October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and in the U.S 2015 marks 70 years since the first observance. This year’s proclamation by the President points out that, “Although Americans with disabilities make up almost one-fifth of the population, they are unemployed at a rate that is twice that of people without disabilities. And that despite all that they contribute to our society, people with disabilities still face discrimination by employers, limited access to skills training, and, too often, unfairly low expectation.” Therefore going forward we must “foster a culture in which individuals are supported and accepted for who they are, where it is okay to disclose one’s disability without fear of discrimination. (1)

In “Canada we lag behind the United States when it comes to disability initiatives, all the while 16% of our working population is living with a disability.” (2) For this reason, we have to “continue to promote and enforce inclusion in the workplace and tear down what barriers remain.” (3) Thanks to NDEAM Canada’s founder, Rob Santos they are trying to do just that. After creating his company Link Up Employment Services for Persons with a Disability, he realized that more needed to be done to educate people, specifically employers, about hiring people with disabilities. He hoped that by sharing this information more employers would be able to learn about the positive outcomes that can result from hiring persons with disabilities. This gave him the inspiration to found NDEAM Canada, in order to “raise awareness about the positive outcomes of hiring persons with disabilities.” (4)

Through the film “A Hire Awareness” created by NDEAM Canada, Bob Santos points out that “we put too much emphasis on disability and that the goal of their organization is to try and eliminate the disability from the equation and to focus instead on the skills of the individual.”(5) This goes hand in hand with this years theme that  “My Disability is One Part of Who I Am.” As Jennifer Sheehy, the acting assistant secretary of labor and disability employment in the U.S. explains, “this reminds us that like all people we are the sum of many parts, including our work experiences. Disability is an important perspective we bring to the table, but of course, it’s not the only one.” (6) As Gerald Etienne, from Human Resources at Health Canada points out in A Hire Awareness, “as companies and employers we should be focusing on what is optimal for each individual to perform at their very best. That this is the new business norm.” (7) The film goes on to “to debunk the negative myths of hiring persons with a disability and instead focus on real employee success stories within Canadian companies.” That people living with disabilities are no different than anyone else, that we all have dreams and aspirations and want to have purpose in our lives.

It is therefore important as employers to look at the broader picture, at the advantages of hiring persons with disabilities, to see what they might bring to your company and the work environment as a whole. According to “the Conference board of Canada, if trends continue with regards to current and upcoming labour shortages, labour demand will exceed labour supply, therefore the projected employment gap will continue to grow steadily larger. With 70% unemployment among persons with a disability in Canada, it is therefore a logical as well as an economic course of action to draw on this pool of untapped labour.” (8) Furthermore in Canada, when it comes to cost related work statistics, 90% of persons with disabilities rate average or better on job performance than their non-disabled colleagues, 86% of persons with disabilities rate average or better on attendance, and 98% rate average or better in work safety than their non-disabled colleagues. It is therefore imperative that we “inspire CEOs and decision makers to open their eyes to the value of a largely overlooked labour force – persons with visible and invisible disabilities- who can be a solution to their employment challenges.”(9)

This will require a cultural shift within the workplace in order for employers to be ready and open to working with people who have a disability. We need to realize that there are people all around us, whether their disability be visible or not and that by creating a culture of awareness, acceptance and inclusion, we can begin to really transform the current work environment for those living with disabilities.

References:
  1. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/10/01/presidential-proclamation-national-disability-employment-awareness-month
  2. http://www.ndeam.ca/ndeam_canada.shtml
  3. http://www.ndeam.ca/a_hire_awareness.shtml
  4. http://www.whatcanyoudocampaign.org/blog/index.php/ndeam/

Breanna Rothe

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