Employer concerns and attitudes can sometimes present challenges for persons with disabilities. Examples are:
- Concerns about insurance, workplace safety, special privileges, job performance, and attendance
- Lack of valid information about the needs, capabilities, and potential of persons with disabilities
- Assumptions about what persons with disabilities can and cannot do and related concerns about productivity
- Concerns about reactions of customers or co-workers
- Restricted views of how a job should be done that do not consider alternative ways to do the work
The role of employment counsellors
As an employment counsellor, you play an important role in educating employers. Education reduces the perceived barriers that prevent them from hiring persons with disabilities. Employers need to be made aware of:
- The advantages of hiring persons with disabilities
- Up-to-date information about the nature of disabilities
- Up-to-date information about technology and aids to assist persons with disabilities
- Information about barrier-free design
- Information about programs designed to help integrate workers with physical disabilities into the workforce
Reframing for employers
Help employers reframe negative assumptions they may have about hiring persons with disabilities. Encourage them to hire persons with disabilities for the following benefits:
- Competitive advantage. Employees and their networks represent a cross-section of potential customers.
- Unique perspectives and creativity. Skills developed in overcoming obstacles and compensating for deficits are an asset to the business.
- Good company image. Hiring persons with disabilities improves the community’s impression of that business. Customers and investors reward good corporate citizenship.
- A larger human resource pool. These employees make valuable contributions to the workplace.
- Improved workplace culture. A diverse workplace is more interesting and rewarding.
- Preparation for the future. Learning how to accommodate employees with disabilities now prepares businesses to accommodate aging customers with disabilities in the future.
Taking a collaborative approach
Collaboration between counsellors, clients, and employers to facilitate successful work placement and performance is valuable. Many employers have reintegration programs in place for employees who become disabled. However, not as many have proactive recruiting programs that target potential candidates who have a disability.
For recruiting and placement, service agencies usually build a relationship with an employer before placing any clients there. In building a partnership, consider these suggestions:
- Involve employers in sessions with clients as appropriate. They can clarify work roles and expectations to avoid misunderstandings.
- Involve employers and clients in talks on strategies to compensate for and accommodate disabilities.
- Focus discussions with clients and employers on client strengths.
- Encourage employers to allow clients with disabilities to try out jobs. This approach allows clients to check out different types of work and employment settings. It frees both the employers and clients from making a commitment without enough information.
- Seize every chance to educate both employers and co-workers about disabilities. Share information from this resource and others, as appropriate.
- Provide ongoing support to ensure placements are successful over the longer term.
You may also want to collaborate with employers to:
- Identify specific work that clients might be responsible for
- Identify the impact of a disability
- Consider ways to make the most of strengths and minimize weaknesses
- Secure appropriate job accommodations
Many employers are concerned about accommodation costs. In fact, data collected by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) shows that more than half of all accommodations cost hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars. JAN data also shows that most employers report that providing accommodations has financial benefits. Accommodations can reduce the cost of training new employees, reduce the cost of insurance, and increase worker productivity.
Disability Related Employment Supports (DRES) from the Government of Alberta may be available to assist qualified clients with documented and permanent or long-term disabilities. DRES funding pays for supports or services to reduce, alleviate, or remove barriers to education, training, job search, or employment. Examples include assistive technologies, installations or work-site modifications, sign language interpreters, and specific disability-related software.
The following sections describe common job accommodations that can support staff with disabilities.
Employers can adapt their training to better accommodate persons with disabilities. For example:
- Assign the new employee to a supportive supervisor.
- Designate a co-worker as peer support or advocate.
- Offer individual training for workers who may have trouble learning new material.
- Allow additional training time, if needed.
- Provide detailed written instructions of duties, responsibilities, and expectations.
- Provide or be open to the use of a job coach.
Changes to an employer’s standard employment practices can also be effective forms of accommodation. For example:
- Permit phone calls to supportive individuals away from the workstation.
