Disability and Corporate Canada: The Time Is Now
Diversity has long been a corporate buzzword. So has accommodation, and acceptance, and a lot of other words that we associate with disability and difference. Most big companies (and I say this as someone who works for one who is lucky enough to have a disability) will tell you that they see the value in including people with disabilities in their workplace. But have companies really seen the business advantage in getting this right? Do they realize that the time to capitalize is right now? Are they ready for change? We can only hope.
$365 billion, give or take a few millions. That is the power of the 'disability dollar' in Canada, when you include our friends and family (thanks to Rich Donovan for the stat). Considering that this number will only get bigger as the population ages and more of us acquire our disabilities, that number will only get bigger and the opportunity more lucrative. For the companies that see accessibility as a core innovation rather than strictly a diversity issue to be 'handled' by HR there is a proverbial gold mine to be tapped.
One of the counter-arguments I always hear as to why this doesn't matter is that most disabled people, due to their disadvantaged economic status, have more important things to worry about than how disability is perceived in Corporate Canada. Therefore, the status quo is fine and there's no need to push the envelope. So allow me to unpack that.
Sure, many disabled Canadians live at or around the poverty line, that's an unfortunate reality. But does that mean that we shouldn't change the way we do business? Does that mean that the 'disability dollar' is worthless? No. In fact, I would suggest that the opportunity is even greater because its been so ignored in the past. Bringing innovative solutions to the table can help address many of those root causes that have disadvantaged us for generations. Companies have a responsibility to drive the change and capitalize on it.
And the time to act is now. Why? Because since the announcement of the Act for an Accessible Canada in June 2018 - Canada's landmark and (hopefully0 transformational federal disability legislation - we have an opportunity we have NEVER had before. Over the next year as the legislation takes shape, Corporate Canada has the chance to rethink the way that we address accessibility. We have a reason to look for fresh perspectives , we have a window to shift culture. I sincerely hope that we use the Act for an Accessible Canada as a jumping off point for the conversations that have needed to happen for years.
And so I ask anyone reading this to join in this change of conversation if they can and want to. Ask questions, collaborate with other organizations, find your way to not sit back. Above all, don't assume (no matter your disability status or life circumstances) that you can't have a role. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real progress for all disabled Canadians and their allies. Let's get it right!