Rethinking disAbility – Learning from employers

“Increasing employment of people with disabilities is a question of leadership and attitude, of focusing on ability rather than disability.” The report Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector released in January 2013 has a clear and concise message—hiring people with disabilities is feasible and it makes good business sense.

The report draws on the information gathered from consultations conducted with over 200 private sector employers, organizations and individuals to identify best practices in hiring people with disabilities. Success stories from employers are used to inspire other businesses by showing what is possible and to reinforce the business case for hiring people with disabilities. The authors remind readers of the skills and expertise people with disabilities have. Of the 795,000 working aged Canadians who are not working but whose disability does not prevent them from working, almost half (340,000) have post-secondary education. In an economy with skills shortages, a pool of highly educated individuals can only be good news.

While many companies are doing great things, more education and training are needed to overcome the barriers and dispel the myths that prevent or make businesses hesitant to hire people with disabilities. The report systematically confronts and dispels these myths. They present evidence to show that people with disabilities do not encounter greater safety issues than other workers. Businesses who hire people with disabilities do not report more accidents nor do these employees require more supervision than other workers, and they perform as well as other employees.

Perhaps the most pervasive myth is related to accommodations. Businesses think they will be expected to make costly accommodations if they hire someone with a disability. Research from the United States shows the cost of workplace accommodations is small. Studies have found that for over half of people with disabilities, workplace accommodations cost nothing and the usual one-time cost was on average $500. The low cost of accommodations is also supported by the evidence from the consultations completed for the report.

The reality is that businesses welcome back employees who have become disabled, and are prepared to make the necessary accommodations. The challenge for businesses is not with continuing employment for people with disabilities as many do this already. The real challenge is to hire the best person for the job regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

The consultations identified the two most important factors to enable this to happen. First, there needs to be a supportive ‘tone from the top.’ Inclusive employment practices have to be part of the vision for businesses and these policies and guidelines should be formalized. Companies are beginning to recognize the business case for hiring people with disabilities. It is good for business at the organizational level but also in terms of market impact. The number of people with disabilities is growing and businesses need to understand disability and how to be accessible to people with disabilities.

But employers need help to rethink disability. One of the most important findings from these consultations is the role community partners must play in matching supply to demand so that employers get the right person for the job. The role of these community partners is crucial as they have to remove any roadblock businesses perceive or experience. To be effective, community partners must understand the business needs of organizations and be able to respond quickly to find the right person to fill the vacancy. They must also be able to provide ongoing support and help (if needed) to ensure the right training and accommodations are in place. Some employers thought a ‘one-stop shop’ approach to recruitment would be beneficial. There are many community partners who are already providing this support to employers but they can’t do it by themselves. Businesses need to be open to hiring people with disabilities.

This report shows what is possible. Canadian employers who have hired people with a range of disabilities had come up with innovative solutions that benefited the business, customers, and all employees and not just individuals with disabilities. The report concludes by suggesting nine strategies for businesses that will help them to rethink disability and challenges more employers to do what other successful businesses already know and to realize the benefits from inclusive workplaces.

Open your mind. Be interested in creating a more inclusive workplace. Consider how issues surrounding employing people with disabilities apply to your business.

Determine your track record for hiring and accommodating people with disabilities. Are you already employing or serving people with disabilities? This is a great opportunity to develop a formal strategy to reach these important key stakeholder groups.

Start with human resources. Are HR team members sensitive to the issues and trained to hire from this talent pool?

Check your website. Your website is an important recruiting strategy. Ensure it is accessible for people with disabilities.

Engage and educate your people. Talent comes in all forms. Invest in education to dispel myths and give people the facts, tools and language to help them manage and work with people who have disabilities.

Find community partners. Connect with non-profits and other organizations that focus on training and employing people with disabilities.

Partner with educational institutions. Build relationships with offices for students with disabilities at post-secondary institutions in order to recruit students with disabilities.

Collaborate within your industry. Share resources, tools and best practices you have adopted for workplace accommodations with external associations and agencies.

Share successes with the world. Share your organization’s successes. You will realize the benefits from having a more inclusive workplace through marketplace goodwill and access to the massive consumer market made up of people with disabilities.

To learn more about these strategies for employers and for the full report, click here.

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