Disabilities and Workplace Solutions: Experience (is) the Difference

By Adam Bajan

The modern workplace is a microcosm of society at large. Each department can be likened to a little slice of life, each representing the complex demographics of the world that HR professionals inhabit. One aspect of workplace culture that has changed dramatically is the integration of minorities, and not just gender-related, but other minorities as well such as members of the LGBTQ community and the disabled.

A Workplace Open To Change
Gone are the days of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and in their place is a truly open workplace culture, one that may still have its issues, but nevertheless is accepting and more open. As there is a large and growing demographic gap in Canada’s workplace as the baby boomers retire, the importance of this workplace culture-shift towards inclusion cannot be underestimated—as there are not enough young people to fill those jobs. Immigration helps to stem the personnel loss, but doesn’t entirely fill the gap. Enter employees with disabilities.

“While the perception may be that an individual with disabilities is unable to do a job as well one who isn’t, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth, ” says Heather Blanchard, talent acquisition specialist at Ashton College. “This perception is easily rectified—all you have to do is make the hire and let them do their job.”

Redefine Workplaces Norms
Blanchard herself has cerebral palsy, and as she knows from experience, applicants with disabilities are are often under-employed or in many cases not employed at all. This is further reflected in the unemployment rate for the millions of Canadians with disabilities which is typically a full two per cent greater than the national average. Given the high rate of university graduates in the Millennial generation, including those with disabilities, it’s a fact that today’s working youth are more educated and better qualified for a career in the modern workforce than ever before; often the only thing missing is experience.

“It’s getting the experience that’s the hard part,” says Blanchard. “HR is often reluctant to hire someone with disabilities because they’re afraid of poor performance. Perception is everything and hiring managers tend to veer on the side of what they see as ‘normal.’”

StatsCan Reveals Abilities of Disabled
However, when perception translates into bias, it is important to rectify the situation with facts. According to StatsCan, 90 per cent of individuals with disabilities perform at or above the level of those without, while 86 per cent report higher workplace attendance and staff retention being 72 per cent higher.

What this means is that a significant and educated hiring pool exists that can only bring benefit to a stretched workforce. “Evaluate people by what’s on paper,” says Blanchard. “What’s more important to a company, the ability to do a job and do it well or what they look like to others?”

Integrate the Opportunity
Yanny Yeung, an HR consultant with more than a decade of experience says that when it comes to selecting the right people for the right jobs, recruiting is integral to retention. “Progressing with a company is important to employees. Having a mentor is a powerful tool.”

Helping employees with disabilities integrate into a team goes a long way to dispelling biases that other employees may have. “At the end of the day, everyone is on the same team. Hire the right people for the right job and people tend to forget about differences.”

Adam Bajan is a digital brand experience assistant at Ashton College, a post-secondary college in Vancouver. Founded in 1998, Ashton College has become a national and international force in the field of higher education. Find out more about Ashton’s Diploma in Human Resources Management program.


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