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Is the Geospatial Industry Failing Those With Disabilities?

GoGeomatics supports diverse and inclusive workspaces. This article takes a look at how Canada’s job market is doing in this regard and whether the geospatial industry is doing enough.

Enabling inclusive workplaces in Canada

When we think about what it means for our workplaces to be accommodating to people with disabilities, most of us will picture images of ramps, large washroom stalls and automatic door buttons. While that is great for those with limited mobility, more is needed to be done to meet the needs of workers in Canada.

There are many Canadians with disabilities. According to a study from 2017 by the Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD), 1 in 5 Canadians (roughly 6.2 million people) aged 15 years or more had one or more disabilities (CEC, 2021). Of those aged 25 to 64 years (the age where the majority of workers have entered their careers), more than 1 in 3 (or 37%, roughly 772,000 Canadians) needed at least one workplace accommodation to be able to work (Morris, 2019). Some examples of the typical workplace modifications required are: reduced or modified hours, duties and workstations, and the ability to work from home (see Chart 1) (Morris, 2019).

Sadly, the more modifications a person requires, the less likely it is that all their needs are met (as seen in Chart 2) (Morris, 2019).

Given the nature of visible disabilities (with noticeable physical features, behaviors, or assistive devices), they are much easier to “see” and harder for employers to ignore. However, this does not mean their adaptation needs are met (Morris, 2019). Hidden or invisible disabilities are a different story.

What is a hidden or invisible disability?

An invisible disability is one that is not immediately noticeable and can include many different types. They include learning disabilities, processing disorders, chronic pain, brain injuries, hearing or sight loss and digestive issues (Schmidt, 2021). They can range in severity and affect people in many different ways. The CSD states that youth with invisible disabilities are at a much higher risk of not being in school or employed; this reduces the potential for future good workers, eliminating their potential before they even reach the workplace (CEC, 2021).

Accommodations for employees

Often, once a person with a disability reaches the workplace they need to be comfortable asking for help to be accommodated (CEC, 2021). This is a problem for many reasons. Not everyone wants to disclose the specific reasons they need an accommodation, they can be nervous that they will be treated differently or seen as less able. It can be very difficult for a person to know exactly what they need or be responsible for educating their employer (CEC, 2021). It can be tough to pass these hurdles.

How is the geospatial sector doing?

Hidden disabilities are fairly common and often not declared. If you think you do not work with someone with an invisible disability then it is probably because they have not disclosed or they are not ready to formally disclose this to their employer (CEC, 2021). The geomatics job sector is not immune to this problem. Yet, it was hard to find any data on how the geomatics field fares when it comes to hiring disabled employees. Many companies mention that they provide equal opportunity, but it is unclear how this is operating in practice. Other than some helpful advice given to those who seek it on Reddit, information specifically about disabled people employed in geomatics or GIS fields could not be found.

Are you, or is someone you know, disabled and employed (or, is seeking employment) in the geospatial sector? How are your needs being accommodated? Let us know in the comments.

Ultimately, since disabilities are actually very common, whether their employer knows about a specific person or not, it would be great if every workplace did their best to try and tackle this, have an open mind and have policies in place from the start (starting with the interview). There are resources to help, consultants to hire, and staff can be surveyed to determine what works best. It may be found that the supports many of their employees need are not as costly or hard to put in place as they thought and would actually be beneficial to all their employees. The risk of not taking action and ensuring the workplace is not accommodating to all, is missing out on great employees and their potential talents.

Coming up

The GoGeomatics team would like to introduce a fellow geospatial colleague who, like many of us at one time or another, is experiencing issues with underemployment. Also like many of us, for a variety of reasons, requires workplace accommodations to excel.


Resources for Employers

Here are some helpful resources that were found when writing this piece or were recommended to us:


Sources

Canadian Equality Consulting (CEC). “Invisible Disabilities in the Workplace.” Canadian Equality Consulting, January 8, 2021, https://canadianequality.ca/invisible-disabilities-in-the-workplace/.

Morris, Stuart.  “Workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities in Canada, 2017.” Statistics Canada, September 25, 2019, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2019001-eng.htm.

Schmidt, Leah. “Understanding Invisible Disabilities in the Workplace.” Canadian Equality Consulting, September 7, 2021, https://canadianequality.ca/understanding-invisible-disabilities-in-the-workplace/.

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