Pursuing their fullest potential

RBC’s programs, inclusive culture minimize work challenges for persons with disabilities
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/21/2015

Douglas Dow has been legally blind since birth; Lawrence Young was born with a severe vision impairment; Courtney Sheldon lost her eyesight shortly after her 22nd birthday. 


All three are successfully employed in good careers and all three, at some point, have faced challenges in their day-to-day work. But those challenges are greatly lessened by their employer, RBC, they said. 


RBC has a strong commitment to recruiting, hiring and developing persons with disabilities as part of its overall diversity strategy, said Norma Tombari, director of global diversity, human resources at RBC in Toronto. In 2014, persons with disabilities made up 4.5 per cent of RBC’s workforce. 


“As we look at persons with disabilities today, it’s really about having a workforce that reflects your marketplace and your community,” said Tombari.


“It’s really about addressing our needs and ensuring we have the right talent in place to serve our clients. And that means developing every individual to their full potential, and really customizing approaches.”


Overcoming challenges in the workplace

Innovative and customized approaches are necessary for finding solutions to the varied challenges employees with disabilities may face in their day-to-day work.


Dow, a Vancouver-based cards advisor who has been with RBC for about five years, said some of the challenges he encounters on the job are around accessing information in a timely manner. 


“All adaptive software will always cause a bit of slowness with the computer,” said Dow, who was provided with a program called ZoomText. 


“I’m working with about 25 per cent of the same screen surface area, so to try to get around that, I try to memorize as many procedures as I can and I try to remember where key client information is found so I can access it as quickly as possible.”


Young, one of RBC’s Career Launch associates in Toronto, said a key measure for him was that the company provided all the necessary tools for him to do his job quickly and efficiently.


“The biggest challenge for me is just seeing fine details, seeing fine print. So what RBC has done is given me a rather large tool kit of tools that I can use in varying situations to aid me in reading,” he said. 


Young also uses ZoomText, along with a desktop monitor with a camera mounted on it that can zoom in on fine print up to 24 times magnification for reading print documents.


Even when he’s not in the office, Young’s needs are still met.


“When I’m off-site, all the Career Launch associates were provided with iPads but, for me, the iPad was a little challenging to use given the size of it. So what they did was give me a 15-inch laptop which is easier to use, and it has some ZoomText capability,” he said.


RBC also has an adaptive technology team that works on new solutions, said Dow. 


“(They’re) always looking for ways to improve the current technology to make the jobs of people with disabilities easier.”


Sheldon, a Vancouver-based client effectiveness coach at RBC, said the organization has addressed any potential issues so thoroughly that she has very few challenges at work.


“I’m totally blind so some of my challenges (that aren’t really challenges) would be when print material is used… I need to get information differently than other people. So I have to have it emailed to me and then I can use it through my screen-reading software. If that’s not possible for any type of reason, I would just reach out to a co-worker to have them read the information to me,” she said, adding that the screen-reading software RBC provided overlays most applications, including Microsoft Word, Outlook and Excel.


Sheldon also uses a guide dog, which initially required her to take time off work.


“She’s my third guide and the bank has always been great at giving me the time I need to go and get my guide dogs. I get them from the States and it’s a lengthy process. I needed some time off and they were absolutely able to accommodate that,” she said. 


And RBC doesn’t wait until employees are hired before working to accommodate them — they begin with the recruitment process, said Dow. 


“I was really impressed immediately with the bank’s openness and dedication to hiring people with disabilities. Right from the interview process, recruiters want to find out how they can best support you with your disability.”


Programs, initiatives to drive success

RBC has a number of programs and initiatives in place to provide mentoring, coaching, networking and professional development, said Tombari. 


“On the coaching side, we have many different (initiatives) and, in some instances, it starts as early as when a person with a disability applies to RBC,” she said.  


“For instance, first and foremost, we always ensure that a person with a disability who has particular needs can be accommodated during the interview process, so our recruiters always will ask that question as a normal course of business.” 


There’s also a “Pursue Your Potential” recruitment program designed to link job candidates with RBC’s diversity co-ordinators, who work to understand their interests and capabilities and how they can better apply and market themselves within RBC, she said. 


Once someone is hired, there are numerous support programs in place. One newer initiative is the recently launched Persons with Disabilities @ RBC community on RBC Connect, a social site and discussion forum. 


“It’s a community that goes beyond just connecting people in a conversation because it does provide resources, tools and tips and information… it’s a great way to learn and connect in a very, very comfortable setting,” said Tombari.


The site also has information on myths and misconceptions around disabilities, mental health and visible and invisible disabilities. 


There is also a REACH employee resource group that enables employees to connect with each other and provide peer support, coaching and mentoring, a Diversity Dialogue Reciprocal Mentoring Program — which links diverse employees and senior leaders to facilitate mutual learning opportunities — and web-based training for managers and colleagues. 


“That’s the other side of the equation,” said Tombari. “If you want to be inclusive and be supportive and help develop (talent), we do all have some learning to do ourselves to better understand what the right approaches are.”


Culture of inclusion, support 

Perhaps the most important element RBC offers isn’t software or technology — it’s the supportive, inclusive culture, said Dow. 


“People with disabilities, we have unique needs, and RBC meets those needs by providing a supportive environment and one that addresses the needs of visible and invisible disabilities. It’s such a wonderful feeling to work for a company that’s always striving to find innovative ways to help people with disabilities beyond the technology.” 


Employees have a mindset that there are many different ways to get things done, said Sheldon. 


“They’re open-minded here and, as well, they really know that the only barrier to inclusion is attitude. And everyone’s attitude around me has been inclusive and encouraging.”


Misconceptions to overcome 

However, there are still misconceptions among some employers about hiring persons with disabilities, said Sheldon.  

“It’s a myth that people with disabilities miss a lot of work — that’s actually not true. We actually are here and present more than the average person because we’re able to overcome challenges and get on with our lives. We’re here, we’re dedicated and we’re skilled,” she said. 


“Employers should know that we’re just as capable with the right accommodations… with the right support.”


Providing that support and those accommodations doesn’t take much for employers — and the return on investment is significant, said Dow. 


“(Employers) should be encouraged to look beyond a person’s disability and focus more on their abilities. There are so many talented people out there who have a disability, and this talent should not be wasted,” he said.  


“The cost of workplace accommodations is relatively small but the return of having employees who are fully engaged and 

extremely appreciative of the opportunity is definitely worth the cost.” 


Organizations should understand that no matter what the disability, if people are provided with the right equipment and a bit of understanding, any challenges can definitely be overcome, said Young. 


“Those challenges can be almost eliminated to the point where they might have to do their job in a slightly different fashion, but they can get the job done just as effectively,” he said. 


“Those are the key things: Making sure that there’s the support there, that people will be able to do their job and then really fostering a culture that supports and eliminates the stigma behind people that have disabilities.” 

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