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Edmonton Job Search Strategies Forum Report

Greenwood Inn, Daltons Conference Centre
4485 Gateway Blvd
Edmonton, Alberta

November 19, 2005

Welcome and Overview of Forum

The forum in Edmonton, Alberta was the second event in a two-year NEADS’ Job Search Strategies Forums Project, addressing practical aspects of successful transition from school to the employment market. Delegates represented a number of colleges and universities from the Edmonton area, and some students with disabilities attended from schools in other parts of Alberta. Participants were attending the following post-secondary institutions: University of Alberta, University of Calgary, Grant MacEwan College, Red Deer College, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Norquest College, Concordia University College of Alberta, and University of Lethbridge. Altogether about 70 people took part in the day-long employment session: students, graduates, service providers, employers, career counsellors/professionals and representatives from non-governmental organizations.

The NEADS Edmonton Job Search Strategies Forum included two workshop panels, an exhibit area, and one-on-one resume consultations with career counsellors or HR professionals over the lunch period. The exhibit area included displays and representatives from: BMO Financial Group, Canadian Paraplegic Association, Champions Career Centre, DECSA (Distinctive Employment Counselling Services of Alberta), On Site Placement Services Association, TD Canada Trust, Employabilities, and Imperial Oil.

Jennifer Dillon, NEADS Job Search Strategies Consultant

In the opening plenary, Jennifer Dillon, welcomed close to 70 participants to the second Job Search Strategies Forum hosted by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students. She described the forum, which was made possible with funding through BMO Nesbitt Burns’ “Equity Through Education” program, as an opportunity to learn about job search strategies, approaches, and practical techniques to achieving success in the employment market.

Dillon encouraged students and graduates to make the most of the opportunities for networking and obtaining feedback. She noted that “we are all here for the same reason; we recognize the challenges of entering the job market and we hope the strategies offered today will assist you in making the move from academic success to a rewarding career”.

Equity Through Education Program Vision
Dan Noble, Director, BMO Nesbitt Burns, Commodity Derivatives Group

Dan Noble, our opening speaker from BMO Nesbitt Burns, said he saw forum participants as talented individuals who exhibit courage and persistence. He quoted anthropologist Margaret Mead—“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”—saying it spoke to the efforts of BMO Nesbitt Burns employees in their bid to form a diversity council in 2002. They wanted a workplace that reflected BMO’s corporate values. This led to a commitment to create a diverse workforce that reflects the communities where BMO does business.

Since 2002, the diversity council has worked to address barriers in the workplace for women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people, and people with disabilities. The council has learned that some of the most practical barriers were easy to address. It educated managers and employees about the bank’s centralized accommodation fund for people with disabilities. The fund pays for adaptive technologies, modified work stations, sign language interpreters, and other tools.

Beyond addressing the practical barriers, BMO’s diversity council also sought to address the attitudinal barriers, working to dispel myths about people with disabilities.

In 2004, BMO reached out to the community to address external barriers to employment, and the Equity Through Education initiative was created. On May 11, 2005, 100 per cent of the institutional trading commissions earned in Canada and the United States were donated to seven charitable organizations that provide educational opportunities and support to individuals. NEADS was one of those beneficiaries.

Keynote Address
Diane Bergeron, Coordinator, Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities

After Bergeron had settled her companion dog, Max, who she said was experiencing stage fright, she outlined her employment experience. Her first endeavour upon graduating from high school was to hitchhike across Canada, supporting herself with work as a chambermaid and waitress. Having settled in Edmonton and unable to find a job, she enrolled at Grant MacEwan College, graduating in 1992 with a Rehabilitation Practitioner diploma. During her student years she worked as a stand-up comic.

For a short time Bergeron was a counsellor in an outreach program, but then she took maternity leave. Laid off on her return to work, she became a chicken farmer. Bergeron said if the audience had ever seen sighted people chase chickens, they could imagine what it was like for a blind person. As a sideline, she taught aerobics twice a week.

Divorced, she returned to college, knowing that the only employment available to her—shift work—would not accommodate her role as a mother. During this time she remarried, but within a short time her husband became unemployed. As she searched for work on his behalf Bergeron encountered a position with the City of Edmonton—that of coordinator for the advisory board on Services for Persons with Disabilities. She applied, thinking it highly unlikely that she would get a call to be interviewed for the position.

