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Canadian Military Journal [Vol. 22, No. 4, Fall 2022]
People & Culture

Sgt Jean-François Néron, Valcartier Imaging Section, Canadian Armed Forces

Corporal Dominic Larocque, a member of the Training Centre of 2nd Canadian Division participates in a friendly game of sledge hockey as part of a sports day organized at CFB Valcartier in Courcelette, Qc, on November 28, 2014, to mark the RBC Sports Day that took place in communities across Canada.

G. Robert Arrabito is a Defence Scientist in the Human Effectiveness Section at Defence Research and Development Canada – Toronto Research Centre. He has a M.Sc. in Computer Science from the University of Western Ontario.

Rachelle Ta-Min is a Research Assistant in the Human Effectiveness Section at Defence Research and Development Canada – Toronto Research Centre. She has a M.Sc. in Health Studies and Gerontology from the University of Waterloo.

Dr. Angela R. Febbraro is a senior Defence Scientist in the Intelligence, Influence and Collaboration Section at Defence Research and Development Canada – Toronto Research Centre. She has expertise in gender-based analysis plus and diversity and inclusion issues in the defence and security context. She earned her PhD in social psychology and her MA in industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Guelph, and her BSC in psychology at the University of Toronto. 

Introduction

Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus) is an analytical tool used to assess the potential impacts of policies, programs, services, and other initiatives on diverse groups of people, taking into account sex (i.e., biological assignment at birth), gender (i.e., how a person identifies), as well as intersecting identity factors that include race, LGBTQ2S+, indigenous, people of colour, and disability.Footnote 1 GBA Plus is a critical tool in the decision-making process, and is recognized as a key competency in support of the development of effective programs and policies for Canadians). The Government of Canada developed an action plan to address recommendations for the full implementation of GBA Plus in response to the Fall 2015 Auditor General’s report on GBA.Footnote 2 Given Canada’s growing diverse population and the commitment of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to increase the proportion of women in the military to 25% representation by 2026,Footnote 3 it is important to consider the needs and experiences of military personnel by exploring gender, sex, and the intersectionality of identity factors. To date, little data on sex, gender, and intersectionality in medically released CAF members have been collected by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC)Footnote 4. Data limitations may impede Canadian government decisions from reflecting an understanding of the needs and experiences of persons with disabilities in the workplace.

The purpose of this article is to identify some of the barriers faced by medically released members of the CAF seeking civilian employment as persons with disabilities through the lens of GBA Plus. Our objective is to highlight the importance of the need for systematic data collection for informing and advancing policy and program development, service delivery, communications, and societal recognition for persons with disabilities. We advocate that a GBA Plus lens be integrated into programs and policies coupled with required training for all individuals for cultural change to help remove barriers, thus leading to increased hiring and retention of qualified persons with disabilities. To be clear, there is no expectation of the employer to accept a less productive employee, simply for the sake of hiring a person with a disability. Persons with disabilities, like others, want to and deserve to be hired based on their talent, to be employed in sufficiently challenging jobs, and to be given opportunities for career advancement.

The outline of this article is as follows. We first discuss medical release in the CAF. Next, the low employment rate of persons with disabilities in Canada is presented followed by the barriers impeding the employment of persons with disabilities that permeate across the employment cycle (e.g., recruitment, selection, social integration, and performance management). We then discuss interventions to remove workplace barriers for persons with disabilities that are aimed at increasing their employment and retention. Finally, we discuss the integration of GBA Plus into the civilian employment of medically released CAF members.

