Our lives are a series of transitions. We move from childhood to adulthood, from caregiver to care receiver, from learner to doer from one thing to another with such regularity that it can sometimes feel as if change were a constant state. I appreciate the many passages that make up a life. As a Transitions Specialist for many years and now as assistant director of the David C. Onley Initiative, I’ve devoted my career to equip people to navigate these shifts successfully.
Much of my work involves students with disabilities. I led the team that designed the Transition Support Centre at Algonquin College, a service that students on the autism spectrum can leverage to create their best transition into the post-secondary environment. We learn so much from these neuro-diverse thinkers as they navigate the post-secondary setting and then prepare to make meaningful transitions into the world of employment.
One of the most consequential passages post-secondary students face is the transition to employment. The quality of this transition—and the degree to which it successfully leads us to work we can thrive in—influences our financial security, our physical and mental health, and our connection to our community. The shift is tough for all graduates. For those who’s lived experience includes a cognitive, physical or mental disability, it can be an especially critical and intense transition.
In my experience, the best possible transitions for these students occur when employers are able to make accessibility the norm in their cultures and workspaces, and not the exception. Knowing this truth is why I encourage employers of all kinds to take three actions to move closer to making accessibility the way of the workplace.
A first action is to effectively use your HR practices so they show prospective employees what a day in the life of that advertised job actually looks like. Get creative with by offering a video, a virtual tour of the setting or a “day in the life” story from an employee. This approach offers applicants a greater sense of the work environment and tasks, and allows people who might otherwise self-select themselves out of the process a chance to see the potential fit of the work and workplace environment.
A second, very powerful action once you start down the journey to making accessibility the norm in your business is to state it. Stating this intention and your supporting actions so far is a way to keep your business accountable and can draw in people who share this goal and will help you make real your intention.
Finally, engage with accessibility from the inside. I mean to say, don’t see accessibility as something you do for ‘others’ but as something you do for yourself. We all benefit from accessible workplaces and we all experience a variety challenges and changes over our lifetimes. That’s the message employers need to understand and embrace. Accessibility cracks open workplaces, increasing diversity, fostering inclusion and fueling new thinking and knowledge. It’s good for everyone and every business.