Toronto – December 1, 2015 – The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations. We know that this day is fundamentally important to us as workers, as Canadians, and as human beings. It is about ensuring that each and every one of us is able to bring our "whole self" into every aspect of society. The observance of the Day also aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.
Well before 1992, the labour movement has had a clear understanding of the immense gains to be derived from ensuring integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of our workplaces. I know from experience that the union movement has been central to breaking down barriers for disabled persons in the workplace. Whether that be through negotiating clauses in collective agreements around the accommodation, ensuring that accommodations are appropriate for the individual worker, and creating more inclusive workplaces, unions remain at the forefront of the broad social movement that builds "inclusion" as a central theme in our workplaces.
In my many years as a worker representative, I was continually surprised at how easy, in most situations, it was to accommodate a physically or mentally disabled worker and help build that essential sense of independence and dignity in their lives. Nonetheless, resistance to inclusion remains part of our social fabric. If we as a society continue to stereotype and pigeon-hole those with disabilities as being lesser or incapable, then we all lose. We know from study after study that diverse workplaces that include the needs of workers with disabilities are far more creative, productive and robust places to work.
According to Employment and Social Development Canada about 3.8 million Canadians (13.7%) reported having a disability in 2012. The percentage of Canadians with disabilities increased with age, ranging from 4.4% for people 15 to 24 years to 42.5% for those 75 years and over. With people increasingly working passed the traditional age of retirement - age 65 - and living longer lives, projections indicate that Canadian workplaces will increasingly have more workers with disabilities over the coming years. Based on this, it is clear that workplaces that understand and implement policies and initiatives that support workers with disabilities will be the most productive and creative in the Canadian economy.
Regardless of your race, gender, gender identity, ethno-cultural background, or sexual orientation, you may face a disability at one point in your life. From this perspective let us renew our commitment to breaking down barriers that persons with disabilities face, and ensure that each and every one of us works towards integrating persons with disabilities into every aspect of the Canadian workplace and society.
Paul R. Meinema,