Creating a Welcoming Workplace for Employees with Disabilities
Special thanks to the members of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat Consultation Committee on Employment Equity for Persons with
Disabilities, who were instrumental in the development of this
Thanks also to the members of the Office for Disability Issues, Human Resources Development Canada for their
thoughtful review and advice during the consultation stage.
The research component of this publication has
been partially funded by the Treasury Board Employment Equity
Positive Measures Program (EEPMP) Intervention Fund.
It is no longer enough to do the right thing, but we must also
ensure that we are doing things right. It is no longer sufficient
to be a place where people work - the workplace itself must be
built around the people and give them the support they need.
Mel Cappe, Clerk of the Privy
"Becoming an Exceptional Workplace
A workplace built around people is one that includes persons
with disabilities. This guide suggests some strategies for creating a welcoming
work environment where persons with disabilities perceive themselves as contributing members of the team. It is important to remember that
people who have similar disabilities remain individuals and should be treated as such. Listening actively,
communicating clearly, and respecting the individual are key elements
in creating a welcoming workplace for people with disabilities.
The Employment Equity Act defines persons with disabilities as
individuals who have a long-term or recurring physical, mental,
sensory, psychiatric, or learning impairment, and who
(a) consider themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by
reason of that impairment, or
(b) believe that an employer or potential employer is likely
to consider them to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of
The Act includes persons whose functional limitations owing to
their impairment have been accommodated in their current job or
A proper greeting makes a person feel welcome,
demonstrates professionalism, and fosters courtesy.
- Greet individuals courteously.
- Address the individual by their first name if that is
your practice with others.
- Extend your hand if a handshake is customary for you. Many
persons with disabilities customarily shake hands. If an individual cannot shake
hands, touching the person's hand or
shoulder may be acceptable. (Do not
pat anyone on the head.)
Consult employees with disabilities to learn what needs to be done for them to
feel included. The Policy on the Duty to Accommodate Persons with Disabilities
in the Federal Public Service requires consultation with employees with disabilities in order
to determine their needs and to meet them.
- Each person has individual needs that may vary over time.
Follow up to ensure continued inclusion and participation in the
- Each individual has the right to privacy. It is their choice to fill out a
- However, an employee does not need to complete a self-identification form in
order to receive accommodation.
The federal public service workplace values communication - presenting, explaining, listening,
brainstorming, and discussing. Employees with disabilities engage
in these activities as an integral part of their daily work. Demonstrate courtesy and respect in the following ways:
- Focus on abilities and adapt your
communication skills to the individual's needs.
- Ask what assistance, if any, they would like and then provide it.
Respect the individual's desire to be independent.
- Give employees with a disability time to do or say things at
their own pace.
- An expression like "See you later!" is acceptable to someone
who is blind, and "Did you hear about that?" is unlikely to bother
someone who is deaf.
- Speak directly to the person, even if an attendant is
- Ask someone with a severe speech impediment to repeat or
spell out key words if you do not understand what is said.
- Be prepared to use an alternative format as requested and plan accordingly.
Establishing networks enhances one's work life. Remember to
include persons with disabilities in networking opportunities and
in activities and discussions within and outside the office. Here are some ways
to facilitate the inclusion of a colleague with a disability:
- Ask the individual what is required to
- Offer to accompany the individual to a meeting, training session, or event.
- Invite the individual for coffee or lunch, after ensuring that facilities are completely accessible.
All employees should be able to participate and contribute to
the progress of the team. Environment and
accessibility are important. Dark or noisy places make it
difficult for people with visual, speech, or hearing disabilities
to participate in a conversation. Adapt settings and information delivery
methods to the needs of all participants.
The following are some ways to meet the needs of
employees with specific disabilities.
a) Employee Who is Blind or has a
- Identify yourself and anyone else with you.
- If you have met before, state the context of the previous
meeting to jog the person's memory.
- If you are speaking in a group, name the person to whom you
- Speak in a normal tone of voice.
- Clearly indicate if you are moving from one place to another or the conversation has ended.
- Clear paths of obstacles.
- Describe the surroundings to advise the person of their
environment. For example, say "There is a chair one metre to your right." or "Step
down." or "The door is to your right." or "There
are some obstacles in front of you on the left."
- If offering to act as a guide, invite the person to take your
arm and walk about a half a step ahead of
the person. Then listen or ask for instructions.
- If appropriate, offer to read written information.
- Guide dogs are working dogs: speaking to the dog or petting the dog is
distracting and inappropriate.
- Plan ahead to allow adequate time to prepare printed material
in alternate formats (e.g. Braille, large print, audiocassette,
b) Employee Who is Deaf or Hard of
- If securing sign language interpreter services,
specify the official language required (English, French or both).
- Speak clearly and at a pace that allows the sign language
interpreter to interpret for the person who is deaf and to allow this person to respond through the interpreter.
- Consider captioning.
- Write notes or use gestures for one-on-one discussions.
- Face the person to facilitate lip reading. Keep hands and
other objects away from your lips when speaking.
- Speak clearly, slowly, and directly to the person, not to the
- Reduce or eliminate disruptive background noises (e.g.
tapping pens or shuffling paper), since amplification devices are
very sensitive to ambient noise. Converse in a quiet environment,
or move to one, in order to facilitate communication.
c) Employee with a Physical
- Rearrange furniture or objects in a room to accommodate
wheelchairs, scooters, or other mobility aids.
- Avoid leaning on someone's mobility aid.
- Be aware of what is accessible and not accessible to people
who use mobility aids.
- Push someone in a manual wheelchair only when asked.
- Give directions that include distance and physical obstacles.
(For example, you might give a location as 20 metres away, or
mention that there are stairs or a curb or a steep hill).
d) Employee with a Developmental
or Psychiatric Disability
- Get to know the person so that you can include the individual in social
or organizational events.
- Offer and provide needed assistance.
- Repeat information when necessary.
- Speak directly to the person and listen actively.
e) Employee with a Hidden
Some disabilities may not be readily apparent to others. For example, a
person with environmental sensitivities may react to perfume or
cleaning products. A person with diabetes may have specific dietary requirements. Others
strong allergic reactions to foods like shellfish or nuts. Others
may have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or learning
When an employee has identified a need, ask the individual how the environment or
means of communication can be adapted to
The Treasury Board Web site provides direct links to various policies and publications on the
workplace accommodation of employees with disabilities.
For more information, please consult the following Web site:
You may wish to consult the Guidelines for Assessing Persons with
Disabilities published by the Personnel Psychology Centre, which can be found at
the following Web site:
Your views matter. If you have other suggestions, please pass
them on to us.
Toll-free: 1 888 271-6378
TTY: (613) 957-8657
Exercise sensitivity and good judgement by always referring to
the employee first, rather than the disability. Choose words that
have no pejorative connotation. Expressions recommended by some
200 organizations representing or associated with Canadians with
a disability include the following:
- Person with a disability (not "disabled person")
- Person who is blind, or person with a visual impairment
- Person with a physical disability, or person with a mobility
- Person who is deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, or person with
a hearing impairment
- Person who is unable to speak, or person with a speech
- Person with a developmental disability
- Person with a learning disability
- Person with a psychiatric disability