True workforce inclusivity must look beyond economics


The current pandemic labour shortage is causing Canadian employers to shift their attention to the greater than 600,000 Canadians with disabilities who have both the capability and desire to work. But inclusivity demands more than simply filling holes within the economy.

Meaningful employment doesn’t just mean providing someone with an opportunity to work—it’s when a new employee is included, appreciated, and valued.

Before recruiting people from marginalized groups, it’s important to consider why a group is underrepresented in the workforce in the first place. If the workforce isn’t free from barriers and oppression, employers will be paying for their employees to enter a toxic—and often exploitative—environment.

At large, our workforce often fails to be friendly to most workers. The exhausting conditions aren’t helping those who struggle from chronic fatigue, for example, and many employers—particularly for minimum-wage jobs—don’t support their employees through work-related considerations for health, such as insurance covering physiotherapy or providing appropriate footwear.

Furthermore, unethical practices like short-staffing—hiring fewer people than needed for highly demanding work—create inconsiderate and actively harmful workplaces for labourers.

Employers shouldn’t welcome any workers—including those with disabilities—into a poor environment to address the labour shortage. They must focus on creating welcoming, ethical, and accessible jobs for all workers all the time.

There are flaws in current employment practices. Folks can spend valuable time compiling evidence of their disability, instead of receiving the support they need, and the arduous process can deter candidates from applying in the first place. Additionally, one route towards accessibility is too often viewed as a catch-all solution. But instead of molding workers with disabilities into one category, personal accommodations should be considered on a case-by-case basis to consider everyone’s unique needs.

Queen’s and other university campuses are home to future changemakers and employers, who are likely at the beginning of their time working. The conversation around the right to work in safe and ethical environments must now happen amongst students to prevent reinforcing the same cycle of exclusion and exploitation in the future.

Inclusivity and accessibility in the workforce are much needed, but these objectives shouldn’t be abused as a means for economical gain. Workers with disabilities deserve a place—labour shortage or not.

It’s concerning discussions about inclusion are happening because of a need for workers, not because this is a systemic change long overdue.

Employees with disabilities must feel welcome and valued within their working environments. The pandemic has proved businesses can make accommodations to make their services available for everyone. The process is easy, manageable, and beneficial for both employers and their patrons. This kind of mindset should persist within hiring processes and work environments as we transition into a new normal.

Employers must provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be part of their team regardless of their need for workers. To do so, they must also be prepared to make their teams accessible to everyone’s needs.

—Journal Editorial Board 

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