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Accommodations & Accessibility In The Workplace

Accommodations & Accessibility in the Workplace

In theatre, we often think about (or should be thinking about) how we can make our spaces as accessible as possible for our audiences. However, what can be missed is making the workplace accessible for our staff. Our staff should be as diverse as our audience. If we are going to consider gender and cultural equity, differing learning styles, alternative ways of presentation, inclusive accessible design, and so forth for patrons, we need to make sure we’re adapting these thoughts to the workplace.

Barriers are not just physical. There are societal and cultural attitudes which prevent individuals from having equal opportunities, so when developing a workplace accommodation or accessibility policy or procedure, we have to think about not just the physical workplace but perceived societal norms as well.

You may or may not have specific accessibility legislation in your province, but even if you don’t, you have general requirements under the Human Rights Act not to discriminate – as well as a duty to accommodate. Only once “undue hardship” is experienced would a company not have to accommodate an employee. This is an extremely hard test to pass and involves things such as health and safety, financial implications/costs unable to be incurred, and so on.

For more information on undue hardship, please see the resource links at the bottom of this page. It is advisable to seek legal counsel if you believe you are in a position of undue hardship.

Individual Accommodation Plans

Some provinces have a legislative requirement to create and use individual accommodation plans for every employee who requires one due to a disability. If your province doesn’t currently require these, it doesn’t mean it won’t eventually. It is also considered a best practice for furthering integration and equitable hiring and employment practices.

These plans involve both the employer and the employee. The employee would be required to provide detailed information about their accommodation needs, for example having a medical professional complete a functional abilities form that outlines in detail what the employee is and is not able to do, both physically and mentally. As the employer, you are not always entitled to know the diagnosis, but instead to have access to general information and medical documentation with regard to restrictions and abilities. For example, if an employee were to come forward and disclose that they were having mental health issues, you would not be entitled to the specific diagnosis, but you would be entitled to the information about their mental capabilities (e.g. needs more frequent breaks, needs a quiet space to go, and so on).

Once you have this information, you would then review their current job duties and see if there are any duties that the employee would need modified or simply could no longer complete. The plan would outline in detail what the company was able to provide. For example, if you have an office manager with lifting restrictions, you may assign someone to assist them when having to lift or transport boxes back and forth to storage. If you have a box office clerk who is hard of hearing, you may provide them with a special earpiece for the phone that is compatible with their hearing aid. If you have a Director of Development with a service animal, you may need to allow them to bring this service animal to work and make accommodations for the employee to be able to care for their service animal while at work.

Once this plan is created, the employee would be presented the plan and both the employer and employee would sign off on it. The plan may have a specific timeline, or may be permanent. If it needs to be reviewed, ensure this is done in a timely manner. After it is signed, discuss who this plan needs to be disclosed to (for example, a direct supervisor) as part of implementation. The plan would then be kept on the employee’s file,  and a copy would be offered to the employee.

Emergency Response Plans

We’ve discussed individual accommodation plans, but what about emergency response plans? There are often things outside our control such as floods, fire alarms, outside threats, workplace accidents and so forth that can result in an emergency situation. Every employee with a disability who would require special attention in an emergency should have a plan in place. For example, take an employee in a wheelchair who works on the 2nd floor – you would have to consider how to respond in the case of a fire alarm where elevators are not functional. This may mean assigning that employee a work “buddy” or “buddies” who can assist in getting them out of the building safely. What about someone who is deaf and cannot hear an alarm? Who and how will that employee be notified of the alarm?

Remember, in the same way as the individual accommodation plans, you need to involve the person in this process. There may be someone they feel most comfortable with knowing about their plan and being their “buddy” or being their backup “buddy.” Once completed, ensure that the person(s) who are in the plan or need to be informed are aware of the specific steps to be taken. Again, this would go in the employee’s file, and a copy would be given to the employee. You may also go so far as to include all plans in a fire warden / emergency response personnel’s folder or training.

Things to consider

Here is a general list of starting points that you may have to consider in making your workplace more accessible:

  • Lighting
  • Accessible documents (e.g. providing printed material in alternative formats)
  • Providing ASL interpreters
  • Supplying specialized computer technology
  • Ordering alternative office equipment (i.e. work chair, desk, etc)
  • Offering flexible breaks, work times, and/or meal times
  • Modifying work duties as needed
  • Installing automatic door openers and accessible washrooms
  • Website compatibility with accessible technology (i.e. screen readers)
  • Ableist language (i.e. “that’s crazy”, “that’s lame”, “that’s nuts”) – stigmatizes people with disabilities

Please see the links below for additional resources and templates. These resources are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

Want to discuss further? As always, feel free to send me an email or give me a call anytime!

Until next time,

Alicia Cachia
HR Specialist, PACT

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