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Corporate Canada must make disability and the environment equal in priority

| www.cos-mag.com

October 2008 – Canadians believe businesses are putting the environment ahead of people with disabilities, according to a recently released by the Job Opportunity Information Network (JOIN).

The COMPAS Research poll found more Canadians believe corporations are putting a greater emphasis on environmental issues rather than on accommodating customers and employees with disabilities. When Canadians were asked what social responsibilities they perceive companies put the most effort into, 27 per cent said the environment. That compares to 16 per cent who said they believe Canadian companies have been focusing their efforts to accommodate customers and employees with disabilities.

The poll was released as part of JOIN’s Value of Accessibility employer conference in mid-October, which brought employers together from around the province to discuss how to increase their customer bases by creating more accessible businesses. When ask what should be the number one priority for corporate Canada, 34 per cent of those polled said supporting people with disabilities. That compares to 33 per cent who believe the environment should be the priority.

“The results point to the fact there must be a better balance between environmental stewardship and improved accessibility and employment opportunities for people with disabilities,” said Susan Howatt, chairperson, JOIN Toronto Region Board of Governors. “We want to preserve our environment for the benefit of all Canadians, but we must also be aware that one of the greatest challenges facing our country today is the shortage of skilled workers and an aging population. People with disabilities represent the greatest untapped human resource pool in Canada, and they deserve a chance to make a meaningful contribution to society.”

Some 88 per cent of Canadians believe it’s more difficult for a person with a disability to find a job than for the average Canadian. The facts suggest they are right. According to a Statistics Canada report from 2001, a snapshot done at the time showed the unemployment rate for people with disabilities (26 per cent) is over five times higher than the unemployment rate for people without disabilities (5 per cent).

It’s not just business priorities that should change; Canadians feel society as a whole needs a reality check. By a 10 to one margin, citizens felt society gives too low a priority to helping individuals with disabilities.

One possible reason for the heightened sensitivity among Canadians to disability issues is that three-quarters of Canadians either have or know someone with a disability. And who do they view as the best representative for Canadians with disabilities? Some 68 per cent of respondents say Terry Fox. Rick Hansen, who completed his international Man in Motion Tour in 1986 and is a strong advocate for spinal cord research, came in second with 15 per cent.

Progressive disability programs good for business

More than three-quarters of Canadians, or 78 per cent, say they are more likely to buy a product or service from a business that has a policy of hiring people with disabilities than a company that doesn’t. It’s clear that companies who put a priority on accessibility could have a surprising edge on the competition. One that, in times of increasing economic uncertainty, they can’t afford to ignore.

“This is a compelling business case and a golden opportunity for companies to tap into an incredibly diverse and skilled labour pool of 24 per cent of Canadians living with a disability,” says Jane Enright, advisor public affairs, JOIN Toronto. “Through JOIN’s employment initiatives in the last year we’ve successfully placed over 1157 people with hundreds of employers in Toronto alone. It’s clear Canadians are demanding more accessibility and businesses need to answer the call.”

For more on JOIN's programs, visit

www.joininfo.ca

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