TD Presents The Walrus Talks Inclusion at Home, Part One

Jennifer Hollett: Hi everyone. Welcome to The Walrus Talks at Home: Inclusion, Part 1. This is a special two-part event, presented by TD Bank Group. I am Jennifer Hollett, executive director of The Walrus, and we are thrilled to be joining you virtually, bringing people together across the country in conversation.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the land I’m on in Toronto, Tkaronto. I come to you from the territory of the Huron-Wendat and Peetun First Nations, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Toronto has long been a meeting place of Indigenous peoples, and we are honoured to continue a tradition of conversation. What I’d like to do right now is invite you to join me in taking a moment to reflect on the land you’re on, the moment in history we’re in, and our collective commitment to the work of reconciliation.

Thank you so much for joining me on that.

The Walrus started 17 years ago as an optimistic project to tell stories and foster conversation across Canada. We do this through fact-based journalism with The Walrus print publication and daily at Through our podcast The Conversation Piece and in our public event series The Walrus Talks. And now, The Walrus Talks at Home.

This work is powered by our donors, supporters, and partners. Thank you all for being here, and to TD Bank Group for making this event possible.

To start tonight’s conversation, please welcome TD Bank Group’s associate vice president of social impact in Canada, Naki Osutei.

Naki Osutei: Good evening, everyone. I’m thrilled to be here on behalf of TD at tonight’s The Walrus Talks on Inclusion.

Since 2008 TD has been supporting The Walrus’ efforts to provoke new thinking and spark conversation on matters that are vital to Canadians. So it’s great to see The Walrus continue to do this online to help build a more informed society, even as we’re facing a pandemic.

Through the TD Ready Commitment, TD is committed to investing in initiatives that foster more inclusive and accessible communities. So it’s only natural that we partner with The Walrus to mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month with tonight’s event.

Tonight we will hear about how flexible working styles benefit people with disabilities and society at large. This is a topic that’s dear to TD.

Even though, in many ways, TD is a leader and accessibility, I know I will learn even more tonight, listening to the experts that The Walrus has invited here.

Like you, I can’t wait to hear from tonight’s panel who will enrich our understanding on the barriers that people with disabilities face and provide us with best practices for both in and outside of the workplace. Thank you, and enjoy the evening.

Jennifer Hollett: Thank you so much, Naki. The conversation around inclusion, specifically with regards to people living with disabilities, is increasingly important here in Canada and abroad. This evening, for Part 1, we’re going to be hearing from industry leaders on how work setups, that take into account employee differences, can create more access for all and increase productivity.

This is how it works. Each speaker tonight has five minutes, and then once your head is full of new ideas, we will have a moderated Q&A session with the speakers and you at home, the audience.

We will be hearing from the Director of the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy, Emile Tompa, Google software engineer, Dianna Hu, President and CEO of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, Maureen Haan, and professor, psychotherapist, and founder of Mind Armour & SOS Psychotherapy, Sajel Bellon.

Thanks to all of you for joining us tonight.

Emile Tompa: Hello, my name is Emile Tompa and I’m a senior scientist at the Institute for Work and Health. I’m also associate professor in the Department of Economics at McMaster University.

I’m a health and labour economist and I want to start off by sharing a frustration I have, with you. I find that many of my friends and colleagues don’t quite understand what I do.

They think I do accounting, or finance, or business investment, and these are all really honorable professions, but don’t ask me for advice on your taxes or where to invest your money because I’m sure to steer you wrong.

As an economist, I’m a social scientist. What I do is I look at how we can have a better life, individually, and as a society, by doing things differently.

In fact, I try to quantify the benefits of doing things differently. Sometimes in monetary terms, simply because most people can understand the value of a dollar. We all work really hard for our money so we can understand what a dollar is.

Many times I try to measure abstract things that are important, such as the quality of life.

Now here’s the number I want to throw out at you: 340 billion dollars.

That’s a big number. It’s hard even for me to wrap my mind around. Let’s try to put it in proportion. 340 billion dollars is 18% of the Canadian gross domestic product in 2017.

It’s also our estimate for the benefits to be realized by Canadian society if we were fully inclusive in all social domains for persons with disabilities. It’s a value boost that we would see every year, not just once.

The market impact of engaging that untapped talent pool of persons with disabilities in employment, that alone, we’ve estimated at $262 billion dollars per year.

Think of how many people we can lift out of poverty with employment opportunities that are inclusive and accessible. Think of all that independence, we create for persons with disabilities if they were gainfully employed.

Persons with disabilities are also an untapped market as consumers, we’ve estimated that market expansion at $47 billion.

Governments too would gain from this. They’d substantially reduce dependence on social transfers. There would also be increased tax revenue from income from sales. So there’s clearly substantial spillover effects for all facets of society.

