Coping With Global Business Disruptions

The Challenge For Small Business

The digital age of amazing innovations and human right challenges has imposed unprecedented pressures upon organizations and has disrupted traditional business processes. The struggle for competitive advantage has forced organizations to become more flexible, adaptable and value driven. This has had a huge impact on the health of Canadian workers, and has resulted in systemic barriers in the job market for Canadians with disabilities. To prepare for 2024, organizations need to evaluate past performance success indicators and determine what changes are necessary for increased market growth in 2024. Let us look at some measurable indicators that reflect progress during the past year.

2023 Year In Review

The State Of Disabilities

The Canadian Survey on Disability 2022 (*1) showed that 27% of Canadians aged 15 years and older (8.0 million people) had one or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities. The rate of disability in Canada has increased by 5 percentage points since 2017, which can be partially attributed to both the aging population and the large increase in mental health-related disabilities among youth and working-age adults.

  1. 29% of Canadians with a disability had one disability type, 37% had two or three, and 34% had four or more.
  2. 72% of persons with disabilities, 6 in 10, reported that they experienced 1 or more barriers related to accessing indoor and outdoor public spaces.
  3. 20% of youth, aged 15 to 24 years, had a disability; An increase of 7 percentage points over 2017.
  4. 24% of the working-age population, 25 to 64 years, reported having a disability; An increase of 7 percentage points over 2017.
  5. 40% of seniors, 65 years and older, experienced an increase in the rate of disability; An increase of 3 percentage points from 2017.
  6. 62% of working-age adults with disabilities were employed, compared with 78% of persons without disabilities; An increase of 3 percentage points from 2017.
  7. 72% of Canadians with vision loss are unemployed, compared to 5.8% in the general population (*2,*3).
  8. 0.5 per cent of small or medium-sized businesses in Canada are owned by a person with a disability, despite the fact that an estimated 22 per cent of Canadians live with one or more disability (*4).
  9. 8.6% of persons with disabilities are self-employed, compared with 11.1% of persons without disabilities.

Essentially, this means that your market reach and talent pool is shrinking if you have not adopted a digital accessibility strategy in your organization policies. The internet has made available a wealth of information to most everyone and, with increased knowledge, consumer expectations for satisfaction and inclusion has become much higher. However, barriers that define the digital divide for persons with disabilities, have restricted market growth for many organizations.

The State Of Small Businessess

Small businesses are the backbone of the Canadian economy, making a significant contribution towards the Canadian gross domestic product (GDP), and yet too many small company owners have seen their revenues decreased in recent years. As more and more people are shopping online small companies often do not have the financial resources or the Digital accessibility guidance to create an online presence that can compete with larger companies (*5). The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) reported that the country has 100,000 fewer entrepreneurs than it did 20 years ago — despite the fact that the population has grown by more than 10 million over the same period.

  1. 98% of Canadian businesses are small companies, 1.9% are medium-sized and 0.2% are large businesses.
  2. 78.9% of all small companies are in the service industry, while 21.1% of the companies produce consumer goods.
  3. 73.9% of Canadian companies have less than ten employees, 55.3% employ less than five people, representing over 10 million Canadians.
  4. 37.5% of Canada’s GDP was contributed by small businesses and 14.4% contributed by medium-sized companies.
  5. 53.6% of Companies With Less Than 20 Employees Have Seen Their Revenues Decrease.
  6. 21.5% of small businesses fail within one year, 50% survive five years and a third get to celebrate ten years in business.
  7. 33% of small business owners biggest challenge is generating cash flow, with marketing, time management, and administrative work being the biggest cost burdens.
  8. 42% of small businesses fail because they have not researched the market and are selling a service or a product that customers are not interested in or cannot use.
  9. 23% fail do to not having the right team, 19% being out-preformed by their competition, 18% pricing issues, 14% ignoring the customers’ needs, 13% lack of focus, and 7% failure to make necessary changes.
  10. 45% of Canadian business owners report facing mental health challenges.

Essentially, this means that entrepreneurs in Canada are encountering social economic challenges that have not been experienced in the past. The aging population, accessibility laws, the business need for a virtual presence, reduced financial resources, and an increase in customer expectations is changing the way we do business around the world. Small business owners that pay attention to the innovation advancements and human rights global trends will be more prepared and adaptable in managing the challenges of 2024.

