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It’s time for full workplace inclusion for people with disabilities

December 3, 2021
By Laurie Proulx

A recent survey showed that people living with psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis (generally known as psoriatic disease) felt their conditions had a negative impact on them at work. (Studio Romantic/Adobe Stock)

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are a priority in many workplaces, but have we really reached the outcomes needed?

We have made important strides but on Dec. 3, the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, it is a time to reflect on whether we are where we hope to be.

This year’s theme is creating an inclusive and accessible post-COVID-19 world.

This means that Canadian organizations, leaders, and HR professionals have an opportunity to explicitly include people with disabilities in a post-COVID-19 workplace.


Workplace challenges

In 2017, one in five (22 per cent) of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over — or about 6.2 million individuals — had one or more disabilities with pain, flexibility, mobility, and mental health being the most common disabilities.

People with disabilities are less likely to be employed (59 per cent) than those without disabilities (80 per cent) and two in five (49 per cent) of those not employed have the potential to work.

Episodic disabilities — people who experience fluctuating periods and degrees of wellness and disability — also face difficulties in communicating the need for workplace adaptations to supervisors and colleagues.

With labour shortages, hiring people with disabilities can address some of the critical talent shortages.

To highlight some of the workplace challenges of people with disabilities, a recent survey showed that people living with psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis (generally known as psoriatic disease) felt their conditions had a negative impact on them at work.

People living with this episodic disability experienced a variety of workplace challenges such as:

  • difficulty performing physical tasks such as standing for long periods of times
  • difficulty staying focused because of fatigue
  • worries about how psoriatic disease will affect their ability to stay employed
  • the location of psoriasis plaques affected them at work
  • feeling upset or angry about how psoriatic disease affects them at work.

People with psoriatic disease indicated that workplace accommodation needs changed during the pandemic, however, only a third of survey participants felt they could access support at their place of work. Some people indicated that their supervisors or colleagues didn’t understand their need for workplace support.

About a third of participants worry about returning physically to the workplace once the pandemic is over and many support the idea of a hybrid working model to save energy by eliminating commuting time, controlling the pace of the workday, and better controlling the work environment.

Like many workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health concerns of survey participants generally worsened.

Free resources for employers and workers

There are a number of free resources to help organizations and workers understand their legal rights, responsibilities, and to guide workers through the accommodation process:

There are also other free resources available, like the DiscoverAbility Network, a free online portal and resource that connects businesses directly to people with disabilities.

A path forward

Many organizations are considering what their post-COVID-19 workplace will look like.

It is a perfect time to reflect on how your organization can support people with disabilities, chronic health conditions, and psoriatic diseases, such as:

  • getting informed about disability, episodic disability, and psoriatic diseases
  • considering unconscious bias training to support the behaviour change needed to become a disability confident organization
  • maintaining the accommodations made during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • revising policies to explicitly consider people with chronic health conditions, such as offering comprehensive health and extended health benefits and auxiliary supports.

These changes are often simple or inexpensive to implement — talk to your employees and start a discussion to ensure you are carving out a place for people with disabilities in the post-COVID-19 workplace.

Laurie Proulx is a human resources consultant and disability advocate in Ottawa.

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