In another study we’ve undertaken with some of our colleagues, that we did for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, we estimated the benefits and costs for employers that accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions.

Surprisingly accommodating workers generally was not that expensive. In most cases it only required some planning time from supervisors and managers.

And oftentimes, it was just soft measures that were needed, such as flexible work hours and working from home, some days. Those are accommodations we all needed sometimes for work life balance.

And the returns were huge. We estimate the benefit to cost ratio almost eight in some cases, and even for entry level positions the estimates were positive.

So to put it in perspective, can you imagine investing $1 and getting back t $8? That’s good business sense to me. Even I know that, and I’m not a business person or an accountant.

So good so accommodating workers’ health needs is not charity. It’s good business sense, it’s a win win, but we need to do things differently. We need to create a new normal that includes everyone

In many cases, we need to change the built environment. We also need to change the social environment.

There’s a lot of learning for all of us to do if we want to do this well. But if we embrace diversity for inclusion of all persons in work and other social domains, we all gain.

We all will be more creative and productive and engaged and ultimately the gains of quality of life will be substantial.

That’s something that matters to most individuals in society, the quality of life. Quality of life isn’t a market commodity, but I would say that’s what matters most. Thank you.

Dianna Hu: Hi everyone, my name is Dianna Hu and I’m a software engineer at Google. I am wearing a black T-shirt with the emblazoned words, “30th Anniversary of the ADA 2020: Equity, Diversity, Inclusion” to commemorate 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States. I am sitting atop my motorized wheelchair, the Permobil. I’ve been driving wheelchairs since I was two years old.

I was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, SMA for short. SMA is a neurodegenerative disability that severely weakens the muscles, making it difficult to perform many basic activities of daily living. Walking, sitting, even breathing become challenges for someone with SMA. It’s been called the top genetic killer of infants. When I was diagnosed at 18 months, the doctors told my parents they weren’t sure whether I’d make it to my next birthday. From the start, my life has been a struggle for survival.

And that struggle for survival has strengthened me. It has hurled obstacle after obstacle in my path, and it has unlocked the resiliency to confront them. There’s a theory about confronting the challenges of life with a disability; it’s called spoon theory. The disabled person starts out each day with a small, finite set of spoons – units of energy – to spend on tasks they need to carry out during the day. Once you’re out of spoons, you’re out of luck.

So here’s what my day of spoons looks like: I almost always wake up exhausted, because I need to be turned multiple times every night to avoid bedsores. So just getting out of bed and ready for the day – that’s a spoon gone. Then I wait for the shuttle to take me to work. It usually has a ramp, but that ramp is sometimes broken without warning, or the bus is too crowded for a wheelchair even though it can somehow fit the five able-bodied people who were sitting next to me. Waiting for the next shuttle, realizing I’ll be late for my meeting – that’s another spoon gone. Then trying to get to my meeting, navigating a series of elevators with buttons that are too high for someone in a wheelchair to reach – the time spent grappling with the limits and the irony of an elevator inaccessible to a wheelchair user – that costs at least another spoon. And on, and on, and on. It’s not even lunch time yet, and more than half my spoons are gone. These are the sacrifices that a person with a disability must make every single day, just to get through the day. The physical world is a spoon sucker.

But that state of the world is changing. The pandemic has forced the world at large under quarantine, and work in many areas – including my software engineering job at Google – has gone remote. Work from home. And there is no environment more optimized for my accessibility needs than home. I love it.

Now I have the freedom to wake up each morning a little bit later, with a little less sleep deprivation and a little more energy to face the day ahead. I’ll take that spoon back. I also don’t have to grapple with the uncertainty and the stresses of transportation – another spoon for me. And not to mention eating and drinking – my favorite cups of tea throughout the whole day. I no longer have to intentionally dehydrate myself to avoid the far too few accessible bathrooms wherever I’m going. I can drink, finally, when I want to drink! The flexibility of working from home has let me take back my freedom one spoon at a time.

And with more spoons, I can do more. My boosted energy throughout the day translates to boosted productivity. I can attend more meetings and events without the anxiety of planning accessible routes and contingency plans for inevitable failures in the physical world. I can focus on managing my code more than my spoons. I have the physical and mental bandwidth to dedicate myself to accessibility passion projects, both in and out of work. This kind of freedom and flexibility of working from home has been a longstanding accommodations request from the disability community. And now it is revolutionizing the world at large.

I am incredibly fortunate to have a manager who will support a continued work-from-home accommodation for me, even after the chaos of the pandemic subsides and the world returns to “normal.” He is looking out for my well-being, and he recognizes that optimizing for my well-being is also optimizing for my ability to contribute to my company. This is a satisfying win-win for all parties involved. So I urge employers, event organizers, everyone who has a say in crafting the way we interact with the world around us — let the new “normal” continue to include this virtual, equalizing agent of accessibility, this ultimate Spoon Redeemer. Thank you.

