Halifax Job Search Strategies Forum Report
Transitioning from School to Work
Nancy Blair said the choice to disclose a disability is a personal one, and depends on the potential workplace. Applicants might not need to disclose if their disability would not affect their job performance. If a disability could affect job performance, then there is a need to disclose, for the sake of the applicant and the employer.
Disclosing a disability has advantages: it educates employers on issues affecting disabled people; it gains accommodations in the workplace; and it might result in an ally in the workplace, as the employer or other employees might have a disability not readily apparent.
The disadvantage to disclosing is the possibility of being disqualified from the interview process. However, an applicant probably would not want to work in an intolerant workplace, said Blair.
Considering whether to disclose also helps individuals to identify and know their disabilities. Explaining the disability in simple terms and in the context of its effect on the workplace can strengthen interview skills and spread awareness of the issues faced by people with disabilities.
“You have a disability but you also have abilities and possibilities,” Blair said. Be sure an employer understands exactly the skills being brought to the workplace, and the steps that should be put in place to ensure productivity.
Blair said participants should speak with employers at this forum, and ask about their interview approach and about available accommodations.
Duncan MacAuley said accommodations are modifications that help lessen the effect of an individual’s disability. Workplace accommodations fall into three main categories: equipment, assistive technology, and workplace modifications.
Equipment might include wheelchairs, orthotics, or service animals. MacAuley said that equipment options are often more cost-effective for the workplace. For instance, a wheelchair with an adjustable seat is a much smaller investment than lowering workplace counters and workstations.
Assistive technology is readily available, said MacAuley. A raised mouse reduces fatigue and stress on the hand, while a head- or voice-activated mouse enables full use with limited mobility. Screen-reading software such as JAWS reads aloud everything on the computer screen—including icons. Software like ZoomText magnifies portions of the screen. A refreshable Braille display converts and transmits screen text to a thin Braille strip. Portable solutions include a highlighter that scans and stores information for computer download, or reads highlighted words aloud.
Workplace modifications might include the construction of ramps, widening washroom stalls, or the purchase of specialty office furniture such as horizontal filing cabinets for easier wheelchair access.
Funding for workplace accommodations might be provided by the individual, the Canada Access Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities, other government agencies, or the employer. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says employers must accommodate employees’ special needs, within reason. MacAuley said accommodation is a small price to pay for a fully functional employee.
Many effective accommodations cost little or nothing. A 15-year study conducted by Sears showed that 69% of workplace accommodations cost nothing, 28% cost less than $1,000, and only 3% cost more than $1,000. A workplace accommodation might be as simple as relocating an employee away from a window glare that hampers vision, or away from a high-traffic area that impedes concentration. Allowing flexible work schedules and unpaid leave are accommodations that can improve employee productivity at no cost to an employer.
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