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Working With Employers to Recruit and Retain People With Disabilities

Employer concerns and attitudes can sometimes present challenges for people with disabilities. As an employment counsellor, you play an important role in educating employers.

Some of the issues you can help employers with include:

  • Concerns about insurance, workplace safety, special privileges, job performance, and attendance
  • A lack of valid information about the needs, capabilities, and potential of people with disabilities
  • Assumptions about what people 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

Educating employers reduces the perceived barriers that prevent them from hiring people with disabilities. As an employment counsellor, you can make employers aware of:

  • The advantages of hiring people with disabilities
  • Up-to-date information about the nature of disabilities
  • Up-to-date information about technology and aids to assist people with disabilities
  • Information about barrier-free design
  • Information about programs that help integrate workers with physical disabilities into the workforce

Reframing for employers

Help employers reframe negative assumptions they may have about hiring people with disabilities. Encourage them to hire people with disabilities for the following benefits:

  • Competitive advantage. Research shows that companies committed to hiring people with disabilities tend to outperform their competitors in revenue growth. Responding to the needs of employees with disabilities puts a business in an excellent position to access new customers of all abilities.
  • Unique perspectives and creativity. People with disabilities often have advanced problem-solving skills and unique perspectives on overcoming obstacles. These qualities can drive the creation of new products, services, and ways of doing business.
  • Good company image. Hiring people with disabilities improves the community’s impression of that business. Customers and investors reward good corporate citizenship.
  • A larger human resource pool. Job seekers with disabilities are a sizable untapped labour source. Many have post-secondary education.
  • Improved workplace culture and retention. A diverse workplace is more interesting and rewarding. And extending reasonable accommodations to everyone helps retention. All employees appreciate having a more flexible workplace.
  • Preparation for the future. Learning how to accommodate employees with disabilities now prepares businesses to accommodate aging customers with disabilities in the future. Employees with disabilities are in a strong position to lead organizations through this change.

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

Encouraging employers to take the lead

Help employers recognize that their attitude as a business leader is the cornerstone of creating an effective, inclusive workplace. Encourage them to:

  • Take stock of how inclusive their workplace is right now—they may already have employees and clients with disabilities.
  • Ensure that their senior staff members are aware of their commitment to hiring employees with disabilities. Frame it as an opportunity to increase diversity in the workplace.
  • Contact EmployAbilities or Calgary Alternative Support Services to connect with potential candidates who will fit their organization and position.
  • Visit the Government of Canada’s Job Bank to post job ads for free that will be marketed to interested people with disabilities. Job ads posted to the Job Bank will automatically appear in the Alberta Job Postings here on alis.
  • Use wording in job postings that encourages candidates with disabilities to apply. For example: “123 Company is an inclusive, accessible workplace.”
  • Make sure their website uses accessible technology and design, including adequate font size.
  • Offer access to information and training about diversity for staff at all levels.
  • Write their commitment to hiring people with disabilities into their human resources policy.
  • Be a role model. Show their staff and supervisors they know what inclusion means by respecting all employees as part of the team.

Legislation

The Alberta Human Rights Act [pdf] protects Albertans from discrimination. Protected grounds include those based on physical or mental disabilities.

Encourage employers to educate managers about legislation so they can talk to employees about visible or disclosed disabilities and possible accommodations. Hiring managers should be aware that the time to ask about accommodations is when they make an offer to the candidate. During the interview, they may simply ask, “Is there anything we can provide or do that will help you be successful in this job?”

Duty to accommodate

The Alberta Human Rights Commission’s Duty to Accommodate bulletin says: “The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that employers, unions and service providers have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to accommodate individual needs to the point of undue hardship.”

To claim undue hardship, employers must show that they would experience substantial interference or disruption of business, or intolerable conditions or costs over and above any gains from the accommodation. In many cases, accommodation measures are simple and affordable and do not create undue hardship.

For more information on the duty to accommodate, direct employers to the Alberta Human Rights Commission Duty to Accommodate information sheet.

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. Most of these expenses are tax deductible.

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, work-site modifications, sign language interpreters, and specific disability-related software.

The following sections describe common job accommodations that can support staff with disabilities.

Training

Employers can adapt their training to better accommodate persons with disabilities. For example, encourage employers to:

  • 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.

Employment practices

Changes to an employer’s standard employment practices can also create accommodation. For example, encourage employers to:

  • 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 working 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

Communication also goes a long way toward creating a safe, productive space for persons with disabilities. For example, encourage employers to:

  • Coach supervisors to provide clear directions, positive reinforcement, and non-judgmental feedback.
  • 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.
  • Educate staff on how language and attitude set the tone for welcoming employees with disabilities. Encourage them to treat persons with disabilities as they would anyone else—for instance, by making eye contact and speaking directly to the person even if an attendant or interpreter is present.

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 occurs when 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, ideally, not time limited. Support is provided for as long as the worker needs it 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

Clients typically access supported employment opportunities through specialized agencies in the community. As a counsellor, it is important to know what agencies are available and relevant so you can refer your clients appropriately. A discussion with clients and their families or guardians will ensure the opportunity suits your clients’ needs and wishes.

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 are the least intrusive, most respectful, and most effective ones available.
  • Strive to maintain or improve service standards.
  • Conduct assessment and planning that reflects person-centred support, choice, and self-determination.
  • Foster career goals within the context of the individual’s lifestyle, non-work priorities, goals, and commitments.

Ideally, employers should conduct the same training and orientation as for all new employees, with consultations with the service provider 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 encourages connection and inclusion of the new employees, rather than segregating them from their co-workers.

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