Federally regulated fleets will need to comply with the Accessible Canada Act. And changes involve more than curb cuts.
MONTREAL, Que. — The Accessible Canada Act came into force on July 11 and applies to all federally regulated businesses, which is the case of the vast majority of Canadian fleets that do business outside their province. And the new law stipulates that their facilities now need to be accessible to people with disabilities.
It also goes well beyond reserved parking spaces, curb cuts, or wider entrance doors to accommodate wheelchairs.
“The range of disabilities to consider include those related to hearing, vision, mobility, learning, cognitive, and mental health,” says Isabelle Maheu, spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
It means that, in addition to a facility’s physical layout, fleets need to address the readability of corporate websites, and clearly state that job postings are open to the disabled.
Actual enforcement of the act begins in July 2021, and full compliance will be mandated a year after that.
In the meantime, trucking companies are required to “prepare and publish accessibility plans and progress reports, and to establish a process for obtaining and responding to feedback on the accessibility of their operations for people with disabilities,” Maheu adds.
A maximum penalty is set at $250,000 for organizations that don’t comply with the new rules, but warnings will likely be issued first, in the spirit of what ESDC calls a “graduated enforcement approach”.
The related costs, however, could also be seen as an investment in strategies that can be used to tap into pools of workers who might otherwise be overlooked.
Skelton Truck Lines has already improved accessibility on several fronts, and it is realizing other benefits to being an inclusive workplace.
Roughly 20% of the population aged 15 or over — 6.2 million Canadians — are affected by a disability that limits their daily activities in one way or another. And according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, only 59% of those between 25 and 64 are employed.
In other words, they represent an available labor pool of 2.4 million people for an industry that faces an array of employee shortages.
“Measures included in the legislation to remove barriers to accessibility will make tapping into this labor pool within reach for federally regulated Canadian businesses struggling to find employees in the current labor market,” Maheu says.
The benefits of an accessible workplace don’t end there, either.
Fleets with accessible terminals and offices convey a message that they are inclusive to people with disabilities, but also open to other under-represented groups such as women, immigrants, and aboriginal people, says Trucking HR Canada CEO Angela Splinter.
The organization was among the groups consulted as the act was developed.
“Overall, workplaces that have taken these approaches in ensuring these inclusive work environments are able to access the workers that they need and access the skills and talent that they need … It makes them shine as an employer. It just sends the right message to potential recruits,” she adds, referring to fleets such as Triton Transport in B.C., Caron Transportation in Alberta, and Bison Transport of Manitoba.
These fleets didn’t wait for the new regulation to adapt their spaces.
Return on investment
“I see a big return on investment,” says Melissa Skelton, human resource advisor and health and safety representative at Skelton Truck Lines, referring to the renovations and accommodations made at the company’s 92,000-sq-ft facility in Sharon, Ont.
The fleet has owned the building since 1994, but started some renovations in 2015 during an expansion phase. Office space established above the garage and in the front office itself is now accessible.
More of the related renovations are coming.
“We’ll be breaking the walls down soon again this year to start more renovations to line up with the growth that Skelton has had, and all of those areas will be barrier-free and accessible,” she says.
In her mind, the need for such changes goes beyond people with disabilities: “Everyone goes through their own challenges and barriers every day. It’s important to Skelton and to myself to accommodate anyone who may request a work modification or any modification to their work arrangement.”
Skelton Truck Lines’ adapted work stations offer physical support and help for those who have visual impairments.
Office areas, for example, have been modified so people can work while sitting on ergonomic chairs or standing on anti-fatigue mats. Lights are programmable and dimmable to help those with sensitive eyes. Larger computer monitors with anti-glare features have also been installed to help.
The entrance door can be opened using a button mounted at wheelchair height, or controlled by a receptionist. There are adapted bathrooms as well.
There are even plans to adapt spaces in the maintenance shop.
Truck drivers are benefiting from accommodations of their own. One has been outfitted with a special seat to improve comfort; another is allowed to travel with his dog.
“They’re great companions for drivers,” Skelton says, referring to assistance animals that are allowed in the trucks.
An increasing reliance on e-mail communication helps those who struggle with hearing problems, while those who struggle with dexterity have other ways to fill out documents.
They’re all examples of changes that prove accessibility involves more than accommodating wheelchairs.
“When you say disability, the first thing that comes to mind is a physical disability, disabilities that are visible. We focus as well on disabilities that are not always visible,” Skelton says.
The return on investment, she says, comes in the form of better morale, higher retention rates, and a lower level of absenteeism because employees feel valued.
“Employees want to show up every day, we don’t have an issue with attendance,” she says.
The efforts to adapt the workplace help with recruitment, too. “I think it speaks volumes. People that are witnessing that are going out and telling other people of all the great things Skelton has done,” she says.
As an example, 33% of Skelton drivers are women – a demographic group that accounts for a little over 3% of Canada’s drivers overall. Co-op students have also been welcomed by the fleet in a bid to attract more youth.
It’s about a focus on qualifications, experience and motivation – no matter what disability someone may face.
It’s about ensuring the required access roads are in place.