During this time, Royal Bank had asked her to provide a testimonial for its talking bank machine, and had subsequently offered her a job. Then the city offered her the advisory board job. Bergeron said she decided her passion was working on behalf of people with disabilities and started with the City of Edmonton in the coordinator’s position.

Before long, the job on the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities http://www.seniors.gov.ab.ca/CSS/premiers_council/ became available. She got the position over 400 other applicants, she learned, because she had worked in stand-up—the Council liked the idea of a colleague with a sense of humour.

Bergeron gave three pieces of advice to participants at the Edmonton forum:

  • Get an education. The world works on degrees—it is very important to have that piece of paper when you walk into the room for a job interview. Throughout her presentation Bergeron mentioned that she had returned to school a few times because: “I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was”. Demonstrating her value of continuous learning.
  • Volunteer in the field in which you are hoping to build a career. She said employers think, “If you are willing to do something for free, Lord knows what you’ll do if we pay you.”
  • Network. “It’s not who you know, but who knows you,” and remembers you for positive reasons.

She closed her address with a quote from Barbara Coloroso: “Empowerment is like the flame of a candle. With our flames we can light the candles of everyone around us, never diminishing our own flames. All we end up with is a greater light to see by.”

Bergeron encouraged participants to find the flame that lights their candles— to serve as role models and make the journey to employment easier for others with disabilities.

Transitioning from School to Work
Stephen McDonnell, Senior Advisor, Diversity and Workplace Equity, BMO Financial Group

McDonnell explained he had worked at BMO for 20 years and before that had been a hospital chaplain. He told participants they had the right to determine their own futures, and that the Equity Through Education program at BMO would help feed the employment pipeline with talented individuals. He said the May 11, 2005 donation of trading commissions to Equity Through Education had amounted to $1.6 million for the seven recipient organizations

McDonnell promised his PowerPoint presentation would be posted on the NEADS website at www.neads.ca within a couple of weeks.

He advised participants to begin their employment search by defining the values important to them. BMO corporate values are caring, diversity, respect, accountability, and innovation. Students and graduates with disabilities should seek to work for a company whose values are articulated in a statement, and those values should include a commitment to equity employment.

A BMO internal task force discovered a number of misconceptions and myths about the disabled, including that people with disabilities cost too much to be accommodated and that they can only do certain kinds of work. The task force found that, in 80 per cent of cases, the cost for accommodation is very reasonable. Modern technological improvements also broaden the range of jobs available to people with disabilities.

At one time at the bank the only jobs available to deaf applicants, for example, were in the coin room, because only deaf persons could work with the noise of the machines. Times have changed, and today these same individuals have access to the full range of opportunities throughout the bank. It is an exciting time for disabled people entering the job market.

McDonnell advised participants to keep a journal tracking their volunteer work, who they did it for, and the relationships built while volunteering.

He also advised participants to put together a “success team”, and become the captain of it. Such a team requires four or five individuals who could help write a resumé that represents the participant’s talents and gifts. It is also important to have someone on the team who can speak honestly about a participant’s weaknesses.

The team would do mock interviews to prepare a participant for real employment interviews. Body language is a powerful thing, McDonnell said, advising participants to examine how they present themselves. A success team can also help identify potential opportunities and work with disclosure issues and concerns about accommodations needed to accomplish the work.

McDonnell suggested participants’ disabilities are not as big a deal to the corporate world as they might think. He stressed that an interview should be about abilities and accommodations for the disability, not about the disability.

He suggested participants be aware of their appearance when they go to an interview. Mobility aids should also be clean and well turned out. Bumper stickers on wheelchairs, might not make an appropriate first impression.

“Research the company you want to work for,” he suggested. Read annual reports and company brochures. Know the organizational structure. Read press coverage. Does the employer have a bad record of dealing with women? “Do you really want to work for a company like that?” he asked. “Take advantage of people you know within the company. If you are really bold, take a tour.”

McDonnell said in many big companies resumés are just scanned into a computer, so the resumé does not have to be pretty, just smart. The computer will scan for certain words. Begin sentences with action words and avoid using too many “I” statements for fear of looking self-centred.

