How to engage people with disabilities across your organization

These talented workers are being typecast into certain job roles – but they’ve got a lot more to contribute

How to engage people with disabilities across your organization
>In this fourth part of a five-part series, experts from the Ontario Disability Employment Network explain why HR should tap this talent pool.

There is a perception people who have a disability work best in the sales and service sector. While that environment and workplace is suitable for some people, it is presumptuous to think that all people who have a disability want to work in retail or restaurant settings or that this is the best work setting for everyone in this demographic.

While representation of people who have a disability in other industries is limited, there is a case to be made for engaging talent in all aspects of the economic spectrum. The range of skills, interests and aptitudes of those who have a disability is as broad as in the rest of society; when you consider 40% of people with a disability have post-secondary qualifications, we need to see beyond this misconception.

People who have a disability are underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs compared with the overall population according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Those who do succeed share qualities of acceptance, tenacity, and resilience. By necessity, an engineer or coder with a disability has well-honed problem-solving skills – skills that make for an extraordinary engineer or coder. A January 2017 article, published in the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers, focused on this very issue in an interview with a candidate with a disability.

“I told [the interviewer] I know how to solve problems. I know how to look for solutions. Despite what you’re looking at, I’m a go-getter. If I don’t know how to do it, I’ll learn it and I’ll get it done,” he says. Faurecia made an offer and Driscoll is still with the company 15 years later. Kurt Driscoll endured more than 100 interviews over 10 months before he was finally hired.

A Chemical & Engineering News article marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015 by highlighting profiles of chemists & chemical engineers who have a disability and whose unique talents have been honed from their experiences as people living with a disability. Take the case of Rafael San Miguel, an R&D scientist, flavorist, sweetener expert, and consultant for Boston-area food incubator start-up CHEW. Among Rafael’s many attributes, Rafael is also deaf.

Rafael states, “When you lose a sense, all of your other senses are far more acute. So, because of my disability, my sense of taste is profoundly more acute than most people’s. This is a huge competitive advantage. I can taste flavor changes and modifications far more sensitively than others, and this allows me to figure out problems and solutions on a much faster timeline. I think the biggest change or adaptation of all that has enabled me to succeed in my field is the transformation of how others who do not have a disability are beginning to view those who have disabilities for their ability.”

In Japan, Omron Kyoto Taiyo established a manufacturing plant in 1985 to provide work opportunities for people who have a disability. It took a year for the factory to be fully operational. Fast forward to Omron Kyoto Taiyo today and some 140 people who have a disability, including those with severe disabilities, are engaged in manufacturing tasks that command their individual potential.

What is most impressive is the policy that Omron follows to have machines adapt to human operators, rather than the opposite, in every corner of the factory. This helps bring out the full capabilities of each operator.

Minnesota Diversified Industries Inc., a maker of plastic corrugated sheeting, totes and trays with four locations in the state.  In 2016, their sales were $7 million. At MDI, people who have a disability work side by side with workers who do not, producing the best possible products for their customers. People who have a disability successfully operate plastic extruders, run gantry robots, and work on a variety of automated process equipment, such as assembly systems and boxing machines.

As of October 2016, 260 of MDI’s 521 employees were people who have a disability fulfilling production jobs and few have required workplace accommodations.
Much of the current literature indicates that employers’ lack of awareness and understanding of the process and supports available for finding, hiring, and managing employees who have a disability is a key barrier to hiring. The next section of this brief includes an action plan to assist businesses in Ontario who are ready to embrace a remarkable market opportunity.

Ingrid Muschta is a diversity and inclusion specialist at Ontario Disability Employment Network. Joe Dale is the executive director of Ontario Disability Employment Network.

Related stories:
Win the war on talent: Hire people with disabilities
Can people with disabilities solve Ontario's labour shortage?

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