‘Together We Rock!’ Rocks at accessibility and inclusivity

Photograph by Aly Beach

Left to right: Accessibility and inclusivity advocate and keynote speaker Mark Wafer and John Draper, Durham College Journalism grad and Together We Rock! founder.

“Together We Rock!” is a fitting name for an Oshawa-based business, which teaches best practices for accessibility and inclusivity in the workplace.

Together We Rock! was founded in 2006 by Durham College (DC) journalism grad, John Draper. Draper has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal. To speak, he uses a communication board on his wheelchair and assistive computer technology.

According to their website, the name “Together We Rock!” comes from a comment a classmate made about Draper after he gave a presentation on disabilities and the media’s portrayal of disabilities. His classmate said “you rock,” to which Draper replied, “together, we rock.”

According to Draper, Together We Rock! provides learning opportunities to businesses to help them create more accessible and inclusive workplaces. They offer online resources, presentations, strategies and connect businesses to experts who can help them create a more inclusive business and market. Draper’s presentations and workshops have had more than 60,000 attendees.

“My presentations and leadership workshops are designed to inspire employees to take one step to achieve an extraordinary workplace that is accessible to and inclusive of everyone,” said Draper, 37, in an email.

Together We Rock! has assisted more than 250 businesses and organizations. They primarily work with Canadian companies, but some of their resources have been purchased internationally. They recently filled orders for Australia and Singapore. Fees vary per service.

The business focuses on both accessibility and inclusivity, as they are not mutually exclusive. According to Draper, an organization can be accessible, but it doesn’t mean they’re inclusive.

“Accessibility and inclusivity are not the same, and it’s not enough for communities and workplaces to merely be physically accessible. I may gain physical access to a location only to experience attitudes, interactions, and practices that do not create a welcoming and inclusive experience,” said Draper.

The Together We Rock! business values include believing in possibilities, celebrating diversity, strong leadership and envisioning “extraordinary” communities. Draper said the business “lives, sleeps and breathes” its values, which are embedded in all choices the business makes.

“Accessible and inclusive communities don’t just happen; they are created. Now is the time,” said Draper.

Draper said he works with people who realize that change starts with each individual person. He said creating accessible and inclusive environments is a human problem that needs a human solution.

“Each day I witness or hear from people who are making a difference by creating more accessible and inclusive communities and workplaces. Through the leadership of ordinary people, the world is changing,” said Draper.

As a person with a disability, Draper has his own wishes when it comes to accessibility and inclusivity.

“My dream is that someday I can go wherever I choose and feel welcome. Whether that means an entrance to a physical space is ramped to accommodate my wheelchair or the customer service I receive is welcoming and responsive to my needs,” said Draper.

John Draper’s top 7 tips for making your business or workplace accessible and inclusive:

  1. Engage with people of all abilities and assess the level of accessibility and inclusivity in your workplace.
  2. Clearly define the extent to which your business location is accessible and inclusive on your website. Be more specific than just adding an accessibility symbol.
  3. When working on your safety and evacuation plan, make sure there are clear guidelines on how to help employees and visitors who need assistance to evacuate. It is helpful to have an evacuation chair readily available.
  4. If your business has a single step, consider using a mobile ramp if municipal by-laws prevent a fixed structure.
  5. Provide training for employees on how they can create accessible and inclusive workplaces for all colleagues and customers.
  6. Develop a corporate capacity to have more than just written text versions of documents. (Such as accessible PDF documents, braille format)
  7. Use signage with 72 point or more font and use sans serif fonts for easier reading.