Strategic Planning for 2024

Being able to traverse barriers means being able to see possibility where there is none. It means being able to open opportunities for yourself and others to create more innovative, effective solutions to the worlds problems. When we open ourselves up to possibility, we solve problems that were seemingly without solutions. (*6)

1. Identify your market: Innovating is more profitable than litigating

To identify your target audience, create customer personas that define specific demographic information, preferences and purchasing habits. Inclusive Design not only leads to better business risk protection, but it transforms what was previously a liability into a brand asset. Pursuing Inclusive Design lifts your brand image by showing you care about all consumers. Fundamentally, accessibility is about expanding market opportunities to achieve sustainable growth in revenue, return on investment, and profitability; And not just about legal compliance. The ability to use new emerging technologies is currently at the heart of social inclusion, with those excluded being left out of many work, entertainment, communication, healthcare and social benefits.

  1. Survey potential customers.
  2. Engage focus groups of marginalized people.
  3. Differentiate people needs and wants.
  4. Research the ways different people use web technologies and summarise them in personas.
  5. Engage a digital accessibility specialist with lived experiences in overcoming barriers.

2. Determine the costs: Business adaptability is less costly than business transformation

Implementing accessibility functionality should be considered an investment, not a burden, as it improves the interactive experience for all users and reduces development costs. Digital communications must have clearly defined strategic goals. The investment into accessible communications contributes to Key Success Factors relating to customers, employees and internal processes; thus improving performance, increases the return on investment, and shows how social responsibility benefit society as a whole.

  1. Avoiding Accessibility Design Standards will, in the long run, cost more in customer complaints and upgrades.
  2. Studies show that return on Barrier Free Design increases company market share and increases eCommerce traffic.
  3. Accommodating unique needs, like alternate document formats, is unsustainable on a ongoing basis, but integrating accessibility processes will reduce support calls, reduce production efforts and will increase customer satisfaction.
  4. Integrating Accessibility Compliance into the business is an educational process, and ultimately protection against predatory litigation and predatory accessibility solutions.
  5. The business cost of social inclusion is the investment into improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

3. Write a business plan: Purposeful Equals Profitable

Increasingly, people are interested in buying from a purpose driven company, and will switch from one company to a purpose-driven one. However, it is difficult to understand things that you haven’t measured. So, to measure your level of business success, you need to evaluate your business goals, your business values and your business targets. Create a business plan where The scope includes detailed information for years one, three and five so you can show growth and long-term objectives. A business case is a necessary tool for organizations when planning for success. When accessibility is part of strategic planning, businesses are better equipped for success in our connected world of commerce and civic engagement.

  1. Create a clear public statement that expresses the organization commitment to accessibility and community partnerships.
  2. Establish a methodology to evaluate genuine progress and measurements.
  3. Ensure that the recommended technology tools, for both employees and customers, will deliver to the desired level of usability.
  4. Develop an accessibility conformance guideline with product accessibility specifications, and with functional and user test procedures.
  5. Define the legal conformance requirements and the business social values to establish a brand.

4. Build a website: Web accessibility is a public relations opportunity

In today’s digital world a website is a requirement for business success. Create a professionally designed website to reflect your business values and offerings to communicate your brand. When you make your content accessible to people with disabilities, you also Improved usability for all people, and you will improve the organization public image. Search Engine Optimization also benefits, as 21 of the 50 Mobile Web Best Practices overlap with the globally accepted accessibility guidelines.

  1. Ensure that all website functionality and interactive elements can be accessed and navigated using a keyboard alone, without relying on mouse interactions.
  2. Use sufficient color contrast between text and background to make content readable for users with visual impairments. Avoid relying solely on color to convey information.
  3. Provide text alternatives for images, videos, and other non-text content so that users who cannot see them can understand their purpose.
  4. Use semantic HTML elements to provide clear structure and hierarchy to your content. Use proper headings, lists, and other elements to improve navigation and understanding.
  5. Provide captions and transcripts for videos and multimedia content to make them accessible to users with hearing impairments.
  6. Ensure that interactive elements have visible and distinguishable focus indicators so that users can easily identify where they are on a page.
  7. Ensure that forms are labeled properly, have clear instructions, and provide error messages that are accessible to all users.
  8. Test your content and applications with screen readers to ensure that users who are blind or have low vision can access and understand the information.