A resumé should not be a life story. There is no need to mention marital status, children, or health. Focus on recent jobs and volunteer endeavours. Photos on resumés are not necessary, and could reduce chances of being interviewed. Focus on abilities and levels of achievement on technologies such as JAWS.

McDonnell said interviews should be a conversation for the employer to get to know the applicant. It is also an opportunity for the applicant to get to know the employer.

He urged participants to make sure accommodations for the interview are stipulated beforehand. He related a recent situation where a man in a wheelchair got to the building for an interview and could not get through the door. Applicants with companion dogs should take someone with them to care for the dog. Some people are allergic.

McDonnell reminded participants that a job interview is not an opportunity to do advocacy work for people with disabilities.

Prepare, participate, practice, and perception are the main points to remember, said McDonnell. He advised participants to know their abilities, take extra copies of their resumé to the interview, obtain the consent of references before providing them to a potential employer.

He reminded participants that orientation once on the job is a lifelong process. Technologies, people, and Canada change, so everyone is always being re-oriented.

He also advised participants to know what is expected of them in the job. As active participants in the orientation process they should ask questions and learn about the other members of the team. The goal is to have an equal footing in the workplace. “Don’t become someone’s inspirational pet,” he cautioned. Any employee’s job is to do the work to his or her best ability—it is not different for people with disabilities. Having a disability is a natural part of life.

Job Accommodation and Disclosure
Tom Collier, Corporate Liaison Officer, Employabilities

Employabilities stresses that accommodation is people doing different things that they are very good at. Breaking down jobs, so that they are manageable, is nothing new. The trick is finding the niche or the aspects that people can do and do well in an employment setting.

People should not be afraid to disclose said Collier. “Go in and be honest.” Everyone has something that needs to be accommodated. The focus should be on abilities.

Understanding the Job Market
Donna Garvin, Co-executive Director, On Site Placement Services

On Site Placement Services www.osp.ab.ca was established in 1981, said Co-executive Director Donna Garvin. She listed three trends dominating the labour market: demographics, technological changes, and globalization.

Demographics—baby boomers are beginning to retire and that is going to have a huge effect on health services and the job market.

Technological change—computer skills are critical in today’s job market. Garvin advised becoming comfortable with specialized software and systems technology to take advantage of the situation.

Globalization—other regions and countries are having a profound effect on local economies.

There is a lot of information on labour market realities, and a good place to look is the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at www.alis.gov.ab.ca . It has information about occupations available, job search tools, and labour market-related links.

For specific information or concerns, she suggested contacting the Alberta Career Information Hotline at (780) 422-4266. The hotline’s website address is www.alis.gov.ab.ca/hotline

Garvin said a job search is not something to do alone, but these sites will help participants to get started. She suggested preparing an analysis detailing specific needs, the type of place one is willing to work, whether one is willing to travel or relocate. The more flexible applicants are, the wider the job opportunities. She advised making the search as wide as possible.

In defining the kind of work one is looking for, it is critical to match skills and interests with jobs and the accommodation to do that job. It is also important to match the job with the disability. She advised consulting with those who have done work in the field or the agencies that have helped people find accommodations in the field.

Within occupations, different employers have different needs. She advised being creative and persisting. “If you are not suited to the needs of one employer in the field,” she said, “try another.” Look at different job duties within the field. In every occupation there is a diverse range of job-related tasks.

Garvin encouraged participants to find what sectors have the jobs they are interested in. Go through corporate directories and identify possible employers. It is beneficial to do informational interviews, or to volunteer in one’s field of endeavour. Try out the job with a job shadow opportunity.

“Be your own expert on the accommodations you need,” she advised. Garvin suggested to forum participants that they analyze what triggers their disability, and research their accommodations. She stressed that participants should avoid setting themselves up for failure by choosing a job that cannot accommodate their disability.

Q & A and Group Discussions

Responding to a comment that there had not been much discussion about the developmentally delayed, Garvin said she works with people with cognitive disabilities and the real hurdle they need to overcome is low self-esteem. Most are young and have come out of an evaluation system (school) where they cannot compete. She said it is important for them to get a good resumé together and be creative with what they have been doing in their lives that they could put in it. They should volunteer and develop employer references.

John Garland, handling the question period for Employabilities http://www.employabilities.ab.ca/, said it is important to get everyone who knows the employee together and match the employee with a suitable environment. Work experience is usually necessary to help bridge any knowledge gaps.

