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

A disability awareness consultant addresses the key questions of how and why employers need to change their approach to recruiting and hiring people with disabilities

I had a client years ago who called me and said he was hiring a person with a disability from an agency, and he needed a wheelchair-accessible bathroom right away.  I designed it and he built quickly and at considerable expense.  When the employee showed up – he was deaf! 

It’s humorous, but it’s real: employers are afraid to recruit people with disabilities because they assume the accommodations are going to be expensive and difficult, or that the employer might be asked to do something embarrassing.  It is extremely unlikely that a disabled employee is going to ask anyone to help with feeding or toileting, but I think that’s what many employers fear.

To hire people with disabilities – don’t panic and don’t assume you know what someone will need – just ask!

There are great potential employees like my friend and trainer, Sam Savona.  He’s got cerebral palsy that involves his arms, legs and speech, but he’s also trained as a computer-assisted graphic artist. He has a wonderful personality and work ethic, and just needs people to see past his disabilities, to his excellent skills. There are many people like Sam, who are skilled, motivated and eager to work, but need an employer who is not afraid to try. 
We all know there is a looming skill shortage.  There are people with disabilities who want to work, and there will be many jobs going unfilled when employers can’t find the skilled staff they need. It’s frustrating to those of us who are disabled, to know people are eager to work and can’t get that first step.

To ensure you can hire people with disabilities, it’s very important to make sure you and your staff are trained and sensitive, so you will all be prepared to work with co-workers who have disabilities.

To find the candidates, contact agencies, like LinkUp Employment Services, who specifically help people with disabilities to find jobs, and the employment services of the advocacy organizations.  Get out there to volunteer with these agencies.  You’ll get to know terrific candidates who are volunteers or listed on their employment services. 

Advertise EVERYWHERE – not just in the newspaper.  Put a notice in every advertisement, stating that you encourage applicants from all groups, and put the wheelchair logo in the ad. Make sure the message goes out on-line and to the employment services at advocacy organizations. Don’t forget the Abilities Magazine classified ads.

When you arrange interviews ask if accommodations are needed. If the candidate says ‘yes’, say that you will pay for the accommodation if necessary. Ask if the candidate wants to arrange the accommodation or have you do it. If the candidate wants you to arrange the accommodation, ask exactly what is needed, and where and how to get it. Many times the needed accommodation is free or inexpensive.  It may be a matter of scheduling the interview or eliminating background noise.  People who need interpreters can often acquire that assistance for free from the Canadian Hearing Society, to attend interviews and get hired and trained. 

Lauri Sue Robertson is the founder and owner of Disability Awareness Consultants and a former prison guard, social worker and corporate human resources manager. Disability Awareness Consultants teaches people who aren’t disabled how to work with people who are, and does site-audits for barrier-free design.  Our clients are the corporate world.  We come to your office and talk about what we live with and what we need.  A wealth of experience leads to a wealth of information to help your company recruit and hire people with disabilities successfully.

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