Maureen Haan: Hello everybody, my name is Maureen Haan. I am the president and CEO of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work and it’s my pleasure to be here with you today.

COVID-19 has disrupted life as we know it and an often identified silver lining has been the proliferation of work from home, or telework as I’m going to call it, within Canadian industries.

Businesses have had to pivot with little preparation time to develop temporary or permanent telework opportunities.

And the telework picture that is painted by mainstream society is a rosy one. Working from home increases flexibility, decreases commute time and associated costs, which leads to greater enjoyment and onewould assume greater employee productivity. However, this chain of logic assumes that all employees can effectively work from home and that those employees have access to proper home based workspaces.

In fact, people with disabilities often work in industries with low telework capacity or do not have sustainable work from home alternatives.

I want to dive into this a little bit more so that we can understand the reality of the current situation of employment for persons with disabilities.

From January to the end of May of this year, almost 300,000 workers with disabilities lost their job due to COVID-19. This is almost twice the rate of those without disabilities.

In many cases telework is simply not an option for employees with disabilities, just over half, over 53%, work in an industry that has less than a 30% opportunity of working from home.

Those industries are the retail trade, healthcare and social services, manufacturing, construction, transportation and warehousing, and accommodation and food services.

So when telework opportunities do exist in these sectors, and remember it’s only about three in 10 jobs, they’re often only for management or white-collar roles and the stat for people with disabilities in white-collar roles? 10%. So, given the current reality of where workers with disabilities are working and the positions they hold, telework opportunities are truly not really a viable option.

One byproduct of the office environment is its social side that promotes teamwork and collaboration. We all know that.

By contrast, working from home may be socially isolating and this may be more pronounced in groups that already face barriers to social participation, such as people with disabilities.

A few years ago at a youth program that I attended in Nova Scotia, I was told by one of the participants that he went to a movie with a fellow participant the night before.

Of note, this twenty-something person had never been to a movie with a friend before and this friendship, of course, would never have occurred without that social interaction and the obvious isolation was remarkable.

Social isolation is quite common for people for people with disabilities as 21% report living alone.

People with severe disabilities are three times more likely to be living at home than people without disabilities. And furthermore, there was a study, an Angus Reid Institute study, on social isolation that found that nearly four in 10 of those with a physical disability are among the most isolated in our society. The truly desolate.

So how can one truly expect, then, people with disabilities to participate in the workforce, including the social aspects of work if telework is the only option.

Telework is largely predicated on the internet, and can be a fantastic option for those who can productively work from home. However, one in five people with disabilities do not use the internet, meaning that once again telework may not be a true alternative. Prior to the pandemic, of workers with disabilities, more than a third required at least one workplace accommodation to be successful at work. However employees may simply not have the proper setup to ensure an accessible home based workplace. So, and I challenge you as as listeners to think about how and where you’ve worked from home over the last seven months, and I would bet that the majority of these makeshift setups did not include proper ergonomic furniture, noise cancelling headphones, big screen monitors, voice recognition software, and a fast high speed internet that was reliable.

These are accommodations that are typically provided to employees with disabilities in the workplace, but rarely provided to a home based office.

And in order to see successful outcomes, it’s essential for employers to continue to accommodate employees with disabilities and ensure that their needs are being met during this time of telework.

So in short telework is a wonderful option for some, but not all, it is important to consider the specific and unique circumstances of each employee and their place of work to ensure an optimal level of productivity and engagement. Thank you very much.

Sajel Bellon: Hi, my name is Sajel Bellon and I’m a organizational behavior professor and a neuro-relational therapist. But more importantly, I’m adoring mom of two, and the proud spouse of a firefighter.

And why that’s important today is because you would think that this firefighter was a strong strapping man, which he is, however, he’s also one that suffers from an invisible disability. And it has made our life, and his life very different, and something that we’ve really had to make a lot of adjustments for. And his employers are still sort of grappling around how to best accommodate people like him.

And so I’m hoping today, I’ll give you something to think about as leaders, as managers, and perhaps even as colleagues, about how we can create more compassionate workplaces where we can see each other as more whole beings and appreciate each other not only professionally, but personally, and how that sort of mindset can help us build and cultivate a more compassionate workplace that would really help improve our quality of life at home and at work.

Our experience has been that with invisible disabilities, we’re really uncomfortable talking about them, and I’m specifically talking about mental health.

How many of us are open about our journeys that we are experiencing in our mental health, especially right now with COVID?