Medical Release in the Canadian Armed Forces

Members of the CAF are medically released when they cannot meet minimum operational standards related to universality of service.Footnote 5 Of the approximately 5,500 personnel that are released from the CAF each year, about 1,500 (27.3%) are released for medical reasons that are attributed to service to their country.Footnote 6 Musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries and mental health (MH) disorders are the leading causes of medical release in the CAF.Footnote 7 Mental or psychological reasons for medical release frequently fall under the CAF term “operational stress injury” (OSI). An OSI is broadly defined as any persistent psychological difficulties (e.g., anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder) resulting from operational duties performed by CAF personnel in Canada or abroad. Women in the CAF are medically released more often than men, and medical releases often occur earlier in women’s careers.Footnote 8

Medical release from the CAF is a major life change and can be stressful for members and their loved ones. Women veterans often have a harder transition from military to civilian life than their men counterparts, for example, wait times for disability benefit decisions are substantially longer for women VAC clients than for men VAC clients.Footnote 9 The transition process may also involve wounded veterans identifying as persons with disabilities; moreover, some of these veterans might experience, for example, their OSI as a shameful defect to be hidden, further complicating the transition process.

Adjusting to civilian life for some medically released members may involve seeking civilian employment. These members are less likely to be working in the year after release compared with the vast majority of able-bodied veterans who work after release from the CAF.Footnote 10 Medically released members are likely to encounter employer concerns (e.g., regarding the impact of workers with disabilities on co-workers) that are barriers to hiring and retention of persons with disabilities.Footnote 11 These concerns materialize as stigma (i.e., negative views held by others) and discrimination (i.e., differential treatment of individuals based on their group membership). Stigma and discrimination may prevent persons with disabilities from finding employment. Once employed, it can be quite challenging for persons with disabilities to advance in their careers. This is concerning given that work is an important part of the human experience and is beneficial for promoting health and subjective well-being.Footnote 12

‘Promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace that values persons with disabilities requires culture change to break down barriers. As an analytical tool, GBA Plus may promote an understanding of the needs and experiences of persons with disabilities, and as such, may further culture change. One of the core components of GBA Plus is to examine and challenge assumptions about an issue or a group of people. Cultural change takes time to have a broad and meaningful impact on diversity and inclusion in Canada. For instance, efforts to implement GBA Plus within the Department of National Defence (DND) and the CAF have been challenging because organizational culture is a barrier.Footnote 13

Employment Rate of Persons with Disabilities in Canada

Despite Canadian legislation on diversity in the workplace, persons with disabilities face attitudinal barriers in their attempts to gain and maintain employment.Footnote 14 Compared to their able-bodied counterparts, persons with disabilities have lower employment levels, are employed more often in part-time jobs, and have a lower annual income.Footnote 15 For instance, the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability found that persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 were less likely to be employed (59%) than those without disabilities (80%).Footnote 16 As the level of severity of disability increased, the likelihood of being employed decreased. Among individuals aged 25 to 64, 76% of those with mild disabilities were employed, whereas 31% of those with very severe disabilities were employed.

Differences in the employment rate between women and men with disabilities were also found in the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability.Footnote 17 The employment rate further differed based on age and the severity of the disability. Persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 had a lower employment rate for women than men with a mild/moderate disability. Among those with more severe disabilities, younger women aged 25 to 34 were more likely to have been employed (59%) than their men counterparts (46%). Among those aged 35 to 64, however, women and men with more severe disabilities had approximately equal rates of employment.

More recently, the 2021 audit of employment equity representation in recruitment in the federal public service found that persons with disabilities represent 5.2% of the core federal public service, despite forming 9.0% of the available workforce.Footnote 18 Persons with disabilities made up 679 (4.4%) of the 15,285 job applications by members of the four designated employment equity groups (women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities) to 181 externally advertised appointment processes in 30 departments and agencies. At the organizational screening stage and at the assessment stage, women with disabilities experienced greater success than their male counterparts. However, only 11 candidates with disabilities (1.6%) were appointed.