Asked what kind of advocacy work BMO does with other corporations to encourage employing people with disabilities, McDonnell joked that all other banks wanted to be like BMO. It is one of the top 100 employers, winning awards such as the Corporate Knight leadership award and, most recently, a race relations award for diversity employment. He said he is often asked to speak and share BMO’s experiences in equity hiring and accommodations.

A supplementary question referred to a law in Canada that businesses with more than 100 employees must have a minimum of 10 per cent workforce diversity. McDonnell said he did not believe that information was correct, but explained that the federal Employment Equity Act regulates 475 different corporations and “invites” them to diversify their workforce to represent the census diversity figures. There is also a commitment from the federal government that companies doing business with the government be representative according to the census figures.

A participant asked the panel to discuss the issue of newcomers to Canada who have disabilities. He asked if there are internships set aside for newcomers at BMO. McDonnell explained that there are two programs—Ability Edge and Career Edge at www.careeredge.ca—that offer six- to nine-month internships to people with disabilities. He said assistance to new Canadians is becoming an important topic of conversation. Prime Minister Paul Martin might have some program announcements in this area as an election nears.

Another participant expressed concern about the cost of equipment to accommodate his disability. Garvin replied that there are contacts within the provincial government that can provide funding under the Disability Related Employment Supports program. She said not all human resources counsellors are familiar with the funding or the process to access that funding.

McDonnell said that in most federally regulated corporations or major companies there is a centralized accommodation fund that operates at no cost to the employee and no cost to the manager or management unit. He suggested that people ask about the accommodation fund during an employment interview.

A participant asked how to disclose her “learning” disability to employers without “freaking them out.” McDonnell said it is different for those who do not have visible disabilities that are already “out there.” He said he could not tell anyone when to disclose, but there is specialized software that can accommodate learning disabilities in school and employment environments. He suggested understanding how the disability might impact the work duties and practice what to say to a potential employer. Transparency is important. He stressed coming up with one’s own solutions.

Garvin suggested a booklet that is available from human resources departments called Tips For Job Seekers With Disabilities, describing it is an excellent resource.

McDonnell said it is important to disclose the disability to at least one person in an organization, so that in case of an episode one’s dignity can be protected. He recounted the story of a woman who did not disclose and had a seizure. No one knew what to do for her. Ambulances were called and a spectacle was made. This was not how she would have liked the situation handled. If no one knows, the person with disabilities’ choices will not be respected.

Garvin suggested doing a Google search for Aroga, a company that offers specialized software and assistive devices.

A participant who had recently lost her hearing said she did not want to disclose her disability, to demonstrate she could operate in the hearing world. She said she did not want to use the “disability card.” McDonnell cautioned people about diminishing a part of themselves to mere paper with the statement “disability card,” even in conversation. He said being up front about her disability was important. He reassured her that her capability and strength would come through, whether she knew it or not. He suggested she speak with people about adaptive technology, including a RIM device. Garvin warned that text paging devices often do not work outside urban centres.

Another participant asked why it is taking so long, in a time of a skilled labour shortage in Canada, for employers to look to people with disabilities for their workforce. Garvin replied that it is often difficult to find the right people to speak with in organizations and there are times when the corporate goals do not match the efforts of the frontline workers. She suggested asking to speak with people in the company who deal with employment equity.

McDonnell said it is frustrating, but corporate Canada is not the only unaware entity—there is the issue of societal attitudes. People who will not deal with women still come to the bank. Another perception is that the Canadian market is too small for companies working in adaptive technologies. Some are working only to make devices compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and that is a lower standard. Continued advocacy is needed, he said.

Promoting Your Skill Set
Bonnie Barrigan, Distinctive Employment Counselling Services of Alberta (DECSA)

Bonnie Barrigan, a workplace integration specialist at DECSA www.decsa.com , explained that, in her role supporting persons with disabilities as they seek jobs, she notices clients find identifying their special set of skills the most difficult step.

The process of promoting a skill set should start with a personal skill inventory. She referred participants to a handout, which she uses with her clients for brainstorming skills. Barrigan outlined three types of skills employers are seeking. The first is technical skills or skills specific to particular types of work and requiring specific training.

