Disability not a disadvantage

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Most employers consider themselves “equal opportunity” – many even include the term in their job listings or on their website – but the experiences of disabled job seekers would suggest employers don’t always live up to their own billing.

“It doesn’t seem like an intentional oversight, just something companies haven’t thought of,” says Anne Lamont, president and CEO of Career Edge, which helps disabled graduates find internships and jobs.

There are advantages for hiring disabled staff. Multiple surveys have shown companies that hire staff with disabilities have better staff retention and less absenteeism. Disabled employees are also often more loyal and more productive than their non-disabled colleagues. And as the skills gap increases, a bigger pool of candidates can only be a good thing.

The idea that someone with a disability would be more difficult or less capable than a non-disabled worker is a myth, Lamont says.

“It really is an untapped talent pool,” Lamont says. “Potentially this could be a real business-enabler because we do find there are some people who will choose to deal with organizations they think are making a difference.

“I think a lot of people are simply going with their comfort zone and hiring people like themselves,” she says.

Another common misconception was that disabled workers required large amounts of accommodation in the workplace. Statistics indicate that fewer than 20 per cent of job-ready Canadians with disabilities require any form of accommodation in the workplace, and the majority of workplace accommodations cost less than $500.

Sometimes those doing the hiring worried because they did not know what they could, and should, ask. The key was to be respectful, Lamont says. Hirers cannot ask what disability the candidate has, but can ask about their ability to do the job and can give them the same tests as other candidates to ensure they have the right skills.

“What we find is if an employer has set up a receptive interview approach, then many times candidates will be open about what their disability is,” Lamont says.

She remembers talking to a woman with cerebral palsy who was job hunting after a successful internship. The woman was handed pen and paper to fill out a form, but was not able to hold a pen. Lamont advised her to ask the hirer for an online copy, which she would send back to the company.

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