Success in STEM
Rights Within the Workforce: A guide for employers
Researcher Jessica Cowan-Dewar explains in the first section of this guide that significant attitudinal barriers still exist for individuals wanting to enter into science and technology fields. Employers continue to hold misperceptions during the hiring process. As such, there is a great need for communication and partnership between Canadian employers and individuals with identified disabilities wanting to enter into these fields. In this section, we will highlight the paths to this partnership and the employment rights that can assist individuals into breaking into these markets. Knowledge and communication are required to bridge this gap.
The results of the NEADS 2008 study regarding people with disabilities in science and technology sectors revealed that individuals with identified disabilities are grossly underrepresented in fields such as math, chemistry, physics, environmental sciences, geology, information technology and engineering. Employers often hold misperceptions that these positions are ‘not suited’ to individuals with disabilities (Jessica Cowan-Dewar, 2009). This is especially true of visible disabilities, where employers may believe that the environment cannot cater to the individuals needs. These attitudinal barriers act to prevent individuals with disabilities from obtaining employment in these fields. This stigma and mentality is often also found in science-focused academia, and many students with disabilities are discouraged from engaging in science studies. These misperceptions are both false and discouraging for many individuals, who may be put off by the process of obtaining education and employment in these fields.
The myths and misperceptions outlined below are commonly held by many educators and employers in science and technology fields.
MYTH #1: Accommodations are costly and require significant resources
Funding for Workplace Accommodation Costs
The Canadian government funds tax credit initiatives designed to encourage employers to hire and accommodate individuals with disabilities. “Employers and businesses may deduct the amount they paid during the taxation year to make certain modifications or alterations to a building for purposes of accessibility to persons with disabilities. These amounts are thus claimable as current expenses, rather than using the Capital Cost Allowance method. The treatment of these accessibility-related expenditures as current expenses is set out at sections 20(1)(qq) and 20(1)(rr) of the Income Tax Act (ITA) Only those expenditures specifically prescribed by regulation are covered” (Beatty, 2004). This credit includes making large structural changes necessary for individuals with mobility impairments including: installing ramps, installing electric door openers, bathroom modifications. Additionally, this includes many accommodations for those with visual and hearing impairments such as: elevator car indicator; Braille panel or audio signal; visual fire alarm; listening devices for group meetings; and disability-specific computerized software. This incentive provides further assistance to employers to make the appropriate accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Each province differs in the number of resources made available for accommodations. In Ontario, employers are provided with a ‘Workplace Accessibility Tax Incentive’ (WATI) to assist companies in making these structural provisions (ramps, modified elevators, and bathrooms).“ It also includes the purchase of devices or equipment that is required by an employee to perform job duties.” (Beatty, 2004).
MYTH #2: Determining accommodations requires much time and effort
If the communication exists and there is still confusion as to how to proceed with accommodations, it might be useful to contact local community organizations that work to serve individuals with disabilities (AccessSTEM, 2009). These supports are useful resources for employers to navigate in setting up accommodations.
MYTH #3: Employers are solely responsible for providing all accommodations
How to Recruit Eligible Employees with Disabilities
This section outlines select programs and services identified as helpful for employers in the recruitment of persons with disabilities.
Within Canada, employers are required to accommodate individuals with disabilities within
their work environment (short of causing undue hardship). It is suggested that employers treat
accommodation requests in a respectful and urgent manner. Understand that disclosing a disability
may be intimidating for many individuals and should be treated with confidentiality. Refrain
from asking disability related questions that are not relevant to the accommodations needed.
Acknowledge that temporary accommodations may need to be set in place until long term solutions
can be resolved and be open to the employee in question contributing to this process. Finally, it
is important to remember that everyone is different, and accommodations will vary depending
upon employees particular needs. It is believed that accommodation works best if approached in a
cooperative and collaborative manner.
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