Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are of­ten over­looked in the drive for di­ver­sity

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - CAREERS - JU­LIA HANIGSBERG

Pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, Hol­land Bloorview Kids Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hospi­tal

To­day, the busi­ness case for in­clu­sion and di­ver­sity is more ac­cepted than ever. Race, gen­der, sex­ual iden­tity and men­tal health have all ad­vanced as mean­ing­ful so­cial is­sues and a fo­cus of pub­lic at­ten­tion. Although there is still much more progress to be achieved, this aware­ness demon­strates so­ci­ety’s col­lec­tive un­der­stand­ing of dif­fer­ence. Yet, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly youth, have not yet been a vis­i­ble part of this con­ver­sa­tion and have in­cred­i­ble skills to of­fer our work­places and econ­omy.

Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, in 2011 (when data were last up­dated) the em­ploy­ment rate of work­ing-age Cana­di­ans with dis­abil­i­ties was 49 per cent, com­pared with 79 per cent for Cana­di­ans with­out a dis­abil­ity. The vast ma­jor­ity of those peo­ple’s dis­abil­i­ties do not pre­vent them from work­ing and al­most half of these po­ten­tial work­ers are post­sec­ondary grad­u­ates. To make mat­ters worse – de­spite leg­isla­tive ef­forts to pre­vent this – 33 per cent of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in the labour mar­ket say they have been de­nied a job be­cause of their dis­abil­ity. This is un­ac­cept­able.

And be­cause they are dis­pro­por­tion­ately un­em­ployed or un­der­em­ployed, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties can be un­fairly per­ceived as a drain on so­ci­ety. That lens needs to shift – to un­der­stand­ing that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties con­trib­ute their own strengths and unique­ness to Canada’s di­ver­sity. Work­ing at a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion hospi­tal for kids and youth, I see the strengths of young peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties first-hand ev­ery day. The ex­per­tise, tal­ent, pas­sion and re­siliency they show is un­par­al­leled. Yet, be­cause of their dis­abil­i­ties they rou­tinely face the con­se­quences of stigma – star­ing, whis­pers, name-call­ing, so­cial ex­clu­sion, bul­ly­ing and out­right dis­crim­i­na­tion – and many of us take lit­tle no­tice.

Of­ten peo­ple with­out dis­abil­i­ties have gaps in their un­der­stand­ing of dis­abil­ity and un­der­es­ti­mate how much those with dis­abil­i­ties value and en­joy their lives and how much they have to of­fer, in­clud­ing to em­ploy­ers. The time for change has come. In fact, the time came long ago, but to­gether we can be part of the so­lu­tion to bridg­ing the gap.

Busi­nesses are adept at ad­just­ing prod­ucts and ser­vices to tar­get new mar­kets. Our ex­pe­ri­ence with em­ploy­ers we’ve coached to hire young peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties is that the re­turn on in­vest­ment of max­i­miz­ing the tal­ent pool is un­de­ni­able. Here’s some hir­ing ad­vice that has cre­ated suc­cess for both top em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees with dis­abil­i­ties they’ve suc­cess­fully brought on board:


Re­cruit­ing can of­ten be a road­block be­cause many em­ploy­ers don’t know where to start. The good news is ev­ery prov­ince has lo­cal em­ploy­ment-sup­port or­ga­ni­za­tions that will work with you to un­der­stand your or­ga­ni­za­tion’s hu­man-re­sources needs and pro­vide best prac­tices for hir­ing and cre­at­ing di­verse work­places. Plus, they can help to link you up with great tal­ent.


Em­ploy­ment dur­ing our youth helps build our skills and con­fi­dence for our fu­ture jobs and ca­reers. Young work­ers with dis­abil­i­ties are at a dis­ad­van­tage in to­day’s econ­omy be­cause they have less ex­pe­ri­ence to draw on and more com­pe­ti­tion. This is a missed op­por­tu­nity for busi­nesses be­cause young work­ers bring cu­rios­ity, in­no­va­tion and en­thu­si­asm to our tal­ent pool that is hard to repli­cate. Con­sider where young work­ers may be a good fit for your or­ga­ni­za­tion and re­view ap­pli­cants ac­cord­ingly.


Make it clear on your job post­ings that you are an em­ployer who val­ues di­ver­sity and re­cruits peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Then, re­view ré­sumés care­fully. Young work­ers with dis­abil­i­ties may have less paid-work ex­pe­ri­ence on their ré­sumé than peers with­out dis­abil­i­ties, but these out­stand­ing young work­ers with dis­abil­i­ties have honed their strengths and skills in other ways. These youth have likely had to over­come more ob­sta­cles, demon­strat­ing re­siliency on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. In ad­di­tion, con­sider an ex­pe­ri­en­tial com­po­nent in your re­cruit­ment process or paid-job tri­als as a start­ing place. Many tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als are bet­ter do­ers than talk­ers and may be dis­ad­van­taged in in­ter­views.


Cre­ate a cul­ture of ac­cep­tance by estab­lish­ing or­ga­ni­za­tional guide­lines that pro­vide ac­commo- da­tions to sup­port a va­ri­ety of em­ploy­ees and ac­tively en­gage work­ers in di­ver­sity top­ics through lunch-and-learns or blogs to en­cour­age aware­ness and dis­cus­sion. Teach staff about dis­abil­ity, re­spect­ful lan­guage and of­fer tips and tools to help the whole team suc­ceed. Then mea­sure your progress by reg­u­larly sur­vey­ing work­ers to ex­plore their sat­is­fac­tion with your poli­cies and en­cour­age feed­back to im­prove the work­place for every­one.


Last but not least, cel­e­brate the unique­ness of all your em­ploy­ees.

By tak­ing even small steps to­ward cre­at­ing a work­place cul­ture that cel­e­brates di­ver­sity, you demon­strate the im­por­tance of rec­og­niz­ing the unique con­tri­bu­tions of all em­ploy­ees and set the right tone for our fu­ture work force. Just imag­ine, if ev­ery em­ployer in Canada hired at least one per­son with a dis­abil­ity, more than one mil­lion peo­ple would be able to ap­ply their tal­ents to our busi­nesses and econ­omy.

Ex­ec­u­tives, ed­u­ca­tors and hu­man-re­sources ex­perts con­trib­ute to the Lead­er­ship Lab se­ries. Find more sto­ries at­reers.

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