Behind every great project, is great dedication
Switching jobs or getting a new manager on your team is something we’ve all likely gone through at least once in our career as public servants within the Government of Canada (GC). And we can probably all agree that getting properly set up―I’m talking security badge, HR and more specifically, accommodations―can be quite the endeavour.
For those with a disability―whether it’s visible, non-visible, temporary, episodic, permanent, physical, or non-physical―adjusting to these changes can be that much more challenging. While the needs for accommodations vary from person to person, one thing’s for sure: we all need to be equipped with the necessary tools to fully operate in our jobs.
A force to be reckoned with
When everyone is included and able to participate, we become a force with which to be reckoned. That’s why the GC is committed to creating a barrier-free work environment and making Canada accessible for persons with disabilities. The GC’s Accessibility Strategy outlines 5 key goals to improve accessibility in the public service, and one of the biggest challenges remains issues involving workplace accommodation. The Centralized Enabling Workplace Fund (CEWF) is a 10-million-dollar fund managed by the Office of Public Service Accessibility (OPSA) within the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) for a five-year period, which began on April 1, 2019. The purpose of the Fund is to improve accessibility in the public service by focusing on opportunities to improve our workplace accommodation practices and remove barriers that make it more difficult, or even unsafe, for employees with disabilities to do their job.
The Fund is investing in tools, resources and innovative solutions that can help to address these challenges. We also need to remove barriers in our staffing practices, so the public service is able to bring in more persons with disabilities and provide accommodations that enable them to contribute to their fullest throughout their careers.
Loading: improvements in progress
Introducing Diana Shaw-Malvern, Director of the CEWF within OPSA. With the help of her small but mighty team―emphasis on the small and mighty, as they’re a team of 3―they created the CEWF from the ground up and launched an in-depth Benchmarking Study of Workplace Accommodations. The Study, which included two online surveys in May and October 2019, was created to raise awareness and better understand public servants’ experiences with the current workplace accommodation process. The results of the Study were then validated by comparing them against similar studies conducted by other governments and sectors both in Canada and abroad.
“Not only does it take time for the employee to acquire this documentation, but once the request has been approved, employees found themselves waiting months, sometimes a year or more, to have their accommodations purchased and put in place”
The Study reported on key findings from over 6200 surveys completed by public servants from across the GC who had either requested an accommodation for themselves, or for one of their employees, in the last three years. The participants surveyed expressed that the current process placed a great deal of importance on the medical model―the need to repeatedly provide doctor’s notes, certificates, evidence of the disability, injury or illness― and both employees and supervisors felt this process is too heavy and burdensome. “Not only does it take time for the employee to acquire this documentation, but once the request has been approved, employees found themselves waiting months, sometimes a year or more, to have their accommodations purchased and put in place,” Diana explained. Many also said the process should be managed by neutral advisors who can balance the needs of both supervisors and employees, and who are experts in disability-related accommodation.
Delays with procurement of accommodations was just one of the findings of the Study. Diana explained that employees also expressed concerns with barriers they faced when they were undergoing career changes or when their supervisors changed, with respondents saying there was a need to prove the same illness or disability, time and time again. Imagine you’re finally able to get access to what you need to do your job effectively, and then it’s time to make your next career move and you have to start back from square one. Diana explained that 40% of Study respondents said they had to take extended sick leave at some time in their career, many of them for more than 6 months, because they were not properly accommodated in the workplace. We also learned that over 40% of respondents reported that they believed they didn’t receive a promotion that they were qualified for because of disability-related reasons, and that over 50% reported that they were not challenged enough in their current role. Diana also explained that respondents who reported that they didn’t receive appropriate accommodation were more likely to say they had negative future career prospects, with individuals who have invisible disabilities such as mental health issues, cognitive disabilities or environmental sensitivities reporting the most negative outcomes.
Get your passport ready
“The passport records the agreement between the employee and the manager, so there is no need to renegotiate workplace accommodations when circumstances change. Of course, there is a need to keep it up to date to make sure that what was agreed upon still works for the employee and supports them”
With the findings of the Study, it was quickly realized that timely access to accommodations and lessening the number of hoops and hurdles that public servants have to go through to obtain those accommodations is of the utmost importance. Enter Luna Bengio, principal advisor to Yazmine Laroche, the Deputy Minister of OPSA, who spearheaded the GC Workplace Accessibility Passport―a tool created to improve the workplace accommodations process for public service employees with disabilities. Think of it as a passport that explains your workplace accommodation needs, the tools and measures approved by your manager, and it travels with you throughout your GC career. This means not having to re-explain yourself and your needs each time you switch positions or work under new management. “The passport records the agreement between the employee and the manager, so there is no need to renegotiate workplace accommodations when circumstances change. Of course, there is a need to keep it up to date to make sure that what was agreed upon still works for the employee and supports them,” Luna explained. “Through the passport, employees can also describe the barriers they may be encountering on the job and identify what solutions may exist to mitigate or address them.”
The passport is being implemented in two phases. It’s currently in phase 1, being tested by public servants. Those who are excited to start using it now are welcomed to use the temporary Microsoft Word form, which can be found here. Phase 2 of the passport will involve an online platform―so public servants who need to access it, can do so easily. It’s worth mentioning that the passport is owned by the employee, which means it’s easy to update, store, and share any necessary information with their manager and/or other stakeholders within their departments.
“We are making a real attempt to change the culture surrounding workplace accommodations”
“We are making a real attempt to change the culture surrounding workplace accommodations. Going from a process that is based on legal obligations, to one that’s focused on bringing more talent into the public service by providing the tools and support needed by employees to succeed in their jobs. It’s a necessary culture change in line with the Accessible Canada Act, and it’s a great privilege to be able to work on a project like this” Luna proudly tells us. “We need to recognize that not everybody communicates the same way, thinks the same way or works the same way, but everybody has something to contribute, and so we must create the conditions that enable all employees to participate equally and contribute to their full potential,” Diana adds. And I can’t help but smile―these conversations demonstrate real progress and they make me hopeful. Hopeful for a day when everybody has the same opportunities, tools, and ability to share their ideas because we are much stronger together. It’s clear that the GC is making strides towards this change, and I’m confident with leaders like Luna and Diana on our side, we will get to where we need to be.
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