Ableist Policy in the Workplace

How Corporations Force out Those with Disabilities


Ashlea McRae (she/her) // Contributor
Cameron Skorulski (he/him) // Illustrator


Recently, the job-hunting scene is becoming more and more cut-throat, with lofty expectations for experience, and qualifications that are not reflected in remuneration becoming the norm. Even for Canadians in the labour force without disabilities, pockets are running empty and living costs are continuing to rise. According to Statistics Canada, in 2017 there were 3,727,920 Canadians aged 25 to 64 with disabilities in the labour force. This number includes Canadians with both visible and non-visible disabilities. Furthermore, in 2017 37.3% of the total employed persons aged 25 to 64 with disabilities required one or more workplace accommodations. In the Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD), accommodations are also referred to as modifications in the workplace required to assist a person in the labour force in performing their duties.

Lucas Nelson knows intimately the struggles of finding work as a person with a disability in Canada. When asked about the most difficult part of looking for work or navigating finding income as a person with disabilities, he said, “it’s difficult to pick just one thing, but probably the lack of accessibility. This is a broad concept, but it’s hard to pick anything else. Jobs are not designed to be accessible in any form. Job ads don’t specify if there’s any accessibility options, you often need to get to an interview to find out that you will be physically unable to do the job, and so on.” 

Christina Donnelly had her own experience with a hiring manager who continuously asked micro-aggressive questions surrounding her physical ability to do tasks around the workplace. “She sat me down at the desk and we conducted the interview, and she was just looking at me up and down and making all these… comments. Like, you know, we are a fast-paced work environment, we expect a lot of physical things, can you bend your knees – things like that.” 

Although these kinds of questions are not uncommon in job interviews, they are often asked from a place of judgement or preconceived ableist ideas. “I left feeling like crap,” Donnelly added. She also stated that in her following job hunt, she would include her physical accommodation needs in her resume, but she began editing out this information after applying and following up to dozens of workplaces with no response.

With a topic that is as deeply embedded into our society as ableism, it can be difficult to fully grasp how people with disabilities are affected daily. Ableism can’t just be fought by adding a ramp to the entryway of a building, putting an elevator in a multi-story building, or equipping our public transit with lifts. Although these things do make a difference, there is so much more that needs to be addressed regarding the rights of people with disabilities. 

When asked about why it is important for workplace policies to reflect anti-ableist viewpoints, Nelson stated, “disabled people are simply people; we deserve to feel as welcomed and respected as anyone else. Disabled people would feel more welcomed if their needs were accepted instead of brushed off, and if discussions about accommodations weren’t viewed so terribly. Employers look down on employees who need any assistance, so much so that many people don’t ask for it. Of course, that results in people’s well-being being affected and oftentimes people having to give up on working.”

This was recently the case with Donnelly, who was forced to quit her job after being continuously denied access to accommodations. “I loved working there, I did. I loved the team, management was alright,. But I was stricken – late last year, with plantar fasciitis.” Donnelly tried to continue her job without accommodations, providing her managers with several doctor’s notes, but after seven months, she could no longer walk or stand, “I asked if I could bring my own stool that I bought off of Amazon in – just to be able to sit, just to get off of the foot, you know. And no – it was just a straight up no. No from the management and no from the human resources team.” 

As for government support or income assistance, Donnelly explained that since plantar fasciitis is a temporary injury, she is not able to access disability funding from the government other than temporary employment insurance (EI) benefits.

In June of this year, Bill C-22 received royal assent and became Canada’s first national disability benefit. Bill C-22 is based on two main principles, which is the reduction of poverty and increased financial security for working-aged people with disabilities, and that the income assistance will be delivered through changes to the Income Tax Act. 

“In order to get income assistance you have to have forms filled out by a doctor and done in a very specific way,” Nelson says. For him, it took a year, three applications, two different doctors, and his application was lost and had to be redone twice. “One got denied because there wasn’t any ‘proof of my daily living being affected’. For others it could take even longer. If you need housing assistance, I hear the wait to get into government housing is multiple years.”

Additionally, as the cost of living continues to rise exponentially, government funding sees very little to no upwards movement. When the topic of change was brought up with Nelson, he explained that he would like to see an increase in income assistance and jobs being made more accessible. “The maximum rent allowance you can receive is $500, and my entire income is $1500,” Donnelly says. With a maximum of $500–some people receiving even less–there is little chance that it’s actually covering the rent of most people, “Many disabled people want to work but are unable. Changes in workplace policies could include letting people work from home when applicable, letting people sit instead of stand, having more part-time options, or just discussing with each individual person what accommodations would help them.” Donnelly wraps up her thoughts about ableism in the workplace by saying, “it’s almost not even underlying ableism in the workplace, it’s just blatantly there. We need to grab the reins from the older generations and start revamping a few things – because this isn’t working.”

As bank accounts grow slim and job applications go unanswered, it becomes clear that something is amiss. For Canadians with disabilities like Donnelly, these struggles increase tenfold as they are forced to try and push through debilitating pain and are denied access to accommodations that they need. There are people like Nelson that are denied government assistance under the pretence that their struggles are not serious enough. Accommodations in the workplace are not simply an aid to make tasks accomplishable, but they are a necessity in order to welcome diversity in the workplace. Without accommodation for disability, a workplace isn’t inclusive, and people like Donnelly and Nelson are suffering for it.

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