employment-standardsA new year and a new seminar on accessibility in the workplace…with a twist. The twist being that this one was covered in a trade magazine called Canadian Facility Management and Design. You can find it here (How FMs can support employment standards), and it gives a good summation of what we talked about but let me add my own two cents (or a dollar’s worth, we know how I can ramble)

A few months ago, Shannon and I were taking in the new renovations at a nearby mall, Sherway Gardens. It’s one of the trendier malls in the Toronto area and is in the middle of a massive set of renovations so it can keep up with the Yorkdale’s and Eaton Centre’s of Toronto’s shopping landscape. As part of this is a new food court and some restaurants opening up in what was a wasteland for foodies in that mall. Wait…foodies? Can I use that word with mall food? I think Jamie Oliver shivered in apron. In any case, as we were having some Chipotle’s for lunch we noticed that The Keg Steakhouse was having an open house for their new restaurant with a table taking resumes and doing interviews on the spot. We could help chuckling about the idea of having me roll over and seeing the reaction as I asked for an application.

Now look, I’m not THAT unreasonable. I know that there are certain jobs that people with various disabilities just can’t do. Rolling around a kitchen trying to cook (trust me that would NEVER work even if I could walk) or serving tables, just isn’t going to happen. I suppose I could play that host role at the front, you know the one who takes your name and tells you that it’s at least a 45 minute wait for a table. I’m pretty sure I could do that. And really who would argue with a dressed up gentleman in a wheelchair. Now that I think of it, I really should have rolled up. The trick is, this is a dilemma that faces a lot of people with disabilities. How can I do a job, let alone a job I really want, when so many potential employers aren’t accessible to any kind of disability. Even worse…perhaps I wouldn’t even be taken seriously due to my disability.

This was the topic of the seminar I did with Jane Sleeth and Kim Walker to a packed house at the Steelcase meeting facility in downtown Toronto.We had done several of these already in 2015 to various groups. From architects and interior designers to human resources (who really need to keep a sense of humour…seriously), we had spoken before from a pure design standpoint. In each I gave my angle, of a relatively newly disabled professional and how bad design was responsible for so many problems that disabled people face in their daily lives. This seminar was different though. This was how those barriers interfere with employment for the disabled.

Jane and Kim gave the more technical end of the seminar, focussing on law, statistics, design codes and all the minute details that I have no training in. From there I spoke more from experience and quite honest fears. I gave a short explanation of my injury and how it happened, then started describing how I work, and how lucky I am that I haven’t had to re-enter the “seeking a job” ranks. I do not take for granted that we made the adjustments to my job that were needed to keep me in it. One of my greatest fears is going back on the job hunt, trying to get people to look past the chair. I don’t envy those with less obvious disabilities or worse levels of paraplegia who are going through it.

There were some great questions after I described buildings, businesses, and events that just didn’t get it. The article above touched on a number of them, but it was good to be asked by these professionals, from banks and design firms, what could they do to make it better. They pointed how hard it is to make changes in some old buildings and that they really aren’t required of it even with the new AODA. It’s a major weakness of the new code that only new renos and builds are required to adhere to it. So what is the answer?

There is no magic bullet, no one simple thing that can be done. The answer lies with empathy…of looking at the world through another perspective and not simply doing just the bare minimum required. It takes some knowledge, planning, and a team of professionals from across the spectrum to make it work. It also helps to actually talk to those with various disabilities to be sure your plans are practical. We ended the seminar with a challenge. For each of them to arrange to rent a wheelchair and try to use it in their own facilities (duct taping their legs together was just a joke…really). I had one person at the end promise they’d try it.

I hope to hear the results. It would be eye-opening if many actually tried it. So here’s to getting in the news…of sorts.