Integrating People with Disabilities into the Workplace

Tapping into diverse labour streams has never been more important, especially with current labour shortages. Many BC publicly-funded employment agencies work to successfully match tourism employers with non-traditional labour pools, including people with disabilities. Though once the recruitment process is done, there may be questions about how best to accommodate people with disabilities and what they might need to do their jobs as effectively as possible. Some of the solutions are surprisingly easy and practical, explained Mark Gruenheid, former program manager for Abilities in Mind (AIM), part of the BC Centre for Ability.

The BC Centre for Ability helps interested employers tap into and hire people with disabilities through workplace training sessions. Some of these discussions start at the earliest steps of the recruitment process, including what kind of questions to ask (and not to ask), how to ensure an inclusive interview process, and other recruitment tips.

While recruitment is one piece of the HR puzzle to help maintain a successful business, there is little doubt that retention is another critical piece. “Good recruitment and retention can be easy to achieve and not as complicated as you might think,” said Gruenheid.

One relatively simple approach is to update website copy so it more accurately represents your organization’s commitment to disability, diversity and inclusion. A few other solutions include: creating ability testing (versus only focusing on past experience) when hiring, coaching team leaders and human resources staff to recognize talent beyond the obvious, build costs associated with accommodation into existing budgets to better allow for greater diversity and talent, investigate mentorship and/or job shadowing opportunities, and work with free employment agencies that represent people with disabilities who have a variety of experience, expertise and skill levels.

The advantages of recruiting and retaining a team of knowledgeable, skilled and well-trained staff are, of course, significant in terms of increased productivity and a greater bottom line. Another key retention strategy, Gruenheid added, “is to always ensure the lines of communication are open, which is an onus and responsibility that falls on employers.”

Simply put, this means asking new and existing hires what they need to do their job as best they can. At times, this could be as basic as procuring a certain type of office chair, acquiring a larger monitor or shifting the layout of an office desk. Another upside to making these sorts of changes is the fact that they sometimes benefit other employees as well.

“As one example, a major employer we work with has created flexible office arrangements for certain departments so team members can sit anywhere on that floor that happens to work for them,” Gruenheid added. “This means they can pick any desk configuration they find comfortable or even work from home, which has benefitted that whole department.”

Another key step, he explained, is to normalize the idea of accommodating and integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. As an employer, it’s important to highlight any minor or major steps that have already been taken to better accommodate or integrate other staff members with doing their jobs.

The third step is to take a holistic approach to integrate people with disabilities into your workplace, inside the office and outside. To encourage retention, he stated that it’s just as important to be inclusive of people with disabilities with social activities that happen outside of regular work hours. “Chances are that those with disabilities would equally like to join in after-work drinks or dinner, but may need just a bit of extra time to get ready or leave with the rest of the staff. A simple question is all it can take to keep these employees included and in the loop and feel part of the team.”

The final step is to remember that people with disabilities are people, first and foremost. “There’s a myth around people with disabilities that they are happy to have any job or to stay in an entry level job indefinitely, and this is not often the case. They’re people who – just like everyone else – like to be challenged, to learn and grow professionally and explore career development opportunities and so on.”

Gruenheid emphasized that when recruiting and retaining people with disabilities into any workplace, the main idea is to look beyond obligatory compliance. Through openness, communications and a willingness to be flexible, the goal is to create a workplace that’s genuinely welcoming and inclusive to everyone, resulting in an improved morale, higher productivity, reduced turnover and other bottom-line benefits.

For more information or to find out the next steps in recruiting, integrating and retaining those with disabilities, please visit Abilities Canada.