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Diverse business team watching product presentation on laptop screen at meeting

With an aging workforce (and the increase in disability that can accompany aging), impending mass retirements, and a desire by utilities to be socially inclusive in their hiring, employers need to be aware of the potential that people with disabilities bring to the workplace. Beyond the argument that it is the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. Employers can access an under-utilized labour pool, including people who have a broad range of skills, education, and experience. Building a more inclusive and accessible workplace leads to lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and increased morale.1, 2

As a result, employers, HR professionals and managers in the sector require knowledge, skills, strategies, and tools to build their comfort and confidence with creating accessible and adaptable environments. Building workplaces that support people with disabilities is critical. We need to actively make our workplaces more accessible, and work against “old ideas”: the stigma and stereotyping that leads to discrimination. Many employers within the electricity sector have knowingly hired persons with disabilities. ALL employers in the sector, however, have someone with a disability as an employee, whether the employer knows it or not. More than 20% of Canadians have one or more disabilities3 (the majority of which are not physical, or are non-apparent4).

For people with disabilities, quality employment means they can actively participate in their communities, workforce, and the larger economy. For industry employers, it means tapping into an underused talent pool to address labour market challenges while at the same time having a positive impact on innovation, profitability, and the ability to accommodate and retain talent5.

1 Hartnett, Helen P. et al. ‘Employers’ Perceptions of the Benefits of Workplace Accommodations: Reasons to Hire, Retain and Promote People with Disabilities’. 1 Jan. 2011 : 17 – 23.
2 Lindsay, S., Cagliostro, E., Albarico, M., Mortaji, N., & Karon, L. (2018). A systematic review of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. Journal of occupational rehabilitation, 1-22.
3 Easter Seals (n.d.). Disability in Canada: Know the Facts.
4 Canadian Mental Health Association (2021). Fast Facts about Mental Health and Mental Illness.
5 Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage. Accenture Consulting 2018

Inclusion Initiatives

There are three key elements to ensure accessibility initiatives are both successful and sustainable:

  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Communication
A young professional with a prosthetic arm helping to troubleshoot something with their co-worker


Understand and believe in the value of an inclusive workplace
Leadership sets the tone and the priorities in creating an accessible organization. Leaders or employers may need to work with existing staff to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to building an inclusive workplace. We know that inclusion leads to a healthy workplace culture, and an inclusive workplace is a strong predictor of employee engagement at work, regardless of differing abilities.

Active support from Senior Management
The practice of being accessible requires the whole team to work together. Senior management, and management generally have a critical role to play in modeling inclusive behavior and demonstrating the value that accessibility brings for all workers.

Removal of barriers
As a leader, removing barriers might mean you act across different fronts in the organization. Some barriers to inclusion in the workplace are systemic, including biases in the hiring process and stigma in the workplace; and some might be workplace specific, such as lack of physical accessibility or a lack of appropriate workplace accommodations.

Develop an action plan, monitor and review
Your accessibility plan explains how the organization is finding, preventing, and removing barriers. Once you have a plan in place, you can track your progress towards inclusivity goals, and modify your approach as needed.

Identify priorities
As part of your plan, prioritize areas for improvement in accessibility practices, and identify ways your organization could improve the removal and prevention of barriers.


Embedding health and wellbeing in the organization
Organizations thrive, and have greater productivity, when their employees are healthy and happy. Creating a culture of health and wellbeing starts from an explicit commitment to valuing the wellbeing of workers and develops hand-in-hand with creating a workplace of inclusion and belonging.

Ensuring a healthy and safe workplace environment
There is a misconception that persons with disabilities are more likely to get sick or injured on the job. This is incorrect. In fact, workers with disabilities are more likely to work safely6. As an employer, your commitment to creating a healthy and safe workplace extends beyond the physical, into creating a psychologically healthy workplace for all employees. Employees feel valued and included.

An important part of building a culture that supports accessibility is creating a workplace that is respectful and inclusive overall. When employees feel psychologically safe at work, they are more likely to disclose if they have a disability, and more likely to ask for accommodations that improve their job performance. And since we know “what gets measured gets improved”7, the more workers who disclose their disabilities, the more opportunity a workplace has to improve its practices and monitor progress towards inclusivity goals.

Supporting staff with disabilities
Depending on the size of your workplace, you might consider establishing a disability-oriented Employee Resource Group (ERG), which is a voluntary, employee-led group that supports group-members, and the employer, to help foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. Other supports for staff could include a streamlined process for requesting work accommodations and offering training or information to all staff centering disability at work.

Promoting work/life balance
One of the most straightforward ways to improve accessibility in the workplace is to make adjustments that positively impact all employees.Promoting work/life balance, including “logging off” times, remote work, and flexible work (where appropriate) improve working conditions for all workers, not just workers with disabilities.

6 Lindsay, S., Cagliostro, E., Albarico, M., Mortaji, N., & Karon, L. (2018). A systematic review of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. Journal of occupational rehabilitation, 28(4), 634-655.


Effective communication
Effective messaging is clear, concise, ongoing, bidirectional, and uses respectful language. Clear communication is important for all of the points outlined in the “culture” and “leadership” categories above. Respectful language, or inclusive language, is part of accessible communication. In Canada, it is common practice to use “person-first” language. When talking about people with disabilities. For example, rather than “the blind receptionist at the desk is named Mo”, we would say “Mo is the receptionist at the front desk. She is blind”.

However, some people with disabilities prefer to use ‘identity-first’ language. With ‘identity-first’ language, the identifying word is placed first, highlighting the person’s embrace of their identity, for example “I am a disabled person”, rather than “I am a person with a disability”. When in doubt, ask the person how they would like to be addressed.

Overall, establishing an inclusive business culture begins with leadership at the highest levels, including top executives, leadership teams, and boards of directors.
Mid-level managers and supervisors, and particularly human resources staff and other personnel involved in hiring decisions, must also understand the role they play in facilitating an inclusive environment.


All staff feel included and involved
An inclusive and diverse workplace helps generate innovation and engagement. Employers lead this through intentionally practicing inclusion – helping employees feel like they have a voice, being open to all ideas, supporting employees to advance their careers, and articulating to employees that their work is valued.

Mid-level managers and supervisors, and particularly human resources staff and other personnel involved in hiring decisions, must also understand the role they play in facilitating an inclusive environment.

Finally, communicating the company’s goal of an inclusive and diverse workplace to employees at all levels of the organization and indicating what they can do to help are also extremely important. One action company-leaders can take is to adopt formal expressions of commitment and intent related to the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of qualified individuals with disabilities. In some jurisdictions, formal accessibility policies and plans are legal requirements. In Ontario, for instance, all businesses (including non-profits and the public sector) with more than one employee must now have a written policy and plan to improve accessibility in the workplace.

Prior to and throughout this project, employers have demonstrated their commitment to building an inclusive and supportive workplace for people with disabilities either entering or already employed within the sector. Some employers have already taken strides to improve workplace accessibility and recruit people with disabilities, providing leadership and promising practices in their sector, while others are looking to get started and wondering how. What counts most is the commitment to achieving an inclusive workplace and willingness to act. Commitment at all levels of an organization is critical to creating and maintaining a truly diverse and inclusive work environment.

Previous EHRC research findings show a high level of senior management commitment and accountability for accessibility, and good practices for implementing workplace accommodations and adjustments. Many organizations have also made genuine efforts to ensure their corporate vision, goals and objectives reflect principles of inclusion.


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