Accessibility in the workplace: Why should you care?

By Ellen Waxman

First – it’s the law in Ontario.  Businesses, not-for-profit organization and the public sector are all required to comply with some or all of five standards under Ontario’s  Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Regulations are in force in the areas of customer service, employment, information and communications including websites, public spaces and transportation.  By now, under the law, all employees in your organization should have been trained on accessible customer service; you must have accessible and emergency evacuation plans and reports are past due to the government.  By the end of this year, all businesses with 50 or more employees must have publicly available multi-year accessibility plans from now until 2025.

What are the penalties for non compliance?  Recently, the Government of Ontario sent “Directors’ Orders” to thousands of organizations who have not submitted their accessibility reports.  Directors’ Orders mean financial penalties – from $2,000 – $15,000.  But that’s just the beginning.  The law allows the courts to levy fines of up to $100,000 a day for non-compliance.  That’s a huge price to pay for not being accessible!

And that’s not all – the Government is doing audits.  If you’re audited, you need to show your training logs, your policies and prove that you have met all the requirements.  It’s not just about ticking off the boxes in a report.

Second, accessibility is good for business.  Businesses reflect the customers they serve and accessible businesses mean an increased customer base.  In a few years, people with disabilities will make up 20% of the population.  As well, the population is aging.  As people age, their accessibility needs increase and boomers make up 40% of income share in Ontario.  These are markets that businesses can’t afford to ignore if they want competitive advantage.

And third, Ontario is facing huge labour shortages.  People with disabilities have three times the unemployment rate as the able-bodied population.  But a high percentage are well educated and they make great employees.  A recent study of 2,000 U.S. employers concluded that the top six direct benefits of employees with disabilities showed:

  1. 90% improved retention
  2. 71% increased productivity
  3. 60% eliminated costs for training new employee
  4. 53% improved attendance
  5. 42% increased diversity
  6. 39% savings from worker’s compensation or other insurance

Those are numbers that can’t be ignored.

Ellen Waxman is principal at Ellen Waxman Coaching and Consulting and former Assistant Deputy Minister of the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO).

Want to become certified as a accessibility expert in your organization? Join myself and HRPA for its Accessibility Certificate Program beginning April 8, 2014. Learn More

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