Barriers to Employment of Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities represent a significant talent pool that is often overlooked (and often underestimated) by employers.Footnote 19,Footnote 20 There are no major differences between persons with disabilities and employees without disabilities in rates of accidents and workplace injuries or insurance costs.Footnote 21 In addition, more and more persons with disabilities are completing higher education, and technological advances are eliminating many physical and informational barriers that in the past used to limit their work activities.Footnote 22 Failing to tap into this talent pool will cost more to leave persons with disabilities out of the labour force than it will to implement policies and programs that will improve their long-term employment outcomes. Yet the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities in Canada is high compared to the rate for those without disabilities.Footnote 23

We now focus our attention on why employers are reluctant to work with persons with disabilities across the employment cycle (e.g., recruitment, selection, social integration, and performance management), and the subsequent negative consequences of workplace barriers on persons with disabilities.

Employer Attitudes and Concerns in the Workplace

Two employer concerns or areas of discomfort regarding the employment of persons with disabilities are attitudinal barriers and co-worker reactions to persons with disabilities in the workplace.

Attitudinal barriers. The primary obstacle to the employment of persons with disabilities is attitudinal barriers.Footnote 24 Attitudinal barriers are pervasive negative perceptions and value systems present in individuals without disabilities that focus on a person’s disability rather than their abilities and other valued characteristics.Footnote 25 These negative attitudes are not only harmful but through active or passive discrimination prevent persons with disabilities from participating fully and equally within society, including in terms of finding employment.Footnote 26 Attitudes are often derived from negative stereotypes and ignorance (e.g., speaking loudly to a person with sight loss while assuming they are also hard of hearing).Footnote 27 In general, males have more negative attitudes toward persons with disabilities than females do.Footnote 28

Attitudinal barriers can be more harmful for persons with invisible disabilities than for persons with visible disabilities. Symptoms of invisible disabilities include debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences, and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments.Footnote 29 To the casual observer, there are no outward physical signs or other cues to indicate a disability. Invisible disabilities are just as debilitating as visible disabilities, but they are not as talked about and are not easily understood. This can lead to assumptions or behaviour based on misinformation and ignorance. In comparison to persons with visible disabilities, persons with invisible disabilities are less likely to be hired among job applicants.Footnote 30 Employers are less inclined to hire individuals with a mental health disorder, for example, because individuals diagnosed with a mental health illness are perceived as violent, unpredictable, and unable to work.Footnote 31

MCpl Marc-André Gaudreault, Canadian Armed Forces

John Hapgood (right), support staff for the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing, is tethered to Sergeant Bjarne Nielson (left) at Calabogie Peaks Resort, in Calabogie, Ontario, on February 15th 2012.

Co-worker reactions to persons with disabilities. Employers may be concerned about the negative reactions of co-workers to persons with disabilities.Footnote 32 Unlike social settings in which able-bodied individuals may be able to avoid persons with disabilities, co-workers may be required to interact with persons with disabilities who are assigned to the same work.Footnote 33 In work-related situations, tasks may be highly interdependent, and able-bodied co-workers may not believe that persons with disabilities can perform tasks successfully. As a result, reactions to persons with disabilities may be more negative in work situations than in social situations. Females exhibit less discomfort working with persons with disabilities than males.Footnote 34

Consequences of Workplace Barriers on Persons with Disabilities

Two negative consequences of workplace barriers on persons with disabilities are reluctance to disclose disability, and obstacles to the career advancement of persons with disabilities.

Disclosing disability. Persons with disabilities must weigh the costs and benefits of disclosing their disability to a potential or current employer. If a disability is disclosed, then persons with disabilities must address the associated stigma and the resulting discrimination. The decision to disclose a disability is influenced by the visibility of the disability. In a national survey of 1,002 Canadian adults, the vast majority (77%) said that they would not feel comfortable talking to their employer if they thought that they had a mental illness. In contrast, the majority of survey respondents said that they would discuss with friends or co-workers diagnoses of cancer (72%) or diabetes (68%) in the family.Footnote 35

Persons with disabilities are faced with the dilemma of disclosing their disability when applying for a job. Disclosing a disability when applying for a job can lead to denied interview opportunities if the disability is disclosed beforehand.Footnote 36 In other instances, persons with disabilities who disclosed their disability in their job applications and were fortunate to be invited for an interview have been overlooked and rejected during the interview process due to their disability.Footnote 37 Employers negate human capital of persons with disabilities and fail to look beyond the disability to see the value of the individual’s education and skills.