5. Network: The customer’s perception is your reality

Use every opportunity to network and spread the word about your business. Networking and connecting is half the battle of getting a business off the ground. The first step is to ensure all team members understand the organization business values and market goals, so as to create the desired brand. Share your “Business Value Proposition” that will appeal to potential customers, and your “social value proposition” to connect with people on a deeper level. Only when there is an open dialog of diverse issues will important discussions occur, priorities be set, and plans turn into actions.

  1. Increasing retention and recruitment of particular groups of workers, including: younger workers, older workers and more diverse workers.
  2. Adapting job roles to integrate assistive technologies that will maximize productivity.
  3. Enhancing training programs for employees, teams and organizations.
  4. Partner with marginalized community groups for information sharing.
  5. Partner with educational institution to mentor young people with innovative ideas for a more inclusive society.

6. Quality customer service: A satisfied customer is the best advertising strategy

Accessibility is a mainstream requirement that can transform the business. Therefore, every part of the organisation should be involved in creating a holistic strategy for embedding accessibility across various aspects of the entire enterprise (from processes to product development to the culture) in order to better manage compliance, improve the user experience, and create an inclusive workplace environment. Value Sensitive Design seeks to provide human values in a principled and systematic manner throughout the design process, which rests on a foundation of relationships among tools, technology and human values. Define your brand according to your company’s mission, customers’ needs, and your strengths and unique selling proposition. Establishing loyal customers and a memorable customer experience will help sustain your business in the long run.

  1. Offer an online customer feedback form.
  2. Encourage user testing of products and services.
  3. On-going engagement with key external groups and partners.
  4. Incorporate demographics about people with disabilities into your sales and marketing processes.
  5. Hire persons with disabilities to better inform your accessibility efforts and attract this customer base.


How is your organization preparing to compete in a rapidly changing world of compliance standards and inclusion best practices? A culture of inclusion is building a foundation where differences are not only acknowledged, but embraced. This means that deliberate actions, beyond goodwill and best intentions, must be embedded into all areas of the business to transform these ideals into core business principles.

Barriers happen when places and activities that all people should have access to are designed in ways that limit their access. Barrier Free Design is the practice of making information, activities, and/or environments sensible, meaningful, and usable for as many people as possible. The business case of diversity and inclusion is seen as an opportunity to reach into broader consumer segments in a crowded marketplace. This global trend has, through global collaboration, established globally accepted accessibility standards that are supported by government legislation compliance regulations around the world. In 2005, Ontario was the first Canadian Province to pass an accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), with the goal of full Inclusion by 1 January 2025.

Overlooking the AODA requirements can expose organizations to the threat and cost of litigation, public relations issues, loss of government contracts, and hefty penalties. Economic prosperity studies show that, by integrating the AODA Standards, not only is it the right thing to do, but that there are definite economic growth benefits. The business benefits are proven; stronger leadership and more productive employees, more effective talent recruitment, more innovative products and use of new technology, stronger customer relationships and a better overall reputation. As Ontario organizations become more aware of the benefits, there will be a shift in attitude from Compliance to Competitive Advantage. Not only will they experience business growth by including the disabled sector, but they will also gain customer loyalty from their colleagues, friends, and family members, in which they have influence.

The level of participation in society really depends upon the access to information, the delivery and format of communicating that information, and the human engagement with that information, to establish our ability to perceive, understand and the ability to make smart decisions independently. Only then, when equipped with the power of knowledge, will Ontarians living with a disability close the economic prosperity gap. However, a recent government report, The Fourth AODA Review (*7), indicates that the state of Ontarians with disabilities is in a state of crisis.

So, it all starts with our business owners in taking a leadership role in adopting an attitude of inclusion and together work toward that desired goal of full inclusion. Now is the time for our business owners and community leaders to come together in a cooperative effort to develop a value proposition that will achieve the goal of full inclusion for Ontario. We have the technical skills and resources to lead Ontario into a new era; We just need bold and decisive leaders.


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