and put them in the game.”

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