Accessibility in the public sectorwith Yazmine Laroche
Yazmine Laroche is the Deputy Minister for Public Service Accessibility in the Government of Canada. Laroche has over 25 years of experience in the public sector across a variety of departments. Her ambition is to make the Canadian public service the most accessible in the world.
Episode 7: Accessibility in the public sector
Public Sector Future
In this episode, we speak to Yazmine Laroche, Deputy Minister for Public Service Accessibility in the Government of Canada. We discuss her ambition to make the Canadian public service the most accessible in the world. We explore the steps she’s taking to make it happen, how technology can play a crucial role, effects of the pandemic, and where to get started.
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The first Deputy Minister of Public Service Accessibility – a result of the Accessible Canada Act
Yazmine Laroche is Canada’s first Deputy Minister of Public Service Accessibility. She was appointed to the newly created position in August 2018 to help the public service prepare for implementation of the Accessible Canada Act.
“It’s designed to improve the lives of Canadians living with disabilities by removing the barriers that prevent their full participation,” Laroche explained of the act.
It applies to all sectors under regulation of the federal government, including transportation, telecom, banking, and public service.
– Yazmine Laroche
– Yazmine Laroche
– Yazmine Laroche
A look at accessibility in Canada’s Federal Public Service – the country’s largest employer
Laroche shared statistics on the Federal Public Service of Canada.
“Currently, we’re about 275,000 people. So, we’re the largest employer in the country, and about 5.3% of our employees right now actually identify as living with a disability,” Laroche said.
She continued that 22% of Canadians identify as living with at least one disability, according to a report from Statistics Canada.
Turning data into evidence – consultations with public servants with disabilities
As the largest employer in the country, Laroche looked at the experience of people with disabilities in the Canadian public service, from the type of jobs held to career advancement and job satisfaction.
“We actually engaged with over 12,000 employees in our first six months. So, we did surveys, town halls. We asked for people to email us, and we wanted to understand what were the barriers they faced,” Laroche explained.
From the consultations, she and her team found common themes to build strategies from to guide accessibility work.
They learned employees with disabilities have a hard time accessing the tools that they need to do their jobs. They heard about challenges with information and communications technologies, from accessibility to usability.
Laroche shared they discovered “that people who self-identify with a disability have the highest reported rates of harassment and discrimination.”
“Those consultations really helped us to design the strategy, and with a perhaps ambitious goal of becoming the most accessible and inclusive public service in the world,” Laroche said.
Focus on accessibility with information & communication technologies
Laroche discusses how technology can be enabling but also disabling when accessibility is not factored in.
“One of the things that I’m seeing a lot more of is this focus on user experience and embedding user testing right up front to make sure that something is designed to be accessible,” Laroche said.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shares Services Canada, which provides IT services to Government of Canada organizations, accelerated the rollout of Microsoft Office 365 across the federal public service. This took place over a matter of weeks, instead of the planned three years. The increased pace at which the new tools, with accessibility features built in, were made available enabled all public servants to benefit from the ability to work remotely and collaboratively.
The impact of COVID-19 on accessibility and the future of work
Laroche shares the changes she has witnessed due to the pandemic.
- Change in thinking about work – from where it can happen and how it gets done. The Canadian public service has increased hiring of candidates from around the country for positions that would have previously only been offered to those physically in Ottawa (Canada’s capital) or who were willing to relocate.
- More empathy in the workforce – “So many people were dealing with new barriers to working. All of a sudden, you were fighting with the other people in your house, and you only had a fixed amount of bandwidth. So, how do you negotiate through that? There were a lot of irritations that people experience, a lot of barriers. I think it created space for more empathy for others for whom it’s always been like that,” Laroche explained.
Laroche added, “Managers were starting to have conversations with their employees that they probably should have been having all along. Having conversations like, how are you doing? Or is there anything that you need so that you can feel like you can make a better contribution? Really important conversations that we often don’t take the time to have.”
- Hybrid work model – Moving away from full-time, five days a week in a physical office.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we will be coming back to a different kind of a work environment. My hope is that it will be one that makes room for a lot of difference in terms of how we approach work, and who we think about in terms of who can do that work,” Laroche said.
Advice for making public services more accessible
“First you need to understand what’s the problem that you’re trying to solve? You need data, you need input from the people who are experiencing the barriers. It is absolutely a partnership,” Laroche started.
“Once you know what those problems are, you need to set targets and say, this is what we’re going to do. And then you have to hold people to account for achieving those targets,” Laroche continued.
Laroche recommended choosing things that will make the biggest difference for the most people and pick those things that you can get done quickly.
Her final point was not to underestimate the difference you can make at an individual level. Laroche recommended having a virtual coffee with someone you’ve maybe never spoken to before in your organization to ask about their experiences
“I really believe fundamentally in the power of individuals to make a difference,” Laroche said.
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