As a disability and human rights advocate, I have experienced firsthand being excluded from an activity, event, or establishment simply because it was not accessible to me. This is 2022. That is unacceptable.
Though you yourself may not be disabled, it is likely that you know somebody who is, or someone that will become disabled. According to the 2017 census, the community of people living with two or more disabilities over the age of 15 in New Brunswick makes up 26.7 percent of the population. It is essential that the government of New Brunswick enforce accessibility standards for all disabilities including but not limited to mobility, visual impairment, hard of hearing, sensory, invisible disabilities and mental illness.
An unexpected silver lining came out of the COVID-19 pandemic: it showed employers, as well as academic institutions and non-profit organizations that it was possible to work or learn remotely. This was a turning point for the disabled community as it gave many more people equal access to participate in society despite their disability. Now that it has been proven that people can effectively work or learn remotely, I believe it is imperative that this choice be available for everyone; disabled or not.
Disability needs to become part of the education curriculum. People are often scared of the unknown. Most people do not have the exposure to the everyday challenges that people with disabilities face. Implementing curriculum would help people understand why some things are more difficult and inspire others to be more empathetic and even become advocates.
The cost saving benefits to employers that adopt virtual work include less need for office space and parking. For a workplace that couldn’t otherwise afford to complete major renovations for accessibility reasons, offering remote work could be a way to circumvent that entirely. Employers would also benefit from having a wider pool to pull talent from by offering remote work. The cost benefits to employees are also significant as well, since there would be less expenses involved with transportation, which also has environmental benefits. There would also be fewer requirements for relocation from rural to urban areas, which not only saves money, but may also allow employees to stay closer to their families. Even employers worried about the cost of making a more accessible workplace now have access to grants to transform their workplace.
Every person has individual accommodation needs and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Allowing employees or students to attend virtually is a start, but it should not be the only effort toward making an accessible workplace. Individualized accommodations allow employees and students to reach their full potential. There is a wealth of talent and potential in the disability community that is left untapped due to an inaccessible workspace. For employers and educational institutions, it is worth the investment to research possible accommodations to attract future employees.
Kaitlyn Layden is a disability rights advocate in New Brunswick.