The second type is personal management skills. To identify personal management skills individuals should think about how other people describe them, as the descriptors used for others are often personal management skills. She gave several examples of descriptors: organized, punctual, non-judgemental, open minded, creative problem solver. She noted that employers are looking for these skills, which persons with disabilities have used throughout their lives.

The third type is transferable skills. She defined these as transferable to any situation. She stated that in her experience, persons with disabilities are often unaware of the numerous valuable transferable skills they possess. Examples include communication skills, multi-tasking, writing, researching, decision making, achieving goals, computer skills. She emphasized that persons with disabilities possess numerous unique transferable skills.

Barrigan noted that many of her clients are initially uncomfortable disclosing their disabilities to prospective employers, but that during the process of identifying their unique set of skills this fear is often diminished. She advised participants to think of their disability as an ability, to recognize strengths such as using assisted ability technology that others cannot use. Barrigan encouraged all at the Edmonton forum to ask someone who will be honest and whom they trust for feedback as “others often see strengths we ourselves can’t see.” She also recommended participants become comfortable with the language used by recruiters to identify skills.

Barrigan outlined three key opportunities job seekers have to promote their skills to employers: cover letter, resumé, interview.

Cover letters should be short and catch the attention of the employer by showing a passion for key aspects of the job and the reasons the applicant wants the particular job at that particular company. She drew participants’ attention to a DECSA sheet of action, with words to help promote the skills for which employers electronically scan cover letters and resumés.

Resumés are often too long, Barrigan warned. Job interviews are the opportunity to expand upon experience, while cover letters and resumés are intended to promote skills most likely to be used in the job. She also emphasized building a network to assist in identifying and effectively communicating skills, as the process can be very affirming when not done alone.

The best preparation for an interview is practicing answers to questions interviewers are likely to ask. Individuals should prepare to enthusiastically state why they want the particular job.

In closing, Barrigan emphasized being confident and using the process for confidence building. She reminded participants of the importance of showing what they can do rather than emphasizing what they cannot do. She reminded participants that “You are not your disability” but a unique individual with unique skill sets to promote. She read several possible responses to an employer asking what unique contributions persons with disabilities would bring to a job.

Employer Perspective
Ryan Chouinard, President, Chouinard Marketing

Ryan Chouinard commented that until he was seeking employment himself, his disability had just been part of who he was—it was simply a matter of adjusting to life’s demands. However, when it came to finding employment he found that others made snap decisions about his capabilities.

When it comes to the removal of most barriers, it is “your attitude that is more important than the employers attitude” about abilities, said Chouinard. Throughout one’s career, one must remain positive and focus on one’s strengths. “Everybody excels at something,” he said—an inventory of hobbies and interests will reveal what an individual excels at.

Chouinard told the audience that when he remained focused on his abilities the biggest thing he had to overcome was shocked looks as employers noticed his disability. He said he found it works best not to take his disability so seriously—it is just a part of who he is—and the attitude he presents is the attitude he receives back. By laughing at himself he has been able to focus on positives, and has almost always received positives in return.

While there is always a need for an employee’s skills to fit the job, an employee’s attitude is everything, Chouinard commented. They should be enthusiastic and energetic. Self-promotion should focus on skills one enjoys doing well, as they will be done passionately in any work situation.

It is very powerful to be able to “enthusiastically tell prospective employers what it is that you can bring to their business for them.”

Employee Experience
Kimberly Gerritsen, Capital Hill Elementary, Calgary Board of Education
Jason Mitschele, Crown Council, Department of Justice Canada

Kimberly Gerritsen and Jason Mitschele, who also serve as members of the NEADS board of directors in the Alberta and Ontario representative positions respectively, briefly commented on their current jobs. Gerritsen is a teacher for the Calgary Board of Education, working with students with severe learning disabilities. She acknowledged that as a person with severe learning disabilities her road to becoming a certified teacher has been a long, difficult one. Mitschele is employed by the federal prosecution service in Toronto as a prosecutor of drug related offences.

Gerritsen and Mitschele highlighted four points, keys for career success: know yourself, know your career goal, think ahead, network.

Gerritsen stated that it is important to know what one truly has to offer and to remain positive by keeping in mind “you are not your disability.” She said knowing what accommodations she needed for her success in the work place was often a larger barrier than getting accommodations from employers.

