It’s been just over a year since I was appointed Canada’s first Chief Accessibility Officer and began the work of promoting accessibility throughout the federal government and federally regulated sectors like banking, telecommunications, and transportation. I’ve been able to address thousands of public service employees, as well as provincial and community leaders across the country. I’ve conferred with international accessibility advocates, learning what is being done around the world. What efforts are really working? What and where are the breakthroughs?
Building on a long history, National AccessAbility Week was enshrined by the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) in 2019. It’s an important checkpoint. We know the will is there and the level of engagement around accessibility is high. Now it is time to move from intent to action.
One of the ACA’s priority areas is employment. I’m passionate about seeing people with disabilities represented at all levels of organizations, because I know their expertise and insights will help organizations big and small evolve and succeed. So many people with disabilities are innovators by necessity. In addition to their education and skills, they have spent a lifetime navigating a world that is often built to exclude them. Getting around obstacles and finding creative solutions is something we desperately need as a society.
We can’t afford to lose this valuable perspective as we confront the challenges that face us as a global population: climate change, rapid technological and demographic change, and more.
Employers know that retaining top talent has never been harder, and yet still, time and again, candidates with disabilities are overlooked. As of this year, only 5.6 per cent of federal government employees identify as having a disability. This is despite the fact that more than one in five Canadians, 22 per cent, live with one or more disabilities. Of these, 647,000 are ready and willing to work, and nearly 50 per cent of those have a post-secondary education. It isn’t a supply problem. The problem is barriers and unconscious bias.
We have to take action. We have start implementing the changes that will get employees in the door and at the tables, in the meetings where decisions are made. So for National AccessAbility Week, I am issuing three challenge questions for all organizations, all businesses, all communities:
What actions has your company or organization taken to remove barriers for people with disabilities?
How are your clients with disabilities faring when they access your site or services?
What is one thing you will do in the coming year to improve accessibility in your organization?
I am challenging leaders to share their answers on social media. Tag us in your responses. For those who aren’t sure how to answer, please take stock, examine your unconscious bias, and start the ball rolling so that next year, not only will you have answers, you will have made a change.
I invite you – I challenge you : take action this year, and show us what is possible.
South Surrey’s Stephanie Cadieux is the first Chief Accessibility Officer of Canada.