70 per cent of employers hire workers with disabilities

Workplace support, disability awareness training help with hiring, retention, finds Pulse Survey
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/07/2013

Persons with disabilities represent a significant talent pool for employers. But are HR professionals tapping into this resource? For those who are, what are the benefits they’re experiencing of hiring people with disabilities? What might be some of the challenges?

Canadian HR Reporter and the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) conducted a Pulse Survey to find out where HR professionals and their organizations stand with hiring and retaining people with a disability.

70 per cent of employers hire workers with disabilities

Hiring people with disabilities poses challenges

70 per cent of employers hire workers with disabilities

By Amanda Silliker

At Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe, Ont., several employees are being accommodated for their disabilities. These can range from degenerative disc disease, impaired vision and multiple sclerosis to mental health issues, said Will Baker, manager of health and safety at the hospital.

The 463-employee organization has a policy that encourages the hiring of people with disabilities. It’s assigned by the senior leadership team and is an important part of the hiring process, he said.

“And there are multiple statements on our postings that encourage people with disabilities to apply. Obviously, in health care, there are some restrictions… but we will try our best to accommodate anyone in any position if there is the opportunity to do so.”

One-half of Canadian employers have a similar policy, according to the latest Pulse Survey of 454 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

And nearly three-quarters (70 per cent) of survey respondents have hired employees who identified themselves as having a disability.

Toronto-based Hallmark Canada has two graphic designers who are hearing-impaired. Since most of their work is done using a computer, the jobs are a good fit, said Courtney McDaid, recruitment and HR programs specialist at the 1,500-employee company.

To make these employees feel more comfortable at work, their co-workers were encouraged to take American Sign Language courses.

“It typically would not have been approved through our education program, but we made an exception for the co-workers who wanted to take it to help them be able to communicate,” she said. “They were really touched by that.”

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley is well-known for his “Mayor’s Challenge” that encourages other municipalities to hire people with disabilities, so it’s important that the city itself walk the talk, said Susan Weatherston, accessibility co-ordinator for the City of Sarnia.

For about six years, the 500-employee municipality in southwestern Ontario has been hiring people with disabilities as summer students. Instead of asking hiring managers if they were interested in hiring people with a disability, a call went out that said, “The city is hiring people with disabilities. How many are you going to hire in your department?”

“The first year there was some resistance. But then, subsequently, people have been very comfortable about it and we’ve had hiring managers come back and say, ‘Can we get our student back again?’ So basically every department has been hiring people with disabilities — mainly intellectual disabilities,” said Weatherston.

Eight in 10 (83 per cent) respondents to the Pulse Survey said people with disabilities are qualified to perform the jobs for which they are hiring.

HR may also find people with disabilities are actually better suited to fill some positions. For example, HR tends to over-skill jobs and require certificates or diplomas for entry-level positions when those qualifications may not really be necessary, said Weatherston.

“HR professionals need to be more realistic about matching people to jobs. If there’s a job that’s a revolving door… perhaps you need to really look at that job, see what the qualifications are and find somebody who is a better fit for the job, not necessarily get the most qualified person.”

Help for organizations

Workplace support for employees with disabilities is the number one form of assistance organizations consider the most beneficial in hiring or retaining people with disabilities, according to 62 per cent of survey respondents.

“If our hearing-impaired folks could connect with hearing-impaired people who are working in other office environments, that would help them,” said McDaid. “One of their biggest challenges is ordering lunch in the cafeteria, so just a support network for them with other people in their same situation — maybe they could share experiences.”

Job coaches are an excellent form of support for people with intellectual disabilities, said Weatherston. They are available through community agencies and work with an employee to get her started in her new role. In the City of Sarnia’s case, a job coach may stay with the employee for the entire summer.

“It’s a win-win and we’re getting two for the price of one — the job coach and the client they’re working with,” said Weatherston.“They’re both working hard, they’re both understanding how the city works, they’re both getting valuable job experience and it’s much less stressful for our employees.”

Disability awareness training for staff would also be useful in hiring or retaining people with disabilities, according to 61 per cent of survey respondents.

All staff at Norfolk General Hospital undergo disability training as part of their orientation program.

“Part of the package is to understand how we manage people with disabilities in our organization, how we accommodate them and make them part of the NGH family,” said Baker, adding new employees are encouraged to self-identify if they have a disability that requires accommodation.