Mitschele noted that networking can be an important step in determining one’s specific career goal. He recommended information interviews as a positive approach to learning about various careers. Another strategy is to take career information classes when they are offered—they often provide opportunities for job shadowing. Job fairs offer another opportunity to explore careers and potential employers. He stressed keeping in mind that in the end “Who knows you” may be the most important thing in finding a good career placement. Career exploration opportunities should also be used as opportunities to network—he recommended handing one’s own business card to prospective employers when receiving theirs. Internships were another way Mitschele explored careers. He participated in two out-of-country youth internship programs—these experiences gave him further insight into his career goals and acted as testaments to his dedication and character to future employers.

Gerritsen highlighted the necessity of thinking ahead, for career success. Students should not wait to the last minute to start building contacts and a resumé. She stressed seeking out volunteer opportunities. Further, job seekers with disabilities need to take the time to reflect on their disabilities and the types of accommodations they will need for career success. She encouraged participants to give themselves as much time as possible for accommodations to be set up in the work place. Assisted ability technology often takes time to be set up, and acquisition can be a drawn-out process of paperwork and meetings.

Mitschele reiterated the importance of networking and mentorship to career success. He commented that the day’s forum presented all participants with an opportunity to get started, and encouraged everyone to not miss out on it. Networking and establishing mentorships and success teams are ongoing processes. He joked that being blind is not always the best thing to be when those he prosecutes are released from jail, but that his blindness has provided him with unique ways of reminding people who he is (“the blind guy”)—Braille business cards, for example. In addition, with career success often come steep learning curves. Having more than one mentor is most helpful because mentorship is time consuming—one individual is not always available when needed—and having several mentors can provide different perspectives. When selecting mentors for a success team one should select individuals one can trust, talk openly to, emulate, and learn the ropes from.

NEADS Web Based Employment Resource
Jennison Asuncion, NEADS.ca manager, NEADS

In a brief overview of NEADS, Jennison Asuncion said it is a consumer organization founded in 1986 at Carleton University under the mandate to increase the self empowerment of students with disabilities. Members include disabled students, recent graduates, educators, organizations, and professional service providers. It is governed by a 12-member Board of Directors representing the geographical regions of the country, and is a member group of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

NEADS is involved in providing information on services and programs for students with disabilities, publishes a regular newsletter, and conducts research on issues of importance to its members. It holds a biannual national conference.

Asuncion explained that NEADS has been involved in employment initiatives since the 1994 creation of an Employer Advisory Council. Subsequently, the Investing in the Future Mentorship Project was created and Student Leadership and Employment Forums were held across Canada. Both projects received funding from the federal government. The present cross-country Job Search Strategies Forums are the result of feedback from our membership expressing a desire by students and graduates with disabilities to take part in workshops on employment transition.

The recent launch of the website www.NOWS.ca is NEADS’ greatest employment initiative to date. NOWS is a job site free to both employers and students. One can post resumés and cover letters to a targeted audience. Asuncion noted that in using the site, job seekers are making a self-disclosure of having a disability and should be prepared for disclosure. He provided the following facts about present users:

  • 889 students and recent graduates with disabilities are registered;
  • 52 employers are registered;
  • The top five sectors where registrants are seeking employment, in Alberta, are government, education/training, social services, administrative services, human resources.

Asuncion invited all interested participants to take the time to try NOWS in the Exhibit Room.

Q & A and Group Discussions

Asked what percentage of employers on the NOWS website are from Alberta, Asuncion responded that 89 registered students are from Alberta, that NOWS is a new project, and that the cross-country forums were expected to raise awareness of this new initiative. Jennifer Dillon noted that several of the registered employers are from national companies and that at present four of the 51 companies on the site are specifically Albertan. She added that the more students register on the site, the more attractive the site will become to employers. Mitschele added that many of the registered companies are national companies who hire in Alberta.

Explaining how employers are being recruited to post positions on the NOWS website, Asuncion said that advertisements have been placed in human resource magazines and that the NEADS staff have attended workshops put on by employers. He added that job fairs have also been used as a means of advertising. He encouraged participants to let NEADS know about job fairs.

