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Disability and accessibility in the workplace: You have questions? The Discover Ability Network has answers!
Dispelling Myths About Accessibility in the Workplace
Starting a new job comes with a lot of unknowns. How casual is casual Friday? Who makes the coffee in the staff room? Why does everyone show up half an hour before the office opens? Should I disclose that I have a disability? How can I access accommodations in the workplace? It is hard to navigate the ins-and-outs of a new job, and if you have a disability, there are a few additional considerations related to disclosure and accommodations.
If you disclosed your disability during your job interview, you may have already had the chance to discuss the accommodations you need. However, there are many reasons why you might have waited to disclose and now you find yourself in a difficult situation. You might worry that your new employer will ignore your request for accommodations or feel that they will be upset that you didn’t discuss this during the interview and job offer stages. Or you might simply not know what accommodations you can ask for.
If you are still in the interviewing stage of your job search you should be aware of what the interviewer is legally allowed to ask. You might have heard from a classmate that it’s illegal for a potential employer to ask about your disability or your friend in your support group said that not disclosing your disability means your employer isn’t required to give you an accommodation. It can all seem confusing. We sat down with some experts in the field to ask them your questions about accessibility, accommodations, and the law. First, let’s get into some background information.
Know Your Rights
Two pieces of legislation in Ontario address accessibility and accommodations.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, you have the right to equal treatment and that facilities be accessible.
Accessibility in the workplace is also covered by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) which was passed in 2005, with the goal of making Ontario accessible by 2025. The AODA sets accessibility standards that organizations must meet. The AODA applies to all organizations (public, private, and not-for-profit) with one or more employees.
What Is Covered by the AODA?
The AODA’s Employment Standard is designed to help make finding, hiring and employee support practices more accessible.
In most cases, an employer is required to make an accommodation, but this does come with some caveats. Your boss isn’t a mind reader – it is the employee’s responsibility to disclose what accommodations they require. When an employee requests an accommodation because of a disability, the employer has a duty under the Ontario Human Rights Code to:
- Accept the request and act quickly
- Get expert help if needed
- Keep information confidential
- Cover the cost of the accommodation to the point of undue hardship
The AODA doesn’t just apply to existing employees, it covers every step of the employment process, including:
- Recruitment, assessment, and selection
- Workplace accommodation
- Performance management
- Career development and advancement
- Return to work
Ontario offers a comprehensive approach to accessibility, but like any legal documents, making sense of how it applies to you can be complicated. Lisa Kelly and Louie DiPalma from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Discover Ability Network program have worked with some of the country’s biggest employers training them on the issue of accessibility best practices and inclusive workplaces. Who better to ask about understanding the AODA and accessibility in the workplace!
Your Questions Answered
Q: What is the right way to ask for an accommodation?
While there isn’t a universal rule about how to ask for an accommodation, there are some steps you should follow.
- Ask for the accommodation
- Explain why you need it
- Provide information that is directly relevant to your needs, restrictions or limitations (perhaps even medical information, but only as it directly relates to your request for accommodation)
- Participate in discussions about possible accommodation solutions
- Cooperate with any experts whose assistance is required
- Try different forms of accommodation, even if it is not the perfect accommodation, as the law allows for flexibility in how an employer meets the requirements of the standards, as long as they meet the needs of people with disabilities.
By working together, employers can create an accessible and inclusive workplace environment where job seekers and employees can perform at their best.
Q: When should you disclose you have a disability? Should I be upfront about it in my interview?
When you disclose, you are not sharing details about your personal health condition. You are sharing that you require a change in the workplace due to a disability. These changes are called accommodations. They are adjustments that allow you to participate effectively in an interview or do your job.
Disclosure is your choice, and there is no right or wrong. Disclosing can be a bit of an art form. It can be affected by whether you have a visible or invisible disability, how you feel about your disability and sharing personal information, what type of disability you have, and on whether it might open up more opportunities to you (for instance, if you apply through a diversity recruitment program).
You do have to disclose if your disability will affect the health and safety of you or the people who work with you.
Employers that include information about diverse hiring practices, inclusive recruiting or explicitly invite job seekers with a disability to apply make it easier to consider disclosing. If an accommodation will improve your performance in an interview or testing, it is probably a good idea to consider asking for what you need in order to perform your best (and get a job offer).
Q: Does an employer have to agree to any and all accommodations? What are the limits?
No. Requesting an accommodation is a collaborative process between you, the employer and any third-party medical or insurance stakeholders. An accommodation is meant to enhance your productivity so that you can do the primary functions of the job that you were hired for. You will want to be your best in the workplace and the employer wants you to be productive and happy in your job. The employer has the final say on which accommodation is implemented, and that decision might be affected by cost, effectiveness, and whether something is possible.
Businesses do not need to provide an accommodation if it would cause undue hardship. Undue hardship might be related to very high costs or a change that would alter the way the business operates.
Q: What is my employer allowed to ask about? During an interview, can they ask if I have a disability?
An employer is allowed to ask questions about a person’s qualifications and ability to perform essential tasks (the primary tasks in a job). They can ask if a candidate requires an accommodation. If you share that you require an accommodation related to a disability, they can ask for more information about your disability that helps them determine an appropriate accommodation.
Q: What are some reasons why an employer would want to hire a person with a disability?
It doesn’t cost much to make some workplace accommodations, and it can pay off in greater productivity.
One example is of a welding shop. The manager was puzzled as to why one of their top welders wasn’t producing as usual. It turned out the employee had hurt his back outside of the workplace, and he didn’t have the mobility to work to the same level as before. They worked up an accommodation plan and purchased a special chair for less than $300. The individual went right back to becoming their best-producing welder. That’s one of the myths we dispel in our workshop: most accommodations are either zero cost or under $500.
Low cost and productivity gains are just part of the good news story when it comes to supporting or hiring a person with a disability. Statistics also show better health and safety outcomes, and 20 per cent higher worker retention. Isn’t that the ideal employee?
Employees and Employers: Making Accessibility Work
Times are changing and businesses are waking up to the fact that they can’t afford to ignore any segment of the labour market. Hiring people with disabilities comes with real benefits and companies that don’t hire inclusively risk losing a competitive advantage. Asking for an accommodation isn’t selfish or something an employee should be ashamed of. Accommodations make for more efficient and productive work environments. So much so that employers are realizing accommodations aren’t just for people with disabilities. Everyone is unique. We all work best when we are comfortable and confident in our workplace. As we have seen for some, this means an assistive device like a custom chair. For others, it can just mean additional time to complete a task. By working with your employer, you can help to create a workplace where everyone thrives.
For more information on how the Discover Ability Network is helping students with disabilities find work, visit https://discoverability.network/.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.