Overview | Inclusivity and Accessibility at the Core

Pathways to Employment in the Digital Economy for Albertans with Disabilities

This article summarizes findings from a full-length study. Access the report here.

By Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash

Study Scope

This report provides critical insights on disabilities in the workplace and guidance on accessible, inclusive hiring, and workplace practices for the Alberta digital economy.

Extensive interviews with subject-matter experts and a survey of 150 Alberta digital economy employers informs this study, which overturns mistaken perceptions about people with disabilities.

The report is accompanied by the Toolkit for Alberta’s Digital Economy Employers, providing information and best practices for engaging with people with disabilities on interviewing, onboarding, workplace communication, and accommodations.

Study Context

Alberta has faced challenging economics since 2015, following the collapse of global oil prices. This situation is further exacerbated by the impact COVID-19.

Alberta’s digital economy, however, has continued to expand through these challenges — even during the pandemic. From January to September 2020, Alberta’s digital economy added over 33,000 jobs, totalling a 18.4% growth since pre-pandemic times.

Alberta digital economy employers have struggled to fill job openings for years now. This talent shortfall threatens the continued growth of the digital industry, which is a promising cornerstone of Alberta’s post-pandemic recovery.

Alberta needs to tap all available talent supply streams, including people with disabilities.

Study Findings

Understanding Disabilities

Disabilities can be temporary, long-term, or permanent. They range in severity and manifest in different ways:

  • Physical
  • Developmental
  • Mental health-related

The World Health Organization refers to “disability” as impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions, affecting the ability to see, hear, move, think, remember, learn, communicate, or maintain good mental health and social relationships.

Prevalence

In 2017, 22% of Canadians aged 15 and older lived with one or more disabilities (over 6.2 million Canadians).

  • Alberta mirrors the national prevalence rate of 22% (~680,000 people in the province)
  • Women are nearly 25% more likely to have a disability than men and are more likely to experience a severe form of disability

Education and Disabilities

Fewer Albertans with disabilities have postsecondary education than people without disabilities, however, more people with disabilities have college diplomas or trades certifications than those without disabilities.

About 14% of people with disabilities in Alberta have a postsecondary degree in a STEM field. Business and legal studies are a keen focus for people with disabilities

Alberta Employer Views on Non-Traditional Training

Many employers surveyed for this study believe micro-credentials are valuable but only as “add-ons” after a college diploma or university degree.

Impact of Disabilities in the Workforce

In Alberta, labour force participation of people with disabilities has significantly increased since 2012.

  • In 2017, 75% of people with disabilities were in the labour market, compared to 58% in 2012

Earning Comparison of Canadians with and without disabilities:

Employment in the Technology Sector

People with disabilities currently represent a small portion of the tech sector workforce:

  • Only 5% of people with disabilities work in tech and another 6% in tech occupations in other sectors, Canada-wide
  • In Alberta, these percentages drop to 2% and 5% respectively

Employment Opportunities in Alberta’s Digital Economy

Alberta’s digital economy is among the province’s most resilient sectors, including during the pandemic.

Nearly every core tech occupation in the digital economy saw significant growth during the pandemic.

Building Supply Pipelines for In-Demand Jobs

Countrywide, ICTC research shows the demand for digital talent continues to outstrip available supply:

  • The biggest bottlenecks are in midlevel talent (37% of respondents) and senior talent (28%)
  • Junior talent is more available, but 25% employers expressed challenges filling these positions

Engaging under-represented talent streams will be essential for the post-pandemic economic recovery.

Employment of People with Disabilities in Alberta’s Digital Economy

Diversity, inclusion, and accessibility practices are important to workforce resilience, sustainability, and innovation.

  • In 2021, Fortune 500 is including diversity and inclusion rankings for the first time
  • Diversity and inclusion data collection and reporting is becoming standard practice
  • 75% of medium and large-sized companies collect diversity, inclusion, and accessibility data
  • 75% of small companies do not collect this data

Collection of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility data is a starting point, but it needs to inform new policies to drive change.

Disclosing a Disability

Research by the Harvard Business Review found that less than 40% of people with a disability in the US disclose their disability to their employer.

  • Employers need to understand the composition and needs of their workforce to make the necessary accommodations or policy changes
  • Lack of disclosure is often based on fear (specifically for employees with “invisible” disabilities) resulting from past negative consequences

Study interviewees suggested employers foster trust-based relationships and a culture of openness.

Employer Uncertainty on Disability

A key finding of this study is that many employers lack certainty when engaging with people with disabilities.

Many Alberta employers also lack familiarity with key dimensions of legislation/conventions.

Employer Training on Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

Access to accurate, up-to-date, and validated information and resources for engaging with people with disabilities is needed:

Employee Training

Employees also need training on diversity, inclusion, and accessibility to help creating more inclusive team and workplace cultures. This training helps employees understand unconscious bias and the value of workplace diversity.

  • Large digital economy employers are more likely to have diversity and inclusion training resources than smaller employers

(Offering the opportunity to take diversity and inclusion training is not the same as mandating it. Research is inconclusive on the effectiveness of mandatory versus voluntary training.)

Actioning Diversity, Inclusivity and Accessibility in the Workplace

Most Alberta employers expressed a desire to engage more people with disabilities.

Converting this aspiration into actionable and measurable commitments could include working directly with organizations that support people with disabilities or even setting hiring targets. (See below: Resources)

Workplace Accommodations

Since every employee will, at one point or another, require some level of workforce accommodation, accommodations be framed as creating a more equitable and accessible workplace that benefits all employees, including people with disabilities.

Most “hard” accommodations — screen-reader software, speech-to-text software, remote captioning, sign language interpretation, etc. — are not expensive.

Many workers with disabilities may not need specific accommodations because most computers and mobile devices already have accessibility features.

Other accommodations such as working from home are not a cost for employers but a work culture accommodation.

Many “hard” accommodations often involve a one-time fee of less than $500:

  • Change desk layout (free)
  • Supply a telephone amplifier ($70)
  • Provide articulating keyboard tray to alleviate repetitive strain or carpal tunnel syndrome ($150)
  • Specialized chair to alleviate back injury pain ($400)
  • Drafting table, page turner, and pressure-sensitive tape recorder ($1,100)

Onus on Employers

Employers need to take the initiative for developing inclusive and accessible workplaces because they set policies and create employment opportunities.

Creating more inclusive workplaces demonstrates strong leadership and broadens the available talent pool, which is especially important for sectors with limited talent supply. Other motivations are the following:

Resources

Many workforce development organizations, non-profits, and consulting agencies can play an essential role in providing necessary support and resources to both people with disabilities and employers.

These organizations are listed in ICTC’s Toolkit for Alberta’s Digital Economy Employers.

This toolkits aims to help Canadian employers more effectively engage with people with disabilities and provides information and best practices for interviewing, onboarding, workplace communication, and accommodations.

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The Digital Think Tank by ICTC is the research and policy arm of the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC).

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