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Employee Wellness & Total Rewards

How Businesses Can Better Support Inclusive and Accessible Workplaces

Sponsored by:
Parker Pshebnisky & Wes Bergmann
Sponsored by:
Parker Pshebnisky & Wes Bergmann

Sope Ogunrinde

Director, CASE Innovation Lab

Wes Bergmann 

Owner, Blue Moose Coffee House

Kirsten Pellow

Outreach Worker, Free Rein Associates

Inclusive and accessible workplaces drive innovation, empower employees, improve organizational culture, and promote a more equitable society.

When organizations support inclusive and accessible work environments, everyone wins. Employers gain diverse workforces filled with talented  and engaged employees who bring fresh ideas to the table. Employees, including those with disabilities, have the opportunity to shine and to showcase their best qualities. And society at large reaps the rewards of a more equitable and inclusive community where everyone has the chance to contribute and succeed. By fostering such environments, companies not only meet ethical and legal standards but also enhance their reputation, drive innovation, and improve overall business performance.


Championing inclusion    

The belief behind supported employment is that everyone who wants paid employment can attain it, and succeed at it, if the right supports are in place. When employers commit to these supports, amazing things can happen. All it requires is a bit of flexibility in thinking and in practice.

After a string of negative work experiences, Parker Pshebnisky, a 37-year-old living with autism, finally found fulfilling work and a supportive environment at Blue Moose Coffee House in Hope, B.C. “I’ve been working at Blue Moose for over a year now and it’s been going really well,” he says. “I clean tables and floors, water plants, and fill the milk and cream containers.” 

Pshebnisky has high anxiety and notes that the job has helped him mentally. “It’s been a long haul getting Parker to this point,” says Debra Jenneson, his mother. “And the Blue Moose has been amazingly supportive.” 

The strength in diversity

For Wes Bergmann, owner of Blue Moose Coffee House, creating a supportive work environment was simply second nature. “Coffee houses throughout history have been places where the diversity of people has been accepted and respected,” he says. “We’re all on a journey of sorts and we don’t put people into boxes.” 

Blue Moose’s hiring practices are upheld by the company’s values, which includes respect, diversity, integrity, and community “We all belong to community and contribute with our talents and gifts,” says Bergmann. “Diversity is the strength of any group. We hired Parker because this is what we do. We all deserve a chance.” 

Broader perspectives in the workplace can lead to innovative business solutions.

With flexible work hours and the initial help of a support worker, Pshebnisky has been able to smoothly integrate into the Blue Moose team. He has found a sense of belonging and of pride and dedication to his work.

 Helping employees succeed  

“Supported employment is a workplace environment that accommodates and supports individuals with disabilities or other challenges,” says Kirsten Pellow, an outreach worker with Free Rein Associates who acted as Pshebnisky’s direct support person on the job. “It recognizes that everyone has unique abilities and provides necessary accommodations to help them succeed in their roles.”

The Right Fit program operated under Free Rein Associates — a company that has been providing employment resources, training services, and community-based projects in Hope for almost 30 years — in collaboration with the Canadian Association for Supported Employment (CASE) Innovation Lab, a national member-based organization of service providers who work directly with job seekers and people experiencing disability. The program sought to bridge the gap between employer and supported employee, and to educate and assist employers in hiring people with disabilities, like Pshebnisky.

The challenges of inclusive wellness

“The main challenges surrounding inclusive wellness are time and money,” says Karen Legere, Program Coordinator for the Right Fit program. “Employers are stretched thin as it is. Having a new employee who takes longer to learn can be challenging. Plus, employers assume that creating an accessible workplace will be expensive.” 

“Hearing the word ‘accommodation’ may cause fear for some employers,” says Sope Ogunrinde, Director of the CASE Innovation Lab. Besides the perception that accommodation will be costly, there’s also a knowledge piece that many employers are lacking, Ogunrinde notes. “Statements declaring a commitment to inclusive practices when developing a job description are really important, for example,” she says. “Not having those inclusive statements can prevent employers from recruiting the best fit for a job, because accessibility and inclusion are top of mind for a lot of job seekers today.”

Additional challenges include unconscious biases, policies and practices that unintentionally exclude certain groups (rigid work schedules, for example), lack of accessibility features in workplaces, technical barriers, and more.

An inclusive view of wellness   

Accessibility is a key component of employee wellness as it positively contributes to organizational culture, fosters a sense of belonging, and reduces employees’ physical and mental stress. “Being part of a team helps us grow personally,” says Pellow. “When we feel appreciated and supported, our self-esteem and confidence improve.”

In the quest to better support inclusive and accessible work environments, the key is educating employers about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, encouraging flexibility in hiring and training practices, and highlighting the value of investing additional time in employees, says Legere. “The investment of your time and energy to develop a person’s abilities can decrease turnover and improve employee retention,” she adds.

An additional suggestion from Ogunrinde is embedding explicit accommodation and inclusivity policies into an organization’s framework. “That intentionality about creating an inclusive work environment is important,” she says.

The benefits of inclusivity   

Organizations that create inclusive, accessible environments for all can benefit in numerous ways. “Accessible workplaces are able to tap into a larger pool of talent,” says Ogunrinde. Besides attracting top-tier talent, companies focused on accessibility also boost employee retention, engagement, and productivity.

“Just knowing that there are options and that an employer is flexible helps employees to feel empowered and valued,” says Legere. “And working with people who have challenges helps other staff see things from a different perspective and broadens their frame of reference of the world.”

“Broader perspectives in the workplace can lead to innovative business solutions,” adds Ogunrinde.

After all, there’s power in diversity. “We all have issues and challenges, and we can learn from each other no matter who we are,” says Bergmann. “Sometimes people with difficult challenges become gifts to us.” 

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