I recently participated in my first National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) as Deputy Minister Champion for Employees with Disabilities in the Federal Public Service along with over 2,000 public servants. I know many departments across the enterprise had their own events to celebrate the many contributions of public servants with disabilities who work as policy analysts, developers, administrators, communicators, program delivery experts, to name but a few. The week before, Employment and Social Development Canada hosted the second annual Canadian Congress on Disability Inclusion, which brought together prominent disability and accessibility advocates, community members, academics, thought leaders and innovators from across Canada.
During National Accessibility week, I had a chance to engage with Canada’s first-ever Chief Accessibility Officer, Stephanie Cadieux and Tony Labillois, who is not only a disability champion at Statistics Canada but is also the Chair of the Advisory Council, Canadian Accessibility Network. We reflected on the implementation of “Nothing Without Us”: Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada launched in 2019, the publication of departmental accessibility plans and what we are collectively hearing from employees with disabilities.
Stephanie, Tony and I talked about how far we’ve come and how much is left to do to really make Canada’s federal public service the most accessible in the world. We highlighted the importance of using data to shape our approach, feedback from and direct engagement with employees with disabilities and holding all federal public servants to account in helping us meet our commitments like hiring 5000 persons with disabilities by 2025 and evolving our culture to one that enables disability confidence. We discussed removing barriers and preventing their creation in the first place, which if we crack that nut, would have a profound impact on our approach to disability inclusion. And by the way, inclusion isn’t just about accessible workplaces, adaptive technologies or other types of accommodations, it’s also very much about everyone’s behaviours.
We noted how far the public service has come on its accessibility goals, including hiring. Yet we know, as raised in multiple conversations during NAAW, hiring persons with disabilities needs to be paired with other changes to be successful. Our processes need to be more accessible, employees with disabilities need to be matched to the right jobs relative to their skill sets, and we need to do way better when it comes to providing the right accommodations in a timely manner so our colleagues can benefit from them.
While there is still work to do for the public service to achieve accessibility and inclusion goals, the recent completion of accessibility plans by many federal organizations provides a vital path forward. But, the test of our collective success is simple: let’s move from good intentions and ambitious plans to more intentional action since we are ultimately competing against other employers for the amazing talent resident among the more than twenty-two percent of Canadians who live with a disability.
I encourage everyone to think about how you can help drive change and advance our shared disability inclusion agenda. As noted by Maayan Ziv, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of AccessNow, during her keynote speech at the Canadian Congress on Disability Inclusion, “accessibility is the magic that leads to inclusion”. I hope you all find ways to capture this magic as we work collectively to build a more inclusive and accessible federal public service in 2023 and beyond.