Disability and the workplace

People with disabilities face a number of systemic barriers to employment. Read more for an introduction into the legal protections, employers’ obligations, and benefits of the inclusive workplace.


Historically and currently, people with disabilities face discrimination to enter and participate in the workplace. In order to address this, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights include protections for people with disability against workplace discrimination. There are also both international charters as well as provincial acts to address this. Under the charters, employers are obligated to include and allow access to employment to people with disabilities. This is known as the duty to accommodate. Overtime, companies and employers have seen benefits to their business because of inclusion and have embraced the inclusive workplace. Making accommodations for employees with disabilities is often easy and inexpensive. Despite known benefits to workplace atmosphere and profit, there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding employing a person with a disability. Educating employers regarding the known benefits and misconceptions can support employment counsellors in spreading the word about inclusion.

  Workplace Discrimination

  • Direct discrimination 

This type of disability discrimination occurs when a disabled worker is singled out and receives unfair or even cruel treatment, emotional abuse or even physical violence due to his or her disability.

  • Indirect discrimination

This type of discrimination is present when workplace infrastructure, policies or atmosphere create barriers or disadvantages. It occurs when a company’s policies put disabled workers at a disadvantage.

Because both types of discrimination are so common and prevalent, laws and policies have been developed to try to counteract them.

  Inclusion and Accommodation in the Workplace are Human Rights

In the context of the workplace, full inclusion of all employees with disabilities as well as providing any reasonable, necessary accommodations, is the obligation of all employers and the right of all employees.

Workplace inclusion and accommodation as human rights, are proposed directly as a way to fight against discrimination in theCanadian Human Rights Act. Inclusion and accommodation are also underpinned in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, Article 15, where it states:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on:

  • race,
  • national or ethnic origin,
  • colour,
  • religion,
  • sex,
  • age or
  • mental or physical disability.

  Inclusive Workplace

One type of motivation to engage in workplace inclusion focuses on the laws and responsibilities of employers to respect the rights of people to be included.

Another type of motivation to engage in workplace inclusion focuses on social and financial benefits derived from a diverse and Inclusive workplace. Many employers have begun to recognize the social and financial benefits to becoming a diverse and Inclusive workplace. In this case, the inclusive policies and practices may make many accommodations unnecessary.

What are the goals of an Inclusive Workplace?

  • Every employee will feel valued.
  • Individual differences are acknowledged.
  • People’s differences are seen to contribute to the business culture and outcomes.
  • Taking affirmative action towards reducing bias and discrimination.


The reality is that despite policy and efforts, equitable access to employment is still an area of great challenge for people with disabilities, both visible and invisible. As employment agents or support professionals, it can be helpful to know if there are organizations that have embraced diversity and inclusion as a best practice as a starting place when considering who to approach as a partner in supporting employment, or even internships for clients who are far from the workplace.

For many people with disabilities, working with an inclusive employer can mean that disclosure is not necessary, this is because through inclusive design, the employer has removed the barriers to their employment and they do not need any accommodation on top of this inclusive structure. However, many employment spaces, are not yet fully inclusive, or have the infrastructure in place to be fully accessible. In cases like this, if an employer is interested in including people from different backgrounds, an employee can disclose disability status and seek an accommodation. For some, even in inclusive workspaces, there could still be a need to seek an accommodation.

An inclusive workplace includes workers from different backgrounds and provides the support they need to help them perform their best. Support is often given via inclusive policies, work environment and rules.


The concept of accommodation can sometimes be mysterious. There are many misconceptions about what accommodation means, with the most common misconception being that accommodating an employee with a disability must be incredibly expensive.

Here are some quick facts about accommodation:

  • There is no set list of accommodations that will work for everyone.
  • Accommodations are determined on an individual basis.
  • Dependent on many personal factors, including, but not only, types of disability.
  • Most accommodations are not expensive.
  • Expensive accommodations can often be funded for employers.

Statistics Canada has collected some interesting statistics about the prevalence and types of accommodations that employees with disabilities were using in 2017. Let’s have a look to see some concrete examples of the reality of accommodations.

Requirements and needs met for workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years, 2017 * Insert hyperlink to source

Type of workplace



Number of people who required this accommodation.



% of people who successfully had their needs met.

Number of people total % of people who needed the accommodation and received it successfully.
One or more workplace accommodations 772 110
Modified hours or days or reduced work hours 393 410 73,7
Modified or different duties 278 870 66.1
Special chair or back support 232 470 61,0


Modified or ergonomic workstation 215 720 60,3
Working from home 171 850 69,6
Computer, laptop or tablet with specialized software 65 280 45,4
Adapted or accessible parking 51 440 58,0


Accessible elevators 34 520 62,3
Handrails, ramps, widened doorways or hallways 23 690 63,4
Communication aids 23 240* 41,3*


Adapted washroom 17 760* 74,6
Specialized transportation 12 170* 46,8*
Other equipment, help, or work arrangement 47 960 57,6


As we can see from the examples above, many workplace accommodations, and certainly the most common ones, are inexpensive, and many are simple to implement.

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