Dispelling Myths: Employing People with Disabilities

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Employers looking to recruit often return to the same pool of potential employees. They are consequently missing out on talented individuals who may be perfect for the roles offered. By broadening their search to include non-traditional labour pools, employers greatly increase their odds of finding qualified employees. Individuals with disabilities are one such overlooked labour market, often due to the myths and misconceptions surrounding accessibility issues.

As part of June’s Access Awareness Day in British Columbia, the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC)hosted a dialogue to enhance understanding and collaboration between tourism employers, employment agencies, and individuals with disabilities. A charitable organization, SPARC BC works with communities and organizations on a range of social justice issues, including accessibility.

SPARC BC chose to focus this dialogue on tourism employment due to its wide range of occupations, its flexibility in terms of seasonal, shift, and part-time work, and the importance of tourism establishments being accessible to travellers, residents, and employees alike. Additionally, although overall the tourism sector will see a surplus of labour available in 2009, by 2015 over 95,000 full-year jobs are expected to go unfilled. Exploring this untapped labour source will help to ease this shortage.

Many myths surround employing people with disabilities, often a result of limited interaction and experience. By asking questions and accessing resources, employers will find a wealth of information and assistance to reach people with disabilities and make their workplaces more inclusive and accessible.

“Myths can be overcome when you focus on the abilities of an individual,” says Lindsay Hindle, SPARC BC’s communications coordinator. “The dialogue participants all emphasized the importance of not making assumptions about someone’s abilities or impacts on the workplace. Employing people with disabilities can benefit a workplace culturally and operationally. Diversity and accommodation contribute to positive outcomes.”

Ms. Hindle cites Inland Lake Park, a BC campground and provincial park, who hired Ron Como as their host and caretaker. Como, who uses a wheelchair, brought a new perspective on accessibility. He and his colleagues modified their facilities and the park became more accessible to a wide range of visitors: elderly guests, families with young children in strollers, and guests with disabilities.

Employers looking to take the first step should seek out national, provincial, and local government agencies and non-profit organizations who offer toolkits, guidebooks, and consulting and mentorship services.

“These specialized agencies will assist with questions on accessibility, opening dialogue with your current staff, legal concerns, training, and funding opportunities,” explains Ms. Hindle. “They can help you determine whether you are ready – not just your physical space, but also the culture of your organization. A supportive team environment is vital to retaining any employee.”

Businesses should ensure their application processes are inclusive and accessible to various types of disabilities. Telephone and electronic means can be restrictive. Face to face interactions allow applicants more opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and fully provide answers which the limited space of a resume does not permit. Informational interviews are a way to allow the candidate to assess the employer’s needs and goals, and vice versa.

Among the dialogue participants was travel retailer Flight Centre, who has recently launched an Accessible Travel division in partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

“This is a fairly new area for us,” explains Allison Wallace, Communications Manager. “We are committed to ensuring not only that we are assisting this niche part of the market, which we think is largely untapped, but are also ‘walking the talk’ by ensuring we are both open in our recruitment practices and in making sure our shops and corporate offices are outfitted with accessibility in mind.”

“The business-to-business mentorship is really important,” agrees Ms. Hindle. “The more we can encourage employers and employees to share their experiences, the more awareness and familiarity will be built amongst the tourism sector. This will benefit the sector as it looks for skilled employees to fill the labour shortage, and also benefit tourists and locals as accessible facilities and services become more available.”


SPARC BC www.sparc.bc.ca

Ability Edge www.abilityedge.ca

Government of Canada http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/disability_issues/index.shtml

Discover Tourism www.discovertourism.ca

Champions Career Centre www.championscareercentre.org

Workable Solutions www.workablesolutionsbc.ca

Barrier-Free Employers dawn.thot.net/employment_accommodation.html

The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work www.workink.com/

Canadian Association for Supported Employment www.supportedemployment.ca