Six in 10 employers believe financial assistance with workplace modifications would be welcomed, according to the Pulse Survey.

The requirement to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship can be costly for employers, said Baker.

“You’re trying to balance what’s just and fair for the individual with the reality of the financial pressures of the (organization),” he said, “Inherently, people want to do the right thing — provide assistive aids, assistive lifting devices, more technology — but it all comes at a cost and that’s unfortunate because that puts pressure on everybody.”

One-half (53 per cent) of survey respondents said connections to community partners that assist in the recruitment of people with disabilities would be helpful.

The City of Sarnia works closely with its local Community Living agency. Hiring managers get in touch with the agency whenever they have a job posting that might be a good fit for someone with an intellectual disability, said Weatherston.

“By the time they come to us, what I can do is just make sure that resumé gets into the pile and because of the support of special needs employment services, their resumés are really good and they get an interview. Usually their personalities are enough — we don’t need to do anything more and they get the job.”

When comparing the job performance of employees with a disability to those without, 79 per cent of survey respondents said they performed the same. Nine per cent said their performance was better.

“Most people with disabilities who really want to work, they work for years to try and get a job and once they get one, they value that job incredibly and take it very seriously and to heart,” said Weatherston. “They often have absenteeism much less than the general population and work much harder.”

Hiring people with disabilities poses challenges

By Kristina Hidas

The recent Canadian HR Reporter and Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) Pulse Survey focused on the hiring and retention of post-secondary graduates with disabilities. Conducted in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the survey was also designed to uncover other forms of assistance and support employers would find helpful.

In terms of organizations having a policy in place that supports the hiring of people with disabilities, the split was almost 50-50 — exactly one-half of respondents work for employers that have a policy while 43 per cent work for organizations that do not.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, smaller firms are much less likely to have such a policy. Only 34 per cent of respondents with fewer than 50 employees have a policy, compared to 69 per cent of organizations with more than 1,000 employees.

So it’s not a stretch to say it can be a challenge for smaller organizations to support the hiring of employees with disabilities.

Seven in 10 respondents have hired employees who identified themselves as having a disability, and 44 per cent have specifically hired a post-secondary graduate with a disability. The issue of self-identification is important here because respondents would not always have known if their new hire had a disability or not.

For those that hired an employee with a disclosed disability, we also asked respondents to rate their impressions of the employee’s performance. More than three-quarters (79 per cent) said it was the same as other employee groups, which is important feedback for those considering introducing a policy to hire people with a disability. Nine per cent said the overall job performance in this group was better than other groups, and six per cent said it was worse.

The last number, although low, raises the question of how improved workplace support might raise the performance of employees with disabilities.

In terms of the type of assistance employers would consider helpful in hiring people with a disability, there were three at the top of the list:

• workplace support for employees with disabilities, such as a short-term job coach for someone with an intellectual disability

• disability awareness training for staff, such as comprehensive information on what the requirements are for each specific disability

• financial assistance with workplace modifications and training.

Respondents who had support for the interview process — such as a hearing-impaired candidate — noted it would have been very helpful to have that same support for the new hire’s onboarding or training period.

Other suggestions related to outreach to job candidates with disabilities, such as a job board or other ways of connecting candidates with employers. There was also a call for clearer guidelines from the government on the funding that already exists.

Interestingly, most of the suggestions that were made had to do with clearer processes and guidelines, and ease of access to information, which is feedback we will provide to the Ontario government.

In the comments respondents made, we heard there can still be a stigma attached to hiring people with disabilities. Whether it’s because of unclear legal guidelines or unclear requirements for accommodation, many employers still find themselves tentative around hiring a person with a disability.

Respondents spoke to the wide range of disabilities that exist — noting there is still a lot of education required around understanding both the range and the nature of all the disabilities at the workplace, and their successful integration. As noted above, we heard that there are still challenges involved in understanding, accommodating and supporting intellectual and non-visual disabilities.

Many respondents noted a lot of progress has been made with respect to physical disabilities and those advances need to be applied across the board.

Given the high unemployment and underemployment in the labour market, combined with growing skills shortages in certain sectors, it will be increasingly important for government and business to work together on supporting the hiring of post-secondary graduates with disabilities and to leverage that community’s skills and talent.

Kristina Hidas is vice-president of HR research and development at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto. She can be reached at khidas@hrpa.ca or (416) 923-2324 ext. 370.

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