Beyond Access: How Bench Accounting is Cultivating an Inclusive Future

April 11, 2024

By Sandy Manj, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager, Bench Accounting

Stacey Park Milbern, a leading voice in disability justice, once put it simply: "Access is just the starting line, not the finish line. It's not enough to just open the doors and think we've solved everything." Her words echo loudly, reminding us that creating a truly inclusive workplace means going beyond just making spaces accessible.

Park Milbern made us think harder. It's not enough to just remove a few barriers or make things a bit easier for marginalized groups; it's about tackling the root causes of oppression and injustice head-on. And that's exactly what we kept in mind as we aimed to shape Bench into a place that's open and welcoming for everyone. Being a remote-first company helps—we've already knocked down some of the physical hurdles, making it easier for people to work in a way that suits them best, cuts down on commute times, and keeps them healthier. But that's just part of the story.

Bridging Employment Gaps Through Inclusivity

A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published in 2019 highlighted a significant employment gap for Canadians with disabilities: 53.5% versus 72.2% for those without. This gap can lead to lower earnings, higher healthcare costs, and myriad challenges for people with disabilities.

With this inequity in mind, Bench introduced a strength-based approach that emphasizes abilities over limitations. As part of the mission to embrace accessibility for all and build an inclusive workplace that goes well beyond our shared physical spaces, we spoke directly with colleagues, including our Peoples with Disabilities affinity group members about their lived experiences.

After dozens of conversations, we came to understand one significant barrier: the perception that managers lack the awareness to support individuals with both apparent and non-apparent disabilities effectively.

To address this head on, we created a comprehensive Benchmarks of Inclusion guide specifically for people leaders. Rooted in the disability justice framework, the guide aims to cultivate a culture that respects, supports, and understands everyone's unique needs and abilities and addresses the inherent biases within our societal systems that empower some individuals while sidelining others.

Here's a look at what's inside the Benchmarks of Inclusion guide for managers:

⭐ Our Commitment: Define and name our commitment to inclusion.

⭐ Types of Disabilities and Impact: Discuss different types of disabilities, ensuring awareness and understanding.

⭐ Overview of Policies: An overview of inclusive policies and how they benefit everyone.

⭐ Accommodations and Workplace Adjustment: What’s the difference between the two, and how we can provide the right support.

⭐ Inclusive Practices: Ways to foster an inclusive environment for all Benchmates.

⭐ Accessible Environments: The ins and outs of physical and digital accessibility, and how to ensure our spaces are welcoming.

The Disability Justice Framework

The disability justice framework was developed by and for disabled people, particularly by those at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities, such as people of colour, 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals, and those from low-income backgrounds.

Key principles of the framework include:

  • Intersectionality: Recognizes that disability intersects with various other forms of oppression and that the experiences of disabled individuals are shaped by their multiple identities.
  • Leadership of Disabled People: Elevate the voices and leadership of disabled people themselves in shaping policies, advocacy, and discourse around disability issues.
  • Access to All: Advocate for full accessibility and inclusion for all, not just for disabled individuals but for everyone, as it benefits society as a whole.
  • Collective Liberation: Understand that disability justice is interconnected with other social justice movements, and true liberation cannot be achieved unless all forms of oppression are addressed.
  • Sustainability and Care: Focus on sustainable activism and community care, acknowledging that the struggle for justice is ongoing and that self-care and collective care are essential for wellbeing and resilience.
  • Recognize Different Ways of Being: Emphasize that disability is a natural part of human diversity and that all individuals have unique ways of experiencing and navigating the world.

The path to creating inclusive and accessible workplaces will vary for each organization. The key is to understand that this work is ongoing—access is the starting point, not the end goal. By implementing a strength-based approach and embracing the disability justice framework, companies can foster a culture where every individual's unique needs and abilities are respected.