Disability employment: community, business and government must work together

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Are disabled people more likely to get hired if they can hide their disability? Are employers overlooking the vast potential of an untapped talent pool? Can a government program help?

Almost two-thirds of employers say a person with a non-visible disability is more likely to get hired than a person with a visible disability, according to survey from BMO Financial Group released to coincide with the month’s awareness program.

The employment rate for working-age people with disabilities is about 53.5%, according to the federal government's 2010 annual report on disabilities.

See also: Opinion: “Employers are afraid to recruit people with disabilities”

According to BMO’s survey, 48% of Canadians believe a person is more likely to be hired or promoted if they hide their disability. That perception is even higher – 55%– among survey respondents who said they have a disability.

"Despite dismantling many barriers to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce, certain, perhaps hidden, forces are still at play,” Sonya Kunkel, BMO managing director of diversity and inclusion said. “We need to do more to uncover and address them. This is the only way to reduce a persistently high employment gap. Of the approximately 16% of Canadians with a disability, 30% are able and want to work. However, they are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as people who do not have a disability.”

She suggests longstanding myths and misperceptions continue to get in the way of businesses hiring disabled workers.

See also: Missed opportunity: small businesses failing to hire disabled workers

Many hiring managers overestimated the cost of accommodations or assumed the candidate would not be able to perform the job. Contrastingly, another BMO study found of those who had hired people with a disability 77% found they met or exceeded expectations.

The conversation had to work both ways, and employees with disabilities must also help their employers by being open about their disability, Kunkel said.

“The most important step here is opening the dialogue. We've got to refocus the conversation from disability to ability,” she added.

The federal government is attempting to address some of these issues with a proposal to spend $30m over the next three years on a program encouraging small and medium-sized businesses to employ those with disabilities.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the country needs to ensure that everyone who wanted to work have the opportunity to do so. The money will go to projects designed to give people with disabilities a range of skills and work experience.

The ministry is still waiting for the report from a private-sector group which is investigating ways to integrate those with disabilities into the workforce, with those results expected at the end of the year.


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