We’ve seen spikes, and statistics show us that there’s increases, we already knew before COVID that one in five people are suffering from mental health issues that affect their work and home life.

But yet we don’t talk about it. And we don’t because there’s feelings of shame and embarrassment.

But if we start to change that mindset again, and shift our cultures where we can have these more candid conversations and appreciate ourselves as human beings and give ourselves the permission to be human, we’re going to start to create change where we can unstigmatize the mental health conversations and unstigmatize the way that we think about suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety. I know I said a whole bunch of bad words there really fast, but they’re not bad words.

I’m hoping that by the end of this conversation, you might rethink of them as experiences that people go through in our natural lives.

How many of you at home could be going through something really, really bad and then expect yourselves to show up the next day at work like nothing’s wrong?

And how successful are you at masking that? Some of us are really good. Some of us are really high functioning people, and we can go years without it ever coming up, or having impact that other people notice. But we’re suffering in silence. A lot of us are suffering in silence.

So how we can break away from that mentality is to build perhaps workplaces where we spend a lot of our time, where they’re more comfortable and we have better relationships with our colleagues.

But why would an employer want that? Because we will reduce the absenteeism that we’re seeing. We will get higher production and higher performance from our people.

We will see more employee satisfaction, commitment, and dedication, we will essentially be investing in our bottom line, which is our people.

So co-creating cultures of psychological safety that enable us to open up and perhaps disclose some of the supports that we need, some of the ways that we can be best enabled to do our jobs and to do it well, even during the difficult times in our life, would actually help us as a whole organization.

That’s just one way. Another way would be to provide really good extended healthcare benefits for our employees, especially those people that are in high stress sectors, really look at that as an investment.

And by making access to mental health days, maintenance programs, mental health check ins, creating partnerships with practitioners in your area, bringing in training, bringing in programs that really enhance the conversations will really prove to be really great tools for you.

So, promoting mental health, mental wealth, systemically will yield healthier and wealthier workplaces. Investing in cultures that are compassionate, supportive, and adaptable will cultivate employees that are dedicated, committed, and high performing. And really overall, it would really help to improve the quality of life that we experience as individuals, as families, as working families, together.

As a leader, ask about what is the one thing you can do to cultivate more conversation around mental health.

Think about having these conversations and getting to know the person that you work with, or persons that you work with, so that you could tell if something wasn’t perfectly okay in their life. That you would have the courage to ask them if they’re okay and if there’s anything that they need to talk about. That’s how we’re going to make change. That’s how we can make a difference.

Jennifer Hollett: Thank you so much Sajel, Maureen, Dianna, and Emile. A lot of juicy, juicy stuff in there, a lot of truth bombs. Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to the Q and A.

I also just want to say hello to everyone in the audience. We have people registered from all over. Vancouver, Halifax, Winnipeg, as well as Mexico, Thailand and beyond. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. All right, now we’re going to be moving to the conversation, the Q and A if you have a question, don’t be shy. Jump in chat and we’re going to do our best to get to as many audience questions as possible. Our moderator this evening is from The Walrus. She is the TD Fellow on Disability and Inclusion, Aimee Louw. Aimee, over to you.

Aimee Louw: Thanks, Jenn. And thanks everybody so much for your thoughtful and insightful presentations. I can’t wait to jump into our discussion here tonight, and I just want to reiterate, please do write in with questions, folks, because we really want this to be a conversation. So we want to include you as well.

Aimee Louw: So I want to start out with a question for Sajel and something that you said. I’m a writer, so I love words, I love turns of phrase, and I would love to hear you expand on what you mean by mental wealth.

Sajel Bellon: Mental wealth. Well, we are all born with a certain resilience, with strengths, with so many good things, because we’ve been overcoming challenges right in the beginning as soon as we’re born, and so we really are born with mental health, mental health, mental stability. It’s when things get too overwhelming, when things get, you know, too, packed on when we’re not using our social connections, our ability to process emotionally and cognitively all the things that are bothering us and being able to disseminate that slowly. It’s when it compounds.

And that’s where we feel like we can’t deal with it anymore. And we started to get into the mental illnesses. And we have to remember that mental health is typically built on a medical model, which is always looking at the deficits. And positive psychology, and the work that I do. We’re looking at the opposite. We’re taking both into consideration, what’s working really well, and how can we leverage that to help with what’s not.

Aimee Louw: I love that. Kind of taking the positive and flipping the script on a lot of the conversations that we have about mental health. That’s awesome.

I have a question for Dianna now. I’m kind of building on that sort of positive impact that you’re experiencing from working from home. You mentioned that you’ve gained a lot of valuable energy and spoons from being able to work from home and avoiding some of the barriers that you would otherwise encounter.