Asked whether NEADS sets up workshops for employers, Asuncion said NEADS would love to do more workshops for employers; more face-to-face sessions with students. However, a lack of funding often stands in the way of presentations in different parts of Canada. The present Job Search Strategy Forums project provides a wonderful opportunity to bring awareness of the organization to a wider audience in a number of provinces.

A participant asked about ongoing or recent research on learning disabilities—all too often the answer given by professionals to individuals diagnosed with a learning disability is the “medication solution.” Gerritsen replied that she is a member of the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta (LDAA). This association is working to increase awareness of learning disabilities and the types of accommodations needed so that the “medication solution” does not have to be the answer. There is a wealth of information on the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada’s (LDAC) website. Gerritsen said the annual conferences of the LDAA and LDAC would interest those encountering barriers because of learning disabilities.

Responding to a participant who asked what information interviews are, Mitschele said they are used by job seekers to gain information about either a particular company or type of work. The job seeker initiates contact with a company by making a cold call seeking a 20–30 minute informal discussion with someone there. Asuncion added that he did a lot of information interviews when he was looking for work. He stressed that the most difficult part is making the cold call, as most people like an opportunity to talk about their jobs. Barrigan commented that some of her clients are initially uncomfortable with an informal face-to-face discussion and choose to do information interviews over the phone. She suggested some questions to ask in information interviews: What is needed to succeed in the job? What type of background and skills do workers doing the job possess? What makes you passionate about your job? She added that information interviews often lead to opportunities to job shadow.

Asked for comments on the challenges they encountered in the work place, Gerritsen responded that she has run into many—some she could predict and some she could not. Her biggest concern had been having to leave her very specialized computer at her place of work. The resolution she found was a laptop computer which she can have with her always. She added that when encountering unexpected challenges her solution has always been to be up front and that she has always found a great willingness to help. Chouinard responded that the greatest challenge he has encountered has been a disparity between his abilities and the perceptions of them by others. Demonstrating that he was capable of more than others thought has always been rewarded by increased respect and confidence in his abilities. Dillon reiterated that it is always best to do research beforehand to know what accommodations are needed.

A participant asked whether service providers carefully correlate their services with the needs of the clients and whether referrals are made to more appropriate services if necessary. Barrigan responded that referrals to other programs are frequently made. She commented that service providers need to be aware of other programs in the community so that appropriate services can be provided to all seeking assistance.

Responding to confusion between NEADS and NOWS Asuncion explained that NEADS is the larger organization and stands for National Educational Association of Disabled Students and that NOWS is a product of this association (a job posting website for employers recruiting and persons with disabilities seeking employment).

Forum Evaluation

Jennison Asuncion explained that NEADS is committed to improving what it does. He asked participants to watch for an email message from NEADS providing them with an opportunity to evaluate the Edmonton forum. He emphasized that the Job Search Strategies committee and the staff at NEADS want to know from participants what could be improved upon and what they would like to see more of in upcoming forums, as well as what had been done well. He stressed that the feedback would be used by NEADS to make the future forums an even greater success.

Closing Remarks

Jennifer Dillon thanked participants. She stated that NEADS was pleased to have had the opportunity to come to Edmonton and hoped to come back. She underscored Asuncion’s invitation, asking participants to take part in the evaluation they would receive.

Dillon observed that the day had been very interactive and informative. She thanked participating companies, employment professionals, and speakers for taking the time to make the forum a success. The forum had been intended to be a very practical, interactive experience—Dillon said she hoped those in attendance would leave with practical job search strategies and steps to ease the transition from school to work. She also expressed a hope that the forum would serve as an opportunity to start networking and that delegates had received professional feedback from the participating career professionals.

Dillon summarized the key messages presented throughout the day:

  • Remember that job searching can be a very tough, frustrating enterprise and a supportive success team can help ease the frustrations.
  • Do not forget the importance of networking throughout your employment search.
  • Build a strong “success team” which may include career development professionals, people to provide references and feedback, supportive friends, and mentors.
  • Keep in mind “you are your own best expert about your accommodation needs.”
  • Always focus on your strengths; promote your abilities.
  • In trying to define your employment goals, learning what you don’t like—can be as valuable as knowing what you do like.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to gain experience through volunteer work and internships.

She concluded by reiterating her thanks to all participants, and reminded them to take the time to attend a demonstration of the NEADS Online Work System (NOWS) in the Exhibit Room.


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