Employees with invisible disabilities are obliged to disclose their disability to initiate the workplace accommodation process that would enable them to realize their full potential. Disclosing disability for workplace accommodation is less successful for persons with invisible disabilities than persons with visible disabilities. In a recent survey of federal public servants with disabilities who requested an accommodation for themselves in the last three years, employees with conditions or disabilities that are more readily recognizable to outside observers tended to have more successful accommodation experiences than employees with invisible disabilities.Footnote 38 The proportion of accommodation requests that were denied was twice as high among those with mental health disabilities as was the proportion among those with more readily recognizable disabilities.

Career advancement of persons with disabilities. The promotion of persons with disabilities is disproportionately low compared to that of able-bodied persons. The 2019 employment equity promotion rate study conducted in the federal public service found that persons with disabilities experienced lower promotion rates than people who did not self-identify as having a disability.Footnote 39 Persons with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to encounter barriers to advancement.Footnote 40 Not surprisingly, persons with disabilities are underrepresented in management positions in both the public and the private sectors.Footnote 41,Footnote 42 As a result, persons with disabilities are rarely considered for career development and advancement opportunities, especially for leadership positions.Footnote 43,Footnote 44

Interventions to Remove Workplace Barriers for Persons with Disabilities

As we have discussed, persons with disabilities in Canada have low employment levels compared to those without disabilities, and previous research suggests that employer discrimination is a contributing factor.Footnote 45 Effective strategies in the form of interventions are required to remove barriers to increase the employment of persons with disabilities. Using the approach taken by Bonaccio et al.,Footnote 46 we address the previously discussed employer concerns by mapping them to interventions that can be applied to remove negative attitudes in each stage of the employment cycle (e.g., recruitment, selection, social integration, and performance management). We present examples of interventions to promote increased hiring and retention of persons with disabilities that can be initiated by employers, as well as examples of interventions that persons with disabilities can initiate to remove workplace barriers. It is important to note that interventions are not always conducted in isolation from one another across the employment cycle, and that interventions can benefit everyone in the workplace.

Employer Initiatives

The inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities into the workplace involves the design of practices and policies through the lens of GBA Plus to identify and remove barriers that hinder the individual’s ability to fully participate on the same level as persons without disabilities. Once barriers are removed, having a physical injury or mental illness does not preclude the individual from being a productive or even superior employee.

To be most effective, the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace should stem from the top of the organization and from the beginning of employment. Employers that are not proactive about disability inclusion are risking the loss of qualified talent. To create a respectful and inclusive workplace, employers need to acknowledge that barriers such as implicit bias exist. Implicit or unconscious biases lead to actions or behaviours that are unknown to the individual as a problem.Footnote 47 While they are usually unintended and unconscious, implicit biases are nonetheless powerful influences on human behaviour that can negatively impact the hiring of persons with disabilities. Overcoming unconscious biases in the workplace is essential to support a bias-free hiring process in the federal public service and the private sector.

Being aware of implicit bias as a barrier is the first step to its removal and thus to real change. With such awareness as a starting point, workplace culture can transform into one that is accepting of differences, and one that is committed to having all employees feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.Footnote 48 Educating hiring teams and all employees organization-wide through scheduled training sessions on equity in the workplace and unconscious biases against persons with disabilities can help fill knowledge gaps and dispel myths and misconceptions. Training and education can change attitudes about persons with disabilities in the workplaceFootnote 49,Footnote 50 and interpersonal contact with persons with disabilities may augment the effects of such interventions on reducing stigma.Footnote 51

