After the Employees with Disabilities National Working Group presented its Employees with Disabilities Action Plan to EXCOM, we asked working group member Suzanne Cuff to put her unique experience on paper. Here is what she had to say …
Between April 2013 and July 2015, Commissioner Don Head travelled the country to attend consultations with Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) employees with disabilities. These included open discussions to identify barriers encountered by employees with disabilities within CSC, and to find ways of making our workplaces more accessible and inclusive for the Service’s current and future workforce.
Fourteen recommendations came out of these consultations, which can be found in the Report of the Commissioner’s National Consultations with Employees with Disabilities Awareness – Understanding – Acceptance! This report brought to light the unique needs and daily challenges of CSC’s employees with disabilities, and identified areas of concern that require innovative solutions.
What followed? The Employees with Disabilities National Working Group was put together to develop an action plan to respond to these 14 recommendations. In November 2016, the working group presented its action plan entitled Working Together to Put People First: Our Journey Towards Inclusion to EXCOM. It was approved! When implemented, the action plan will have lasting impacts on the Service’s workplace environment and culture.
The working group included staff from each region, including National Headquarters, and it was tasked with developing a national Employees with Disabilities Action Plan. During our first meeting in May, we learned that we would have four months to develop the plan.
To begin, the working group reviewed the consultation report and identified the needs and issues of employees with disabilities based on the 14 recommendations, and researched what other government departments were doing to support these employees. We also reviewed the actions already taken by CSC to respond to issues identified in the consultations. In addition, the working group consulted extensively with each sector implicated in the recommendations to ensure that the proposed actions of the plan were feasible, and could be implemented in a timely manner with measurable results. Everyone we met with was onboard with what we were proposing.
By September, we had a draft of our action plan and an outline for our presentation to EXCOM. This was going to be a great presentation, and to make it memorable, we were going to have a little fun too.
November 2, 2016, show-time!
Our presentation was the first one on day two of EXCOM’s agenda. We arrived early to do one more final check to make sure everything was working properly. Our anxiety was building, and there were still many unanswered questions… Would EXCOM approve the action plan we came up with? If so, would further revisions be required? Would we need to come back to EXCOM and do it all over again with a revised action plan? We had 90 minutes to present, and it was show time.
Games, learning and change
We had organized our presentation around the key themes of the recommendations: 1) accommodation, 2) mental health and well-being, 3) staff attitude and workplace environment, and 4) career advancement and staffing.
The highlight of our presentation was the interactive activities we developed that would provide people with a better understanding of several types of disabilities. One of our activities was to have EXCOM members attempt to fold a shirt while wearing oven mitts, demonstrating the challenges of a person living with cerebral palsy. Another activity involved people around the table wearing earplugs while trying to write down a series of letters and numbers that we called out, giving them a glimpse of what life can be like for someone living with a hearing impairment.
After providing EXCOM members with these experiences, we gave a demonstration of tools that can help employees who are visually and hearing impaired. The first was ZoomText, a program that magnifies documents on screen for the visually impaired. This showed what the program can do, helping EXCOM members understand the value (and limitations) of this kind of assistive technology. We also showed a video about the CART system, a tool that provides real-time captioning and can be used in meetings to assist employees with hearing impairments.
To reinforce the need for support and resources for employees living with disabilities, our final activity was a block tower game inspired by Jenga. To play Jenga, players take blocks away never knowing when the tower will fall over as the structure weakens with each move. For our version, each block represented an employee support (ranging from responsibility to empowerment) and the colours of the blocks represented different disabilities. When you take away supports from an employee, you never know how long the employee will be able to function before he or she ‘falls down.’ Throughout the working group’s presentation, the tower was built with supports that had been demonstrated in each section of our presentation and it was completed at the end by each EXCOM member adding a block. By providing employees with the support and resources they need, CSC is laying a foundation that empowers its employees and reinforces a culture that fosters accessibility, inclusion and diversity.
We ended our presentation by giving each EXCOM member a name plate that included Braille and sign language, spelling out their names.
Overall, the presentation was a hit! After our presentation, Scott Harris, Regional Deputy Commissioner, Atlantic Region, said our presentation was the best he had ever seen. The action plan was approved as is, and we were invited by EXCOM members to provide updates and activity demonstrations at future meetings.
The next step is to put the plan into action and move CSC further along in its journey towards inclusion. The plan will also put CSC in an enviable position when upcoming federal accessibility legislation is developed and enacted (have your say!).
Overall, the working group truly believe that the action plan honours the voices heard at the consultations, and we look forward to seeing its actions achieved.
Congratulations to everyone involved!