Aimee Louw: And you mentioned working on some accessibility passion projects. And I know that you were instrumental in working on inputting accessibility information to Google Maps and I just love to hear you share more about that particular project if you’d care to

Dianna Hu: Yeah, yeah. So, as a Googler, Google gives you a lot of flexibility in the projects that you work on so you have your 80% project this kind of the main thing you focus on during the day. But then you also have like 20% of your time to focus on something that you’re just really passionate about or something that really personally resonates with you. So a couple years ago there was an accessibility kind of sprint, a hackathon, which brought together Googlers from all over who were just passionate about accessibility projects and one of the projects there was on finding routes from A to B that that a wheelchair could go through and this is something that I had been wanting ever since I started driving in the wheelchair and realizing that I could use Google to get me from from place to place. And so it was really just an incredible opportunity to work with folks on the transit team and Australia, work with folks in New York, work with folks in Colorado, we were just kind of united by this passion to do something that was cool. That was useful. And that would benefit a large population of users out there.

Dianna Hu: So, yeah, we released the feature to have an accessible routes option in Google Maps. Now, whether you’re on a phone or on the computer, you can get from point A to point B with an accessible route. And I think this also kind of speaks to like people with disabilities, workers with disabilities really understanding the needs of the user base of people who have accessibility needs. So it’s kind of driving innovation and inclusion, both in the workplace and beyond the workplace.

Aimee Louw: Yeah, definitely. Well, and that touches on something that’s come up in all four of your presentations tonight, which was the word adaptability and, for example, Dianna, you said like you have a certain amount of time that you could put towards other projects working at Google. And I wanted to hear Emiles take on adaptability and kind of what you think that role of adaptability has in terms of the economic benefit that you mentioned earlier, about that huge number of the 340 billion dollar number.

Emile Tompa: Yeah, that is a big number isn’t it? Yeah, that’s a good question. And we often talk about inclusive design in this field where we make things more inclusive for different abilities and we, I think, we all gain from that, you know, when things are easier to use. It’s easier for everybody to use, you know, technology can be overwhelming, even for me and I struggle sometimes. So if they can make you know some of the technology easier. We’d all benefit from it being more productive.

Emile Tompa: You know, so, I think that that adaptability is really critical, the flexibility too because in some cases, you need to customize things for different people’s needs kind of thing so that so a lot of new technologies have lots of options to make it adaptable for different kinds of contexts, different kinds of needs and abilities, kind of thing.

So I think the universal design with some customization is a critical way to go. And that’s the way we’re seeing both the built environment, the technology and also the social environment too, working making your work context fit your needs, kind of thing if you need to work from home. Some days, if you want to work different hours because you’re not a morning person, that kind of thing that flexibility, adaptability for customization for people’s individual preferences really makes a difference and often as we found doesn’t even cost very much. It’s just a negotiating general your worker ranges with your supervisor. We all need some of that flexibility for work life balance, whether it’s for our personal needs or family life needs, you know, taking the kids to school in the morning. So you started a little bit later or something like that. So I think that’s the way we can really capture and create an opportunity for everybody to get be engaged as much as they’re willing and able to be

Aimee Louw: Right on. And that kind of leads into a question that I have for Maureen, which was about the lack of adapted work from home setups that you mentioned, Maureen, as one of the barriers to work from home and I just want to say, hearing different perspectives on the work from home conversation is so wonderful. Because, for example, it works great for you, Dianna, and then Maureen, you mentioned you know for some other people it doesn’t. And so I just want to hear more about what employers might be able to do for people right now in terms of remedying the work from home arrangements and adaptability of the actual work places at home.

Maureen Haan: So it’s a great question, thank you. And I want you to expand it a little bit first to say that the current reality people with disability and work is that a lot of them are not.

(Maureen Haan’s audio cuts out)

Aimee Louw: Maureen, I just want to jump in because at least for me, you cut out a little bit. I think you were saying, you were hitting on the point that not all people with disabilities have work that they can do from home. Right. Is that what you were.. okay and then so please continue. I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew

Maureen Haan: Thank you. Thank you so much. That’s weird. I usually project well! So I’m anyway.

(Maureen Haan’s audio cuts out)

Aimee Louw: I’m so sorry. I’m going to just interrupt and I’m hoping that we can work out the technical difficulties. But I will circle back to that because it’s a really interesting point. And I’m going to bring in a question from the audience. Now I’m very delighted that people have written in. From Deepdit, can you offer some strategies for how leaders can ask the right questions of people who might need an accommodation. So I know you know there’s always this sort of discomfort with asking, how can I help or how can I make something more accessible for you and and so if anybody just has points on how to sort of broach those conversations from a leadership point of view, that would be great.

