In 2005, Ontario’s provincial government passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Its goal is to make Ontario accessible by 2025. Businesses with one or more employees are required to comply with provincial accessibility laws, including the Act.
After the passage of the AODA, member businesses often reached out to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in search of advice and support.
“We were getting a lot of questions from businesses that were interested in complying with the legislation, but wanted some help and support on how to do that,” says Louie DiPalma, the OCC’s Vice President of SME Programs.
In response, the Chamber launched a series of training sessions at local chambers around the province to help businesses understand the laws and ensure compliance.
At those sessions, DiPalma recalls, employers often expressed a common concern: a struggle to find the talent they needed to staff their businesses.
Aware that one in five Ontarians have a disability, and that a high percentage of that group is well-educated, the OCC decided to look for a solution that could bridge the gap between interested employers and job seekers with a disability.
“We thought, ‘Boy, what a talent pool,’” DiPalma says. “We brought together half a dozen business associations, plus Magnet, and created the Discover Ability Network, which was created to provide businesses with the information they need to post jobs for, recruit, train, and retain persons with disabilities.”
The Discover Ability Network (DAN) offers employers training and resources to help make businesses more accessible. In addition, it acts as a platform for job seekers to connect with inclusive employers looking to hire someone with a disability.
The return on investment for hiring people with a disability will be the focus of Discover Ability’s first ever conference, the Diversity in Business DAN ROI Conference. The no-cost, two-day virtual event is happening May 25 and 26 from 9 a.m. to noon ET daily.
The conference is open to all employers, or anyone who wants to understand the value of disability inclusion and learn more about how to attract, hire, and retain people with disabilities. Attendees will also learn about tools and resources to help them build disability-confident organizations.
“What we hope to do is provide that education and create that awareness so we can dispel myths,” DiPalma says, “and really help businesses tap into a talent pool that’s very rich and can really help them grow and prosper.”
The pandemic has “exacerbated” the talent gap for many SMEs, DiPalma adds, making the case for hiring persons with a disability stronger and more relevant than ever.
“Businesses are really having a hard time finding talent, even more so than several years ago. We thought this would be a good time to help businesses tap into that talent pool to help with pandemic recovery.
“The employment participation of people with a disability is lower than other demographics in our communities. (Employers), please look at this talent pool because you need talent, and here it is.”
Conference attendees will learn to better recognize barriers that prevent or inhibit people with a disability, even if those barriers are unintentional.
“Take a look at your operation, at how you organize your work, and see whether you’ve created any inadvertent barriers that you can help remove,” DiPalma says.
The conference will also address accommodations for people with a disability, a topic DiPalma believes is often misunderstood.
“There’s a lot of myths around accommodation and what it means or doesn’t mean. There’s a thought out there that it’s very expensive. The reality is that the research shows the one-time cost of accommodation is less than $500, and most accommodations don’t actually cost anything.”
Launched with seed funding from the Ontario provincial government, Discover Ability Network is now funded through the Government of Canada’s Opportunities Fund.