Once employers are committed to the inclusion of persons with disabilities, changes to hiring strategies to reflect this commitment may take place. One change is to make the job application process accessible for all applicants, including those with disabilities. An application process that is accessible to persons with disabilities, for instance, sends the message that the organization is an equal opportunity employer that values diversity and inclusion of persons with disabilities. Conversely, if applicants with a disability struggle in completing the application due to accessibility issues, they may become discouraged from applying for the position. Indeed, the Government of Canada was forced to make its websites accessible to visually impaired users due to a lawsuit from a person with sight loss who was unable to apply online for a government job.Footnote 52 Other changes may include ensuring that descriptions of job requirements are accurate and use inclusive language, advertising the position broadly with alternative formats where appropriate (e.g., large print, Braille), and adapting traditional assessment methods for skill evaluation.Footnote 53

Consideration should also be given to the demographic composition of the hiring team, noting any gaps or imbalances in the representation of diverse groups. Research indicates that minorities tend to fare better when decision making bodies are more diverse,Footnote 54 as such groups are less likely to be affected by the existence of in-group biases (i.e., the tendency of people to favour those who are similar to themselves.Footnote 55,Footnote 56 Such strategies may lead to a better candidate experience for all applicants, including people with and without disabilities, and a richer talent pipeline.

For those employees requiring adaptation to perform their job, workplace accommodations can play an important role in creating an inclusive and accessible work environment for employees with disabilities. Providing accommodations for new and established employees can promote productivity and attendance, improve interactions with co-workers, and create an overall positive environment.Footnote 57 Workplace accommodations for the majority of persons with disabilities either involve no financial cost (e.g., flexible work schedules), or are low-cost and high-impact (e.g., adjustments to desk height to allow for a wheelchair), or have a one-time average cost of $500.Footnote 58 For employers that may not have the time or resources to develop an accommodation policy, there exists an Accommodation Policy Template that was developed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to assist employers in meeting their human rights obligations.Footnote 59

Workplace accommodation should be provided in a timely manner. Employers should aim to provide an open, supportive environment so that employees can feel comfortable in raising any concerns about accommodating their disability. Working without accommodation can negatively impact health, productivity and morale for both the affected employee and others in their organization.Footnote 60 Accommodation can be offered by the employer starting in the recruitment phase of the employment cycle. The employer should ask the applicant if they require accommodation measures prior to the interview (e.g., people who are hard of hearing might have difficulty in telephone interviews).

Employers can create a workplace culture that encourages disclosure by persons with invisible disabilities about accommodating their disability by being clear about the competencies required for a job. Such an environment would allow for adjustments to be made as needed and can strengthen relationships by ensuring that persons with disabilities are being seen and heard. Moreover, not requiring the employer to know the specific diagnosis of the disability would help to remove the stigma, particularly for persons with an invisible disability who may not wish to disclose the specifics of their disability to an employer.Footnote 61 A doctor’s letter, for example, could serve as documentation indicating a need and underlying rationale for a specific accommodation, without disclosing the specifics of the disability.

Some individuals may be unable to disclose or communicate their needs for workplace accommodation because of the nature of their disability. In such circumstances, employers should assist a person who is perceived to have a disability by offering accommodation, keeping in mind that employers are not expected to diagnose illness or “second-guess” the health status of an employee. Nevertheless, if the employer notices that the employee is having difficulty performing their job (e.g., failing to show up for work), the employer should first consider whether the actions of the employee are caused by a disability. Progressive performance management and employee assistance supports help to ensure that all employees have a range of opportunities to address performance issues on an individualized basis. Thus, employee accommodation needs should be discussed during performance reviews and at any other times deemed appropriated.Footnote 62