Dianna Hu: Sure. And I’ll start by saying that when I was applying to Google. I think it was an open process of just empathy. I remember a conversation with my recruiter asking proactively, you know, we realized there’s a diversity of applicants, of candidates, coming into Google and we want to really understand what needs that you might have.

And so I think just coming from a place of openness and just asking very broadly, what kinds of accommodations would be helpful and I was able to just say right off the bat. Like, I cannot reach the whiteboard. A lot of coding interviews are done on the whiteboard.
But I don’t have the arm strength to do that. And so they kind of arranged the accommodation of doing my coding interview from a laptop. So a lot of accommodations. Um, I think, as others have said they don’t have to be very expensive kinds of things. It’s really just about having an open mindset and a willingness to listen and a lot of empathy from one person to the other.

Aimee Louw: Thanks Dianna. Yeah, it’s nice to hear how that came about for you. Would anyone else like to speak to broaching the conversation of accommodations from a leadership point of view.

Sajel Bellon: I feel leaders are a little bit hesitant because they don’t want to step on the wrong toes or say the wrong things. So I think that there’s a little bit of hesitation. And what I would suggest is really open ended questions like, you know, bringing up something that’s really working well for the employee and what you could do that would make it better. What could have been done to make it better or easier for them in the sense of production or ability like let them bring it up if you’d like. But the idea is to get them to tell you more.

So pick an area that’s really of interest that you want to bring up and then ask them questions about that and let it evolve naturally if that will help to kind of bring more comfort to the conversation and it creates a psychological safety, where the employee will be more apt also to open up. If it’s more of a conversation, rather than just a straightforward question. Right, so making it conversational and kind of like about something that they would love to talk about, which is where are they doing well already. And how, what would help them, or make it better for them. What would they have liked? They’ll probably identify that. What would they like to see more of. Yeah.

Emile Tompa: Yeah, I agree. And Dianna’s suggestion, with the empathy is really, really critical, you know, working from the person’s
needs and ask them. They have a good sense of what they need to be accommodated. And it’s in the supervisor’s, manager’s best interest to do that because they want to get the most out of the talent that they have hired. So really work with the person to find a way to ask them what they need to make their work work well for them.

Emile Tompa: And it’s not a one time thing. I think that’s something people don’t realize is that you have to revisit on a regular basis. People’s needs change, through the week, through the year, kind of thing so that it’s something that you revisit on regular basis. You want to always check in, reevaluate, reassess and make sure it’s still working well for the person. See if there’s anything else that you can do to help them kind of thing. And that way, it’s a win win for both, you know, the worker and the employer.

Aimee Louw: Awesome. Thanks, Emile. That’s a good point. You know, checking in, as we go, things change. Right. Look, I want to circle back to Maureen.The last little bit of our conversation was about people once they’re in positions, but something that you were getting to was that not very many disabled people are in these positions that are able to work from home. So I’d love for you to just expand on that for us, if possible.

Maureen Haan: Yeah, sure. Can you hear me okay now? Okay, good for now. I think that the idea is that if the accommodations are set up at home for those who are able to work from home and then the employer really has to take on that responsibility. And I also want to just jump on to the conversation that has just been happening. And I think that the idea is that the workplace has to be set up as accommodating right from the start.

Maureen Haan: So if you are saying right from the get go right from the recruitment and the onboarding of all of your staff. If you’re saying we are a disability competent, or we are an inclusive workplace, and therefore we will be accommodating because one of the questions we get a lot is, well, if Joe doesn’t come in to work until 10 o’clock in the morning, how’s that fair to me? But our comment back to that is well, if you set yourself up as an inclusive employer in the very beginning, you won’t get those questions.

Emile Tompa: I really like that point. And I’m thinking about that standard we developed where we made sure we developed a management system standard for disability. Right. So, how to accommodate workers’ health needs over the time they are with the organization. And we really made a big point of, Maureen was a big proponent of it too, of making sure that the front end of the recruitment hiring and onboarding was inclusive and accommodating of people’s needs. Because if it doesn’t start at the beginning it’s not going to work. You know, because they have to come on board with the sense that they belong and that they’re included and they’re talented and being capitalized on in a meaningful way for them as a worker as well as work for the employer.

Aimee Louw: And here’s a question that I think, there might be some folks out there listening and they say this all sounds wonderful and, also, how, how do we get to that point? So does anyone have sort of starting points for, maybe someone’s listening out there and their employer is a small business owner, they’re already dealing with a downturn in business. How do we then sort of jump into that process of trying to make the workplace more accessible.

Aimee Louw: And that’s for invisible disabilities, mental health, every sort of experience out there.

