The future is accessible, and the future is now.
When the BC Government first proclaimed Disability Employment Month back in 2014, many accessibility advocates were hesitantly hopeful, wondering if it would actually make a difference for people with disabilities.
Social change doesn’t happen over night, but eight years later, I believe the world imagined in that original proclamation has arrived.
Since the inaugural Disability Employment Month, some things have really changed. We now understand that many disabilities are not apparent; we’ve widened our understanding of disability to recognize mental illness and addictions as dimensions of disability, resulting in a current estimate of nearly one million working aged British Columbians with some kind of a disability.
Compared to 2014, we are much more likely to acknowledge that a person’s health condition is not their biggest barrier to true inclusion. Instead, we see the hurdles and shut doors that come from unconscious bias, discrimination, and poor design, as the real enemies of accessibility for all.
Encouragingly, this new understanding has also freed us up to see barriers to accessibility as very solvable. We’ve learned that most accommodations cost little more than the willingness to listen and offer some flexibility. We’ve come to understand that like any other business imperative, starting early and planning well opens new opportunities and reaches new customers.
And until last year, all this learning was done without legislation, relying instead on the ongoing advocacy efforts of the disability community, the efforts of accessibility organizations, and the obvious return on investment to drive many organizations to address accessibility strategies. And these organizations are enjoying a market advantage and are driving innovation in their sectors.
Further change is on the immediate horizon. In 2021, the BC Government passed provincial accessibility legislation, a brief piece of legislation that represented a green light for more prescriptive regulation on dimensions of accessibility including employment, service delivery, built environment and others.
As part of that legislation public sector organizations like universities, municipalities and libraries must adopt new accessibility practices by September 2023. Crown agencies will follow them in September 2024.
And change is coming for employers beyond the public sector. In August, the BC Government published a call for members for technical committees that will establish accessibility standards for employment and service delivery. If these committees borrow from what other provinces have done, we can expect to see new standards in the coming years with cascading due dates starting with the largest employers and eventually touching all but the smallest businesses.
On a federal level, many federally regulated employers in vital industries like transportation, banking and telecom are facing upcoming requirements to improve their own accessibility in compliance with the Accessible Canada Act. Many elements are similar to what is being asked of BC public sector organizations.
And if the new regulatory drivers do their job, the result should more organizations with an enhanced capacity to listen and respond to accessibility issues, and a disability community that feels heard and properly included.
Those who have been long advocating for inclusion of people with disabilities are hard at work preparing ways to welcome a bigger crowd to the party.
Open Door Group launched this agency to welcome organizations like yours to the party. Whether you’re aiming to comply with provincial or federal legislated requirements, or you’ve prioritized accessibility to expand your reach to the 20% of the Canadian population with disabilities, we’re here to greet you with a metaphorical glass of punch, show you to your seat (which is of course accessible), and to offer you a helping hand.
Not sure what that means? Don’t worry, we’ll explain.