Some specific ideas for municipal accessibility (updated)

Some responses to my question to municipal election candidates about enabling employment for those with disabilities commented on not knowing what municipal politicians could in fact do.

I initially came up with a general list of suggestions.

  • Ensuring that HR practices do not exclude those with disabilities, whether through lack of knowledge, not caring to make the effort, or being actively ableist.
  • Ensuring that (for example) those who experience extreme anxiety and/or panic at the notion of deputations have effective means of reaching out to council for concerns or needs.
  • Likewise with reaching out to staff.
  • Seeking to make ‘accessibility first’ a cultural reality in the town offices.
  • Finding ways to assist and promote to the BIA, downtown and other businesses seeing the benefits of employing and serving those who face challenges in a friendly and collaborative way (instead of simply viewing it as an individual who costs too much to worth dealing with; which is a too-common attitude), and having the means to do so.
  • Seeking to demonstrate and establish positive social norms around seeking and offering or providing assistance to those with challenges.
  • Demonstrating mentally healthy, collaborative, ways of interacting with other councilors, staff, the public, etc.

When further prompted, I drilled down to some more specific suggestions.

  • With respect to the ‘confidential skills-based matrix’ by which (job and committee) candidates are scored, I think example matrices or other reasonable ‘sufficiently real’ examples should be discussed at the Midland Accessibility Advisory Committee to look at how the matrices may be unconsciously biased against those with disabilities, in ways that are not actually required.
  • Similarly with job requirements (although the final say is with HR, I think involving disabled persons in the process is important).
  • With respect to job posting, the emphasis should be be on the ability to perform the required task, not on the means used to do so.
  • To use an example from library (because I remember it): For someone who needs to shelves books from the carts, instead of focusing on ‘the way it’s always been done’ (Must be able to stand, bend, lift, etc for long periods) try something like: “Must be able to process and shelve X number of carts in a half hour period” This does three things
    • Avoids requiring a specific physical attribute based on an able-bodied view of how a task can be accomplished
    • It means that someone who has the physical attributes perceived as required but doesn’t actually get the work done is not elevated above a disabled person who is able to achieve (perhaps exceed) the actual task requirement, with reasonable accommodation (which may not be the person’s first choice of accommodation) if one is in fact needed.
    • It makes job performance evaluation less subjective.
  • As council (and staff), receiving training not only on official legal requirements like the AODA, but also learning of best practices and success stories (and things that didn’t work) from other municipalities and medium-sized organizations.
  • Meet and communicate with those with disabilities to understand us as people rather than as a label or barrier.
  • Make sure you also do the work on your own mental health, with appropriate professional support (e.g. evidence-based approaches such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) vs. old school psychotherapy1) and/or groups.
  • Acknowledge when you don’t know but are open to learn.

I hope the candidates (and others) will have meaningful and constructive thoughts on the lists, not all of which may actually be possible, but I hope where the specific example is not possible that it gets municipal politicians and business people thinking a little harder about what they can do rather what than can’t, and perhaps interested in implementing.

  1. Note evidence-based psychotherapy does exist (e.g. various forms of structured psychotherapy including Cognitive Processing Therapy, when certain diagnostic exclusions are followed). For instance using structured psychotherapy with someone who is, or has recently experienced, paranoid delusions tends to be a waste of resources, at best. This has been learned the hard way by professionals, and I experienced it first hand (as a patient) some years ago. That said, helping prevent social isolation, fear, and anxiety among those experiencing paranoid delusions and other severe mental illness is important. ↩︎