The accommodation needs will certainly differ amongst persons with disabilities, and thus accommodation will need to be made on a case-by-case basis, which might involve innovative solutions.Footnote 63 At the same time, accommodations are provided to remove barriers in the workplace faced by persons with disabilities and as such these employees are expected to work towards meeting demands from their work supervisors. Hence, employers should not have lowered expectations for persons with disabilities relative to other employees as this may prevent employees with disabilities from realizing their full potential in the workplace.Footnote 64

It is also important to acknowledge that there is a reasonable limit to how far the employer or service provider must go to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. Sometimes an accommodation is not possible because of costs or health or safety risks. This is known as undue hardship under the Canadian Human Rights Act.Footnote 65 The employer or service provider can claim undue hardship as the reason why certain accommodations cannot be made, or certain policies or practices need to stay in place, even though the policies or practices may have a negative effect on the person with the disability. However, employers or service providers will need to provide sufficient evidence as to why the requested accommodation imposes undue hardship. In such circumstances, all involved should attempt to participate in discussions regarding possible alternative accommodation solutions.

Various methods can be explored by the employer to increase hiring and retention of persons with disabilities. One method to address any negative employer attitudes is meeting with a vocational rehabilitation (VR) professional who works with individual clients who have a disability.Footnote 66 The purpose of the meeting between the VR professional who works with persons with disabilities (e.g., individuals with sight loss) is to identify what they believe to be the best techniques to encourage an employer to consider hiring their clients. Direct contact between a VR professional and an employer can help to improve employer attitudes, knowledge, and intent to hire persons with disabilities.

The existence of a diversity champion in the organization specifically for persons with disabilities is another valuable resource that can help break down barriers. The diversity champion can use their expertise to actively identify and access potential new hires of qualified persons with disabilities. In addition, a sign of commitment to inclusion is for organizations to support the creation of a disability-focused employee resource groupFootnote 67 (ERG). ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups formed to act as a resource for both members and the organization for promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace. The existence of an ERG can also serve as a facilitator of disclosure, especially among employees with invisible disabilities.Footnote 68

Failing to disclose a disability could have negative consequences for the employer when the disability somehow interferes with the job or the safety of others in the workplace.Footnote 69 Disclosure also carries significant benefits for employers as well as employees. These include the ability to make accommodations, and to improve the workplace climate for individuals with disabilities.Footnote 70 Also, persons with disabilities are more likely to disclose their disability if they have had a positive and supportive relationship with their supervisors. When employees feel comfortable self-disclosing a disability, this can serve as an informal indicator of the employer’s success in achieving a supportive workplace culture.

Creating a supportive workplace culture also requires improving co-workers’ attitudes toward persons with disabilities through education and training in an effort to reduce discrimination.Footnote 71 Co-workers can be important stakeholders in the accommodation process.Footnote 72 They can spread accurate information on disabilities, especially invisible disabilities, to able-bodied co-workers, which can help with the acceptance for accommodation. Common accommodations such as the restructuring of work, changes in shift schedules, and the trading of tasks require co-worker cooperation and support.

MCpl Shilo Adamson, Canadian Armed Forces

Corporal Dale Cross of the Soldier On team for the 2012 Nijmegen Marches, lays down and relaxes at the second rest stop on day two of the four-day marches. Corporal Cross marches with the first Canadian Forces team made up of ill and injured soldiers.

Persons with disabilities may also hesitate to request accommodation due to fear that co-workers may become resentful or view the accommodation as a “special treatment” instead of a necessary intervention. Because the accommodation of persons with disabilities can be viewed as an allocation of limited resources, co-workers may perceive that they are having to work undesirable hours (e.g., to accommodate someone who cannot work early in the morning) or that the accommodation takes away a reward that can benefit other employees.Footnote 73

Employees with disabilities who do not attain social acceptance in the work environment may experience negative implications such as lower job performance and may receive less help and cooperation from co-workers. It is disproportionately more common for employees facing workplace barriers due to mental health conditions to take extended sick leave at some point in their career as a result of not being appropriately accommodated.Footnote 74 Structuring work relationships so that they require interaction between persons with disabilities and their able-bodied co-workers can promote social inclusion. The opportunity to interact can allow persons with disabilities to exhibit their skills and abilities and to dispel disability stereotypes.

