By Shelley White
One billion people — 15% of the world population — experience some form of disability, according to the World Bank. In a 2012 Statistics Canada study, 13.7% of Canadians 15 or older identified themselves as having a disability that limits their daily activities. And yet, in our ongoing conversation about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, accessibility can sometimes be an overlooked topic.
“It’s not a demographic that you want to ignore,” says Monica Ackermann, Senior Manager, Enabling Solutions and Support Management at Scotiabank. “We believe that every customer has a right to be better off, so it’s important that our products and services are accessible to all of our customers, including persons with disabilities.”
It’s a viewpoint shared by Karen Lablans, Senior Manager, Accessibility, Occupational Health Services (OHS) and Human Resources Policy at Scotiabank.
“Having an inclusive environment makes good business sense,” she adds. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it drives our business and it helps make our company stronger.”
Karen and Monica are members of Scotiabank’s Global Executive Accessibility Governance Committee, a group that meets quarterly to champion accessibility at the Bank and identify areas for improvement in the space. As subject-matter experts in the area of accessibility— Karen focusing on barrier removal for customers and employees, with Monica looking at it from an information technology perspective — they present to the committee how the organization is doing relative to customer needs, diversity and inclusion and legislative requirements, and make recommendations as to how they can do even better.
“We believe that every customer has a right to be better off, so it’s important that our products and services are accessible to all of our customers, including persons with disabilities.”
There’s been an important shift in the way organizations think about people with disabilities because they are recognizing that disability is not always something you can see.
“For example, seniors would not necessarily indicate they have a disability, but as a service provider we have to recognize that there are differences in how they need to be supported, and we need to provide services that address the challenges they may face,” says Karen.
Scotiabank has adopted the standards of the Accessibility of Ontarian’s With Disabilities Act (AODA). These standards include everything from removing physical barriers to creating accessible websites to using accessible employment practices. As well, Karen says Scotiabank is responding to the recent CRTC product launch of Video Relay Service for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community by communicating the Bank’s acceptance of the calls starting in January 2017. The service allows customers who are Deaf to communicate via sign language over video with a relay operator who communicates on the caller’s behalf to the bank.
They have also embedded accessibility into the entire process of developing their online banking applications.
“Assistive technologies are baked into a lot of the tools people use on a daily basis, whether it’s VoiceOver on the Apple iPhone or in Windows where you can magnify screens,” says Monica. “In order for those assistive technologies to work properly, you need to code your applications to meet accessibility standards like the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. We’re designing our applications so that people can choose how they want to interact.”
To boost representation of people with disabilities in the workplace, the bank has modified their recruitment strategies to ensure they are drawing from that talent pool. A specialized portal on their careers site helps people with disabilities self-identify and request accommodations for the application process.
Monica points out that if an employer is not connecting with employees with disabilities, they may not be hitting the mark in terms of the goods and services they are providing.
“People with disabilities face accessibility obstacles on a daily basis and they are very creative about their approaches to overcoming those barriers,” she says. “It’s that innovative problem-solving that can benefit us as employers. They are bringing to their work a different way of looking at things.”
To further improve the experience of employees with disabilities, Karen says Scotiabank has put a “robust, efficient process” in place to implement employee accommodations.
“A detailed assessment is done to make sure we understand the workplace really well for that individual, to put a comprehensive plan in place to support them,” she says. “We bring in an assessor who does a physical walkthrough, looking at the technology, the interactions, and at the various tools or technology that may need to be adapted or adjusted to support the individual. It’s quite a complex and comprehensive process and something we’ve worked really hard at.”
“People with disabilities face accessibility obstacles on a daily basis and they are very creative about their approaches to overcoming those barriers. It’s that innovative problem-solving that can benefit us as employers. They are bringing to their work a different way of looking at things.”
Karen says that in her experience, promoting accessibility in an organization starts with the champions – people in senior positions who lend their voice to the message that accessibility is important.
“Once you have those champions delivering that message, it helps everybody to recognize that it’s the right thing to do,” she says.
Monica points to Bank leaders like Michael Zerbs, Executive Vice President and Co-Head Information Technology – Enterprise Technology, at Scotiabank. He sponsored a career fair specifically targeting potential recruits with disabilities and created a partnership with Specialisterne to hire people on the autism spectrum to work within IT.
“It’s a fantastic example of a leader who’s recognizing an opportunity and doing something about it,” she says.
When it comes to the broader workforce, Monica says it’s important to get the message across that everyone has a role to play when it comes to accessibility. “It may be that you’re engaged in a project and you raise your hand and ask, ‘Has anyone thought about accessibility?’ That spreads the message of shared accountability,” she says.
Karen notes that everyone has someone in their lives who has accessibility challenges, whether it’s friends, work colleagues or aging parents.
“It’s everywhere, and the more you are in tune with it, the more you realize how much of an impact it makes on everybody’s daily life.”