The number of Canadians living with a physical disability is set to grow at twice the rate of Canada’s total population over the next dozen years, and according to a Conference Board of Canada report and several experts, businesses are not ready.
The report states that improving workplace access for people with disabilities would increase Canada’s GDP by $16.8 billion by 2030 and allow 550,000 Canadians with disabilities the opportunity to work more. In addition, improving disability access would boost consumer spending by $10 billion and would generate an additional $3 billion in revenue for the federal government.
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“Basically, if they were out of the workforce, those surveyed said that with improvements to accessibility, many of them thought they would be in the workforce,” explained Ruth Wright, director, HR and inclusive talent management research, The Conference Board of Canada.
According to the findings, the number of Canadians living with a physical disability that impairs their mobility, vision, or hearing, will rise to 3.6 million from 2.9 million over the next 13 years, and 60 per cent of those surveyed said they faced barriers to finding a job due to their disability.
Wright states that a combination of physical improvements to workplace environments, as well as changes in attitude, would go a long way toward improving the workplace experience of Canadians with disabilities.
“These are things that can be enabled with just a little more modest investment. But it’s not just bricks and mortar and physical accessibility. It’s also about attitude. Having employers that see them as individuals,” explained Wright.
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Canada’s aging population is a big factor in the increase in the country’s disabled population, as Wright explains “there is a correlation between age and disability.”
The report recommends that workplaces use handrails, widened doorways and hallways and updated accessibility computer technology.
However, several experts told Global News that Canada lags far behind other countries in terms of ensuring that disabled citizens have access to meaningful employment.
“This is something we need to address urgently,” explained Marcia Rioux, a professor at York University’s school of health studies and expert in disability law. “The figures are quite shocking in terms of how few individuals with disabilities are working in non-precarious work.”
She added that while there are definite social benefits to improving employment access for people with disabilities, these go hand in hand with economic benefits.
“Social integration is greater if people have work, but social and economic inclusion are very closely tied,” said Rioux. “People with disabilities have not been considered a viable part of the labour force, which is problematic.”
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Canada’s first national disability legislation is slated to be unveiled sometime early this year, and had been demanded by disability advocacy groups for years before that. David Lepofsky, a lawyer and disability advocate, said that Canadian citizens with disabilities need legislation like this “because, both as employers and in goods and services, we’re lagging behind.”
He explained that in addition to not having national accessibility legislation, seven of 10 provinces don’t have provincial legislation either. He agreed that the growing population of disabled people in Canada and around the world means that inaccessible businesses hurt us on a social and economic level.
“Our business sector wants to sell our goods and services to markets around the world. Well, the disabilities market is one billion strong. We’re hurting our international competitiveness.”
The Conference Board of Canada surveyed nearly 500 Canadians with physical disabilities to identify factors that are creating barriers for them and to assess what changes are necessary to improve their inclusion in the workforce. The report also used the Canadian Survey on Disability from Statistics Canada, conducted in 2012 and other data from StatsCan.