Role of Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities can and should take an active role in removing barriers to their employment. Active participation begins by promoting their own mental and physical health. For veterans, this is harder for women than for their men counterparts. Women veterans’ willingness to seek out health supports and to continue to access them is influenced by stigma, gender bias, and experiences of harassment in health care settings.Footnote 75 The successive phases of rehabilitation and transition into civilian life for the medically released CAF member involve creating an active partnership amongst the member, the health care/support staff team, and the CAF/VAC team. This partnership enables the CAF/VAC to encourage treatment and improve health outcomes for released members more quickly, possibly resulting in their earlier readiness for civilian employment. Early recognition and intervention with physical and mental health problems generally leads to better health outcomes, and it can begin with the member’s own active participation and self-report of mental distress, within the context of the partnership with the health care/support staff and CAF/VAC teams. The effective diagnosis and treatment of a mental illness can occur only after self-report. Avoiding or delaying treatment is unfortunate because all mental illnesses can be treated.Footnote 76 The earlier a mental health problem is identified the sooner one can intervene and improve health outcomes.

To help address mental health conditions, the CAF developed a mental health education program known as Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR). The goal of R2MR is to improve short-term performance and long-term mental health outcomes for CAF members and their families. R2MR program development and delivery accounts for many individual differences that may be relevant to mental well-being, stress, resilience, and performance. These individual differences may include sex, gender, age, culture, ethnicity, prior experiences, ability, and others. The program emphasizes throughout that individuals will differ in how they perceive and respond to stressors, how they interpret situations, the coping skills that they find helpful, the recovery activities that they engage in, the resources that they access, and how the demands they are faced with may impact them. These characteristics may also vary by situation and over time for the same individual, depending on their life events and well-being at any given time. For certain topic areas, such as suicide or intimate partner violence, information on gender differences in prevalence rates is included. The Canadian Forces Health Services strives to remain current with evidence-based practices and to ensure that guidance and direction is integrated to align R2MR courseware with evolving CAF conduct and culture, including the adoption of non-binary pronouns into courseware. Recently, DND/CAF released the R2MR Mobile Application, which is a training tool developed to supplement the original classroom-based delivery of the R2MR curriculum being implemented across all CAF training institutions.Footnote 77

Another way that medically released CAF members can actively participate in their own rehabilitation is by improving their quality of life through sport, recreational, and creative activities. Both females and males can gain health benefits from non-sedentary activity.Footnote 78 While physical exercise can improve physical and mental health, persons with physical disabilities who exercise may help to reduce the stigma associated with disability by making a positive impression on others.Footnote 79

GBA Plus and Next Steps for Employment of Medically Released CAF members

The foregoing discussion on barriers impeding the employment of persons with disabilities and proposed interventions for their increased hiring and retention clearly shows that work remains to achieve fully inclusive workplaces. A key component of GBA Plus is recognizing and challenging our own assumptions. When incorrect and unchallenged, the assumptions that we make in our workplaces can lead to unintended impacts on and even discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Government of Canada is committed to facilitating diverse and inclusive outcomes through its work, including ensuring that diverse populations of Canadians benefit from policies and programs, and recognizes the importance of GBA Plus in achieving this goal. GBA Plus should be conducted at various stages throughout the development of a government policy, program or initiative. GBA Plus requires early attention to the development of effective options and strategies for delivering programs and services to Canadians. For GBA Plus to be most valuable, it must ideally be built directly into the early stages of the policy development process.

