Home » Advocacy » Accessibility » How UN Global Compact Network Canada Is Transforming Equity in Canada

How UN Global Compact Network Canada Is Transforming Equity in Canada

Yixuan Ma

Marketing & Communication Coordinator, UN Global Compact Network Canada

This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, UN Global Compact Network Canada continues to create a just world for persons with disabilities.

At the core of the Canadian landscape, a revolution has been unfolding — one that redefines societal norms. Persons with disabilities have become agents of change, dismantling barriers and constructing bridges toward a more inclusive society. Their courage, creativity, and unwavering spirit have transformed accessibility from a distant dream toward a more tangible reality.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today, an estimated 1.3 billion people, which is approximately 15 per cent of the global population, live with some form of disability. In Canada, one in every five people aged 15 years and over, or about 6.2 million people, have at least one disability. This encompasses visible disabilities, which are evident, as well as invisible disabilities, such as chronic disease and learning differences, which may not be physically apparent.

Every December 3rd, the world unites to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This annual observance day shines a spotlight on the rights, contributions, and challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. It’s a day to celebrate progress, acknowledge gaps, and reaffirm the commitment to leaving no one behind.

Equity and inclusion of persons with disabilities are not just an ideal — they represent a fundamental necessity for upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security. They’re also an integral part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Safeguarding the rights of individuals with disabilities isn’t only an act of justice — it’s an investment in our common future.

Persons with disabilities: the catalysts of change

Over the past half-century, Canada has witnessed a significant transformation made for, with, and by persons with disabilities in collaboration with businesses, organizations, and the government. At the fundamental level, the Canadian legislative framework has been fortified to guarantee greater equality for those with disabilities, enhance employment opportunities and accessibility facilities, and provide protection against discrimination. Notably, legislations such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Employment Equity Act now encompass provisions for individuals with disabilities.

The environment has also witnessed a wide range of accessibility changes driven by the advocacy of persons with disabilities. Closed captioning, power doors, braille on elevators, grab bars, wheelchair ramps, accessible washrooms, and low-floor buses are just a few examples of the visible changes that have made public spaces more inclusive. These enhancements have simplified the daily routines of people with disabilities, empowering them to navigate work, school, travel, shopping, and various activities with greater ease. These milestones stand as a testament to the unyielding determination of the individuals with disabilities who stood up for their rights. Persons with disabilities have transformed Canada into a more barrier-free and equal place for all, and their ongoing efforts will continue to do so.

The cornerstone of this cooperation must be the active participation of persons with disabilities in their full diversity, and their full inclusion in all decision-making processes.

António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations

Inequalities persist

While there has been notable headway, certain disparities remain, particularly in the context of employment and work equity. A 2017 Statistics Canada study found that more people with disabilities are underemployed, with only about 59 per cent of working-age adults with disabilities being employed compared to around 80 per cent of those without disabilities. Furthermore, there’s a glaring wage gap among those with jobs: working-aged adults without a disability make a higher median after-tax personal income of $39,000 than those with milder disabilities ($34,300) and those with more severe disabilities ($19,200) . Moreover, living with disabilities is expensive, with expenses such as a straight stairlift costing a minimum of $4,000 and a power wheelchair exceeding $6,000. This multi-faceted issue contributes to the unequal situation in which more people with disabilities live in poverty. This is far from ideal.

In essence, there’s a need for a paradigm shift — instead of solely focusing on changing employer attitudes, there’s a call for a social model that emphasizes altering employer behaviours. This requires a collaborative effort to ensure that businesses and organizations possess the necessary tools to support persons with disabilities in succeeding in the workplace.

The 50 — 30 Challenge: a path to accessibility and equity

True progress lies in collective action. At the UN Global Compact Network Canada, we acknowledge the significance of the rights of persons with disabilities and the connection to the broader mission of achieving equity and inclusion. We’re proud to be an official Ecosystem Partner of the 50 – 30 Challenge, a transformative initiative by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. The goal is to increase diversity and representation in businesses, non-profits, and institutions across Canada. Signatories to the challenge are expected to meet the following targets within their organizations:

  1. Gender parity (50 per cent women and/or non-binary people) on Canadian boards and/or in senior management; and
  2. Significant representation (30 per cent) on Canadian boards and/or senior management of members of other equity-deserving groups, including those who identify as racialized, Black, and/or people of colour (“visible minorities”), people with disabilities (including invisible and episodic disabilities), 2SLGBTQ+ and/or gender and sexually diverse individuals, and Aboriginal and/or Indigenous Peoples. The program and participants recognize Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, as founding peoples of Canada and underrepresented in positions of economic influence and leadership.

For people with disabilities, the 50 — 30 Challenge holds promise as a powerful tool for promoting accessibility and equity. The What Works Toolkit offers a comprehensive set of strategies and actions to create a more inclusive workplace. Its emphasis on creating a safe, respectful, and accessible environment complements the aspirations of persons with disabilities, who seek a level playing field and an opportunity to unleash their talents to the fullest.

By actively advocating for positive changes and engaging in initiatives like the 50 — 30 Challenge, we build a world where barriers crumble and bridges rise. In this world, every voice matters and no one is left behind — together, we thrive.

Learn more on how to be part of the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative.

Next article