Sajel Bellon: It would say, you know, kind of looking at our current situation with, I mean everything we’ve been kind of going through, we’re going through together. And so why not leverage that. It is a perfect time to start creating culture change. It’s a perfect time to connect. It’s a perfect time to start using compassion in places and environments where maybe we hadn’t been open to it before.

Sajel Bellon: I think people are very open and receptive to it right now. So certainly, you know, as small business owners, really starting to have these conversations even considering being vulnerable yourself, to start that conversation, you know, whether it’s during a break or, you know, perhaps in a meeting where you invite a professional in, where they can actually start the discussion and create group situations or activities where people are engaging on that level, and that’s the purpose. So being sort of purposeful around it and creating that shift is definitely possible. And now it’s a better time, is probably the best time, while we’re in transformation to start the transition. It’s going to be the easiest time. So it’s actually a good thing.

Maureen Haan: So I’d like to also jump in here. And because I love Sajel’s positivity. I come at it from a little bit more of a skeptical perspective, because I think that we ripped, and I’ve said this many times, we’ve ripped the curtain open and we see the multi-tiered way that we treat our society. When CERB came in it was $2,000 for people who were working, and the average across Canada for disability support for people with disabilities was $1,000.

That tells what our values are and I think that systemically, we have to have a hard look at who we are as a country. And what we value as a country. And then, absolutely. Talking about being positive signals talking about. It’s so important, but I really do think that we need some government policies around this.

Maureen Haan: And we need to make sure that we’re completely on top of this. Because when a pandemic happens again, if we’re in the same position as we’re in now and people with disabilities are in the same position of poverty, of ending their lives, it’s a shame on us as a society.

Sajel Bellon: Yeah, and I want to kind of just sort of acknowledge what you’re saying, Maureen, because you know, we’re experiencing this at three different levels. There’s the micro level, the meso level, and the macro level and certainly for us to see changes at the macro level we need to be instituting changes throughout the system. So what I’m talking about is more at the micro and meso where we can take the power into our own hands and start to make these changes at home to make life bearable day to day, in hopes of supporting and trying to advocate and create the change at political and policy level as well for for us as a country. So we need to be seeing the change throughout the system.

Dianna Hu: I also want to jump in there because I think Maureen and Sajel are bringing up excellent points about the different levels at which changes are happening and I think a lot of this comes back to the fundamental definition of disability, actually. Because traditionally disability has been defined in the medical model where disability comes from the individual defect that a genetic mutation that leads to
impairments, but really what we need to do is shift our perspective from this traditional medical model that places the burden on the individual, to instead a social model that places the burden on society to accommodate the needs of the population, the needs of people who have all sorts of different abilities. That it’s the lack of the social structure as support that causes disability. So if society as a whole can provide the support, we are enabling instead of disabling.

Emile Tompa: Mm hmm.

Sajel Bellon: Yes. Yeah, right on. Oh, sorry.

Emile Tompa: Yeah, no, I totally agree. Sajel mentioned it before, culture change is really critical, we have to create a new normal where everybody can participate. You know, it’s a human rights model that we all have a right to be active participants in society, but there is work to be done at all levels. We all have a lot of learning to do and changing the way we do things now, whether it’s the built environment or the social environment. And there’s policy changes. Maureen is right about some of the issues she brings up, you know, we have to think about some guaranteed minimum income for people, what’s a decent living for everybody. Whether you’re able to work sometimes or all the time or never. We all have to be on a level playing field to treat some populations differently than others is just not really an equitable society, an inclusive society, if enough people with disabilities get $1,000 and people who are unemployed get $2000.

Sajel Bellon: Yeah, and Dianna, I just wanted to kind of piggyback on how you said the medical model is so deficit. We see that in the way that we’re told in psychology as well and diagnosis and treatment versus looking at mental health from a psycho-social model. And that’s changing the way that even as practitioners, the way we see our clients and see our students. Notice I didn’t say patients, right. So language matters and changing our frameworks and the way that we’re approaching everything. The change is happening. We’re certainly seeing it in the world of psychology, like I said, the positive psychology movement has had great advancement over 10 years

So we’re seeing it at that level and hopefully we’ll start, you know, with the pandemic and with politics and everything that’s been happening we’re in a wave of change at the moment and I see it as opportunity.
Because I don’t think we would have changed without that shove and so now’s the time to innovate.

Aimee Louw: Thank you Sajel. Unfortunately, we are wrapping up our conversation, but I have one more question from the audience. It’s from Carmen, and Carmen wants to know, for sure, working from home is positive in lots of ways because it’s flexible and for those who have access to it, as Maureen pointed out, it can be positive. And for those who don’t, that’s unfair. But Carmen is really asking, what about the social isolation side? And the downside of not having that in person interaction. So, Carmen was asking specifically Maureen and Dianna. But if everyone wants to just maybe do a 30 minute sort of response to that, and then we’ll wrap up our conversation, that would be great. So we’ll start with you, Dianna, please.

