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Wellness for All: Shifting Towards a More Accessible Workplace

By Alli Dettling, WHPA, National Client Relationship Coordinator, Wellness Works Canada


Wellness strategies can increase the health and performance of the organization, decrease costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism, and lead to an overall healthier workplace culture. These are all great benefits, but how can we be sure that our workplace and our wellness programs are accessible and inclusive to all individuals?


It is important to ensure workplaces are accessible and inclusive for everyone, however individuals who experience impairment face a high unemployment rate and may regularly face inaccessible spaces. According to recent statistics, over 40% of Canadians who experience disability were unemployed, compared to 19% for those who don’t experience disability. By ensuring inclusive workspaces for individuals who experience disability, we can build a more diverse workplace which can boost productivity and innovation through collaboration of various perspectives (Roberge & van Dick, 2010). Diversity and inclusion could arguably play a part in many of the 13 psychosocial factors, such as organizational culture, civility and respect, and involvement and influence, and so it is an important area to address within the workplace. Let’s look at just a few steps you can take to move towards a more inclusive workplace.

Use Current Regulations and Tools

The Employment Equity Act of Canada strives to create diversity and equality in the workplace by outlining federal regulations and employment equity plans, but understanding how to make change to support a culture of diversity and inclusion can be daunting. For practical tools to use in the workplace, Ontario offers a lot of great accessibility resources such as tips for how to comply with Accessible Employment Standards. This resource offers guidance on hiring practices, talent management and communication of accessible policies. For those outside of Ontario, we can utilize these tools and tips to move towards a more accessible workplace. Use tools to assess the physical environment such as an Accessible Buildings Checklist, to ensure spaces are accessible for employees and clients.

Shifting Workplace Culture

The social model of disability proposes that individuals are disabled by society, rather than their medical condition. For example, inaccessible stairs to the front door, workplace cultures that do not value diversity, a lack of closed captioning on videos or non-inclusive hiring procedures are all examples of ways that society limits inclusion for individuals who experience disability. The social model of disability is an important consideration when looking at workplace policies, procedures, design and culture, to understand how current practice may exclude current or future employees. Ensure that individuals are not only included, but hold meaningful and integral positions within the organization and can benefit from the positive effects of your wellness programs. Creating a healthy workplace culture begins at the top, so taking the time to notify employees of the accessibility policies and bringing in experts in equality, diversity and inclusion to speak with your team can help shift towards a healthy and accessible workplace.

Build a Diverse Team

Take the time to assess your current policies to ensure they are inclusive, including your hiring procedures. Utilize diverse job boards and use inclusive language to promote that the job is accessible. Before, during and after interviews, be reflexive about how unconscious attitudes may affect how you perceive job prospects who experience impairment, and be open with yourself to make change for the future. The tough part about unconscious attitudes is we often don’t recognize we are holding them, but they can make profound impacts on how we interact with others and the thoughts we hold about them. Being reflexive and noticing thoughts that come up when we interact with individuals can help us to understand how attitudes may impact the policies we make, the way we treat others, or the people we hire.

Building Wellness Programs

Ensure all of your employees receive the benefits of your wellness programs by creating a diverse wellness committee or consulting with your employees about how to improve the programs or make them more accessible. This goes for all employees, not just employees experiencing impairment, so be sure to take the time to make sure your programs fit the needs of your workplace. External audits and assessments can help provide an unbiased view of your current programs, which may help identify gaps and areas that can be improved to support all your employee’s health and productivity.

In Summary

There are a lot of steps to take to ensure our workspaces are accessible and inclusive, but just these few small steps can help get you on the right path.

  • Save time by utilizing current tools and regulations.

  • Use these to start shifting your workplace culture to an accessible space that values diversity.

  • Good intentions may fizzle without the right environment to grow, so work from the top to create an environment where diversity and inclusion can flourish.

  • Build a diverse team by using inclusive hiring procedures and utilize your team to help build your wellness programs so that everyone can reap the benefits.

About the Author

Alli is a fourth year student at the University of Alberta, finishing up her last semester in the Bachelor of Kinesiology program with a major in Adapted Physical Activity. She developed a passion for APA and rehabilitative medicine throughout her studies, and hopes to pursue a Masters in Physiotherapy next year. She strives to apply her knowledge of APA in all area’s of her life, and promotes inclusion, accessibility and diversity whenever she can.

As a competitive athlete throughout her life and at the collegiate level, Alli quickly realized the importance of wellness and making healthy decisions for yourself to reduce burnout, increase energy, and balance a busy schedule. She loves to take self care breaks by going to grab a nice cup of coffee, spending time with her pets, or spending way too much at a plant store. She is also a Certified Workplace Health and Performance Ambassador (WHPA).

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