Systematic data collection is required for government and private sector employers to explore sex, gender, and intersectionality with disability. The type of data to fulfil these gaps will depend on designing and refining tools that include (but are not limited to) disability-sensitive surveys and programs. The tools used to collect data on persons with disabilities will need to rely on self-identification of disability. The introduction of a more inclusive definition of persons with disabilities in the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability has not yet been introduced in the federal public service self-identification exercise and, as such, was not included in the 2021 federal public service audit of employment equity representation in recruitment.Footnote 80 Hence, steps must be taken to identify gaps (if any) when it is adopted for self-identification purposes. Data collection will require continuous engagement with stakeholders (e.g., decision-makers, persons with disabilities) and potential critics to ensure the utility and relevance of the data being produced and the subsequent buy-in from leadership at all levels in the organization, both formal and informal.

One of the goals of GBA Plus is to use the collected data to produce a transformation. A transformation will be required for implementing barrier-free recruitment and appointment processes for members of employment equity groups. For example, the Public Service Commission of Canada can use the data to work with advocacy groups for persons with disabilities, and with departments and agencies, to find solutions to address the lower employment success rates of persons with disabilities in the federal public service.

The transformation created by GBA Plus will require awareness and training of all employees with respect to sex, gender, and intersectionality with disability to ensure strategic implementation. Training can take various forms that include (but is not limited to) presentations, seminars, online courses, one-on-one and focus group interviews, and video clips of persons with disabilities successfully working with persons without disabilities, along with employer testimonials. The content of the training could include information about varying types of disabilities (visible and invisible disabilities) in an effort to decrease the extent to which employees view the disabilities as personally threatening.Footnote 81 For training to have a high impact, a person with a visible disability should provide the training to facilitate opportunities for the attendees to engage in high-quality interpersonal contact with the trainer that could help reduce negative stereotypes toward persons with disabilities.Footnote 82

Undoubtedly, there will be challenges for GBA Plus implementation in the short term. Transformation in an organization requires seeing the value of change and it can take time to remove systemic barriers. Change in an organization requires attracting, retaining, and maintaining expertise in employment equity and diversity and inclusion. Funds will need to be secured for ongoing training and education, which should be considered throughout the organization. Measuring the success of GBA Plus initiatives will include an analysis of the representation and other work-related outcomes of persons with disabilities in the Federal Public Service compared to their workforce availability. The results of these efforts will be the promotion of the dignity of medically released CAF members as persons with disabilities and at the same time will help to maximize organizational effectiveness.

Conclusion

Many CAF members are medically released every year and they face challenges in the transition from military to civilian life. Medically released members have a better outcome in transitioning – in navigating the successive phases of the employment cycle – if barriers are removed. Having a physical injury or mental illness does not preclude an individual from being productive or even a superior employee. Persons with disabilities need to be judged on the basis of their capability with any workplace accommodation and not on the basis of their disability. Employers must engage in capitalizing on the talents and skill sets of persons with disabilities to reflect the diversity of Canada and to maximize organizational effectiveness.

For successful diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and to achieve real and lasting cultural change, there must be a collective effort to break down barriers faced by persons with disabilities. Although such effort may involve some financial costs, ultimately, it will cost more to leave persons with disabilities out of the labour force than it will cost to implement policies and programs that will improve long-term employment outcomes. Steps to break down barriers must be taken not only by able-bodied members, but also by persons with disabilities. In particular, cultural diversity training is required to help overcome the negative stereotypes of co-workers towards persons with disabilities, and employees with disabilities could also benefit from training that focuses on developing and sharpening their skills. The workplace accommodation process is a shared responsibility. Everyone involved should cooperatively engage in the process, share information and avail themselves of potential accommodation solutions. GBA Plus can and should be used at all stages of such an initiative, and GBA Plus initiatives must have measurable requirements and outcomes. Increasing the diversity of the workforce by hiring qualified persons with disabilities may not be as challenging as one might assume. Moreover, a diverse and inclusive workforce can enrich the opportunity for organizational growth.

Acknowledgements

We thank Dr. Joshua Granek and LCol (Ret’d) Suzanne Bailey for information on R2MR and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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