Dianna Hu: Yeah, yeah. So I feel this very deeply because I’m working from home, I’m working remotely. I don’t think I’ve seen another human being outside of my parents in several months now. And I think the best way that I’m trying to combat this now is just by checking in, by proactively reaching out to friends, and by arranging these video kinds of meetings and check ins and and hanging out. Like, I think, in a way, I’ve actually been able to do more, to have more meetings and to be connected to more people. But I do agree that it’s a tough situation not seeing folks in person. But I think the best that we can do is connect virtually and go beyond. Yeah.

Aimee Louw: Yeah, take that extra effort for sure. Maureen, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Maureen Haan: I think that it’s a real problem. And I think that social isolation is something that’s critically important for us to be looking at, because again we’re looking at people with disabilities, who are not necessarily in an inability to be working from home and so therefore they are on CERB or they are on some other type of social assistance and if they don’t have high speed internet. If we’re talking about poverty, then we’re talking about poverty, and social isolation for poverty is horrible.

And so we do have to make sure that we’re looking at those social policies that influence people with disabilities, all kinds of disabilities and during pandemics and I think that’s a very, very good point.

Aimee Louw: That’s a really good point about access to internet as well, as an accessibility issue. I’m so sorry to be rushing through at the end here, but Emile, give us your last thoughts on that.

Emile Tompa: As humans, we’re social animals. We all need to connect with each other. And so I think we all have responsibilities when you know we’re in this kind of situation to reach out to our friends and colleagues and neighbors kind of thing. And try to make it work. We’re all suffering. But some people are more marginalized and others for variety of reasons, kind of thing. And I just think we ought to take it upon ourselves to reach out to all the people around us to make sure we’re real, we all feel connected and the best we can be

Aimee Louw: A good reminder. Thank you.

Sajel Bellon: Yeah, I, you know, I’m, again, I’m going to be the optimist here and just say, look, video conferencing was like something I saw on the Jetsons as a kid, we didn’t think it was going to happen in our lifetime. So now, look Maureen. You’re laughing. So I know that you know what I’m talking about. How lucky are we that we have this. So it’s great to connect and to reach out. I’m going to encourage people to, don’t have service conversations, don’t talk about the weather. Ask deeper questions, use this as an opportunity to really get to know people, ask your parents what they were like before you were even born, you know, get to know people on a deeper level and connect deeply. The other thing is, is when you’re not connecting and you don’t need to be connecting all the time because I’m in a household with a family. I don’t get any alone time at all. And so how are you doing that. How are you giving yourself self care.

Aimee Louw: So that’s a good reminder too.

Sajel Bellon: Well, because we forget. Right. I was near burnout by me because I was sharing between the office in the kitchen so, you know, yes.

Aimee Louw: Thank you Sajel. I would love to continue for another hour, but this is unfortunately our time and I just want to thank everyone for that engaging conversation. And with that, I’m going to hand it back to you, Jennifer.

Jennifer Hollett: Thank you so much. Thank you. Emile Tompa, Dianna Hu, Maureen Haan and Sajel Bellon, and, of course, to our moderator this evening, TD Fellow on Disability and Inclusion, Aimee Louw.

Also a shout out to everyone asking questions. We had a very active chat tonight, and I know we’ve been following the conversation there as well.

If you enjoyed tonight’s event, there’s more in two days. So Thursday. This week, there’s a part two to this conversation.

The walrus Talks Inclusion presented by TD Bank Group, what we’ll be doing is discussing creating access and opportunity and focusing on community, design, and the arts.

And if you haven’t RSVPed. There’s still time, you can do so at the slash events and then on Monday, November 16 we have The Walrus Talks Living Better with Concordia University.

When you go to the website you can see the other events that we have coming up. There’s also videos from previous events in the waters talks video room.

Jennifer Hollett: Now, keep an eye on your inbox, because you’re going to receive an email from us. And the best way to stay in touch. Ensure that you don’t miss upcoming talks like this one is to join our newsletter.

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And if you make a gift before the end of the year, it will be matched dollar for dollar up to $100,000 by two very generous Canadians Diane Blake and Stephen Smith who, like you, know that a healthy society is an informed one

A few more thank yous. Thank you to Andrea Barrick, Naki Osutei, and everyone at TD Bank Group, including Thomas Chanzy for making tonight’s conversation possible. We’d also like to thank our annual sponsors Indspire, Labatt Breweries of Canada, Air Canada and Shaw.

And as we discussed, community is really important in these COVID times and each one of you is part of The Walrus in our community. Thank you all so much for joining us tonight. Have a great evening.