More often than not, this is life in the workforce if you have a disability. Just imagine:
– Being told that it’s too expensive or too complicated to accommodate you to help you be successful at your job.
– Having clients or colleagues decline to work with you because it’s too difficult.
– Being labelled as not capable enough; at the same time, also being told how “inspirational” you are.
– And one of my personal favourites — being lectured on how grateful you should be for any job you have.
I don’t have to imagine it. During more than four decades of being in a workplace, I’ve lived all of it. And I’m not alone.
People with disabilities comprise 22 per cent of the Canadian population over the age of 15. That doesn’t include Canadians who choose not to disclose that they have a disability. And yet, according to Statistics Canada, it’s estimated that more than 600,000 disabled Canadians who have the potential to work in an inclusive labour market aren’t employed.
Because of my previous experience, I had few expectations in September 2019 when I got the opportunity to work at CBC Vancouver as part of the public broadcaster’s national Abilicrew Placements for Excellence program, or CAPE. The 12-week work experience program aims to kick-start the careers of people with disabilities, showcase their diverse skills and talents, and generate discussion and learning related to disability, accessibility and inclusion.
As I discovered, CAPE is committed to providing tailored accommodations to all participants to reduce barriers to their success on the job.
For me, a person with 90-per-cent vision loss, my accommodation was simply giving me a larger computer screen. That was enough to help me explore a range of skills I never knew I had, including producing stories for the Vancouver morning radio show The Early Edition.
This photograph by Cathy Browne illustrates how she sees: ‘Not bad really close up, and worse the farther away things are.’
Two years later, I’m still part of the CBC family, still story producing, and continuing to amplify voices in the disability community through a column on disability I created called Access Denied.
I also now act as a mentor in the CAPE program. In these difficult and isolated pandemic times, ensuring that all of the participants have access to a variety of accommodations to allow them to make the most of their work experience is absolutely critical.
CAPE continues to deliver, with everything from equipment to software, flexible work schedules, creative approaches to learning on the job, and face-to-face support (sadly, remotely still).
The CBC program is proof that providing an accessible and inclusive workplace is possible and often involves very few modifications at low cost.
There’s an additional benefit: Within our news organization, CAPE has positively influenced how we approach stories and cover news about and for disabled people, their families and the broader community.
It’s my hope that CAPE becomes recognized as a blueprint for businesses and organizations throughout Canada to embrace accessibility and inclusion.
I also hope that, someday, CAPE won’t exist, because an inclusive and equitable workplace will simply be the norm. But I am practical enough to know we’re not there yet.
It seems fitting that I reflect on CAPE and equity and inclusion on the eve of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, held every December 3.
I also don’t want there to be a “day” for disabled people. I don’t want a light shone on disability as something to be celebrated, or marvelled at. I don’t want a day that urges the world to take notice, take action, and suddenly care. I don’t want a day that is designed to leave people momentarily motivated, inspired or guilty.
I don’t want a day that makes me angry and sad and frustrated and diminished and confused.
I believe with all my heart that accessibility and inclusion and the breaking down of barriers should be as natural as breathing. Simply having a day that points out the need for this only serves to raise awareness for a brief time, and then, it disappears.
It’s not what we need. But it’s what we have for now.
I’m only one person. But if enough of us fight, and persuade, and influence, and prevail, we won’t have to “celebrate” this day again.
(Cathy Browne is an associate producer at CBC Vancouver and a member of the Canadian Media Guild, CWA Canada Local 30213. She is co-chair of the CBC Abilicrew Employment Resource Group.)