Four ways I think we can better support people with disabilities in the workplace

By Morgan Dumas
Manager, Communications, TD Securities

When I reflect on my first interview with TD in early 2016, I recall how every door I encountered entering the building and finding my way to the interview room opened automatically. As someone who relies on a wheelchair to get around, I noticed how inclusive this was because it allowed everyone, regardless of their abilities, to find their way through the iconic black tower on Wellington St.

Details like the above may be something people don't notice each day as they navigate buildings, but it was enough to help me feel confident that I could be myself at TD without any barriers.

As a person with disabilities, I can personally attest to the benefits that hiring more people from this pool of talent can offer the workforce. A 2010 Deloitte study cited that in addition to offering a fresh perspective and innovation, people with disabilities bring other valued qualities to the workforce, including strong performance, good attendance and higher than usual job retention. The research measuring the benefits of diverse hiring practices isn't new. Even a 1981 study by DuPont involving 2,745 employees with disabilities found that 92% of these employees rated average or better in job performance, compared to 90% of employees without disabilities.

Yet despite all this research, too often people with disabilities are still left out of conversations regarding diverse hiring practices. According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, the employment rate of working-age Canadians with disabilities was 49 per cent, compared with 79 per cent for Canadians without a disability. And most of those people’s disabilities wouldn't have prevented them from working.

Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions preventing more people with disabilities from contributing to organizations (and employers from accessing this pool of talent.) 

Here are four things I think people should know about people with disabilities (PWD's) in the workplace, and ways colleagues and organizations can better support us:

1. Accommodations don’t have to be costly, just innovative

Workplace accommodations don't necessarily have to be complicated or involve a costly renovation to a workspace, but creativity can go a long way to help meet our needs. After I started my role, a few of my colleagues asked what sort of accommodations I required, and I explained that everyone with a disability is unique and has individual needs so you have to be innovative. One thing I needed was a way to independently close the washroom stall door behind me. TD's Workplace Accommodations team and I then designed a system using a metal hook and magnet for me to close and lock the door. Other people may just need flexible working hours, a certain type of keyboard, or a more adaptive learning approach. We just need to ask.

2. Transparency and buy-in from the top matters

Transparency goes both ways. In addition to understanding what employees need, it is also important for organizations and their leaders to be transparent and open about their inclusive polices to set the tone from the top. Creating a culture of inclusivity begins with your leadership. If you also provide your employees with information about the accessibility resources available to them, such as how to book a sign language interpreter, create an accessible document and request text in Braille, and promote your organization's inclusive practices, you'll have a better chance of attracting and retaining PWDs.

3. Put yourself in this person's shoes for a moment

It wasn’t until my first cocktail party at work that I realized how much taller everyone was, and how after an hour of straining my neck to engage in conversation with my colleagues, it was such a welcome relief when two of them pulled up chairs so we could speak to one another at the same level in a more relaxed setting. What really stood out for me was that instead of asking if I would prefer they sit, they just quietly pulled up a chair and continued our conversation while leveling our eye contact.

4. Listen first, ask second.

When I first met with my manager, she actively listened to what I thought would help me succeed in my role instead of immediately asking what I needed. This allowed me to feel comfortable sharing what I needed, without immediately being put on the spot with questions. I feel fortunate to work with a group of individuals who make a concerted effort to listen and offer support.

Morgan Dumas

Manager, Communications

TD Securities