- Provide a quiet, distraction-free workplace for people who lose concentration easily.
- Allow a self-paced workload.
- Allow the use of sick leave for emotional as well as physical illness.
- Consider job sharing, part-time arrangements, or work from home if appropriate.
- Restructure a job to eliminate secondary tasks that pose problems for a worker with a disability. For example, exchange those tasks for part of another employee’s job description.
- Allow workers to bank overtime for use in case of illness.
- Allow workers to shift hours to allow appointments with a therapist.
Communication also goes a long way toward creating a safe, productive space for persons with disabilities. For example:
- Coach supervisors to provide clear directions, positive reinforcement, and non-judgmental feedback.
- Educate managers about legislation so they can talk to employees about known disabilities and possible accommodations.
- Develop strategies to deal with problems before they arise.
- Provide sensitivity training for co-workers about disabilities and why people need accommodation.
- Dispel myths by educating staff about disabilities, such as the causes and treatment of mental disorders.
The supported employment model
Building a support network
“If we believe people are different, we provide support to them in a different way—a way that reinforces difference and further separates them from their co-workers. Specialized, segregated supports that continue to emphasize differences aren’t what people want. There is a more natural way of supporting people by also supporting employers and co-workers to understand how they can be part of the support network in the workplace.”—Tim Weinkauf, Alberta Persons with Developmental Disabilities Program
According to the Alberta Association for Supported Employment, supported employment is “real work in an integrated setting with ongoing support provided by an agency with expertise in finding employment for people with disabilities.”
Definitions of the terms in supported employment are essential to understanding this approach:
- Real work is work that would be done by a typical member of the workforce if it were not done by the worker with a disability. Supported employment placements are real work, not vocational training, work experience, or work preparation.
- An integrated setting is where the proportion of disabled workers is roughly equivalent to the proportion of persons with disabilities in the general population. (Large work crews or enclaves, where persons with disabilities work together on a site, are excluded from this definition.)
- Ongoing support includes job-support services that are, theoretically, not time limited. Support is provided for as long as the worker needs it in order to perform the work.
Inviting employer participation and responding to business needs for a reliable labour source are important ways to expand supported employment. After asking companies to make accommodations when hiring a supported employee, the next step is to answer the following questions:
- How can the service agency support employers as well as employees with disabilities?
- What supports are co-workers already providing to employees with disabilities?
- What range of job accommodations are possible for employees with different abilities?
- How do companies benefit from increasing their capacity to hire, train, and supervise employees with severe disabilities?
The role of specialized community agencies
Supported employment opportunities are typically provided through referrals to specialized community agencies. If you are counselling in an area where several agencies exist for persons with developmental disabilities, it will be helpful to discuss the preferred agency with clients and their families or guardians.
Many options for support
“There are so many options now… Specialized agencies can help clients create work experience and training-on-the-job placements. When clients are motivated and you can help put the right things in place, then you feel that this is going to work out well.”—Norah Hodgson, Career and Employment Consultant, Government of Alberta
Best practices for supported employment
The following are best practices in supported employment services:
- Design all processes, strategies, or philosophies to promote greater workforce inclusion, personal choice, and independence for persons with disabilities.
- Do not allow processes, strategies, or philosophies to interfere with building personal capacity or reducing poverty for persons with disabilities.
- Make sure that any interventions used are the least intrusive, most respectful, and most effective ones available.
- Strive to maintain or improve your service standards.
- Conduct assessment and planning that reflects person-centred support, choice, and self-determination.
- Foster and facilitate career goals within the context of the individual’s lifestyle, non-work priorities, goals, and commitments.
Ideally, employers should conduct the training and orientation usual for new employees, with the service provider consulting to increase success. Sometimes the service provider may need to enter the workplace to help with training. This should take place in a way that increases the new employees’ connections and inclusion in the workplace rather than segregates them from their co-workers.