Next Steps for Hiring People with Disabilities

Once the business case has been made and some rock-solid reasons have been established about why employers should consider hiring those with disabilities (e.g., commitment to excellence, strong work ethic, high job retention, decreased turnover, etc.), there are the next steps to consider. More specifically, the question for employers as to how to tap into this capable yet under-utilized labour market may need to be answered. That’s where Mark Gruenheid steps in.

As the program manager for Abilities in Mind (AIM), a key program of the BC Centre for Ability, Gruenheid and his team help interested employers get started in hiring people with disabilities through workplace training. Some of this training covers topics such as what to ask and not to ask, modifying job descriptions to tap into this market, offering tips for inclusive interviewing, creating a more welcoming and accommodating workplace, and other helpful pointers.

“Any move towards hiring people with disabilities begins with a discussion around awareness,” Gruenheid said. “AIM works on all the hows – how to build your culture around diversity, how to build awareness and learning, how everyone can benefit from a more open and accommodating environment. After all, some 20 to 25 per cent of people will be affected by a disability at some point in their lives.”

To help change perceptions about disability, open up communications and encourage employers to see the individuals and skills first and the disability second, AIM conducts a number of programs, workshops and training sessions to help employers reach out to this labour pool. Some of these session titles include: Disability Awareness (Disability 101), Workplace Accommodations, Disclosing Disability, Inclusive Interviewing, Serving Customers with Disabilities, Mental Health in the Workplace, Organizational Engagement, and Disability Management.

Gruenheid added that though these sessions are interactive and offer a wealth of practical information, much of the value often lies in the ensuing discussions. If necessary, AIM can also tailor its presentations according to each employer’s specific needs and/or concerns.

“Through our work and workshops, I feel confident we can bring awareness, understanding and guidance that could be easily implemented to help untap this labour pool, especially when you consider the current labour shortages,” Gruenheid said. “Employers shouldn’t be afraid, this isn’t as hard as people think. Working with those with disabilities doesn’t mean changing your business or hiring procedures. It’s about bringing employers to a point where there’s a level of comfort and understanding with hiring from this talent pool and motivating people with disabilities to apply.”

Working closely with all disability-focused organizations in the community, AIM has collaborated with numerous clients across various industries to create a more dynamic and diverse workplace culture. Some of AIM’s past and present clients have included Marriott Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, American Airlines, the Vancouver Aquarium, Vancity Credit Union and Shangri-La Hotels Vancouver – to name just a few.

Bernie Johnson, Director of Human Resources at the Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver, credits AIM for helping the property better access this diverse and capable labour pool. Shangri-La and AIM first started collaborating shortly after the property officially opened in 2009.

At the request of the hotel’s HR team at the time, Mark Gruenheid conducted a large workshop focussing on disability awareness and demystification featuring a speaker with cerebral palsy who was successfully employed within the hotel industry. Gruenheid noted that the workshop was “very well received” by the hotel.

Since then, the Shangri-La has worked with AIM to tap into this market, discover better ways to create a more accommodating environment and, in some cases, re-integrate staff members who have suffered debilitating injuries, whether it’s through finding them new positions, shifting their responsibilities or removing any physical or ability barriers so they can do their jobs effectively.

Currently, the Shangri-La employs nine staff members (comprising nearly four per cent of its workforce) with some sort of physical or mental disability in both front-of-house and back-of-house positions – many of whom have been with the property since it launched in Vancouver. Johnson said that while the hotel has always been proactive in creating an inclusive workplace, workshops such as those offered by AIM can certainly be helpful for other tourism and hospitality employers in getting ready to hire those with disabilities – especially at the management level, where there may be particular areas of concern or barriers that could preclude some people with disabilities from doing their jobs.

“Ultimately, it’s important to build a culture of hospitality and inclusion and that’s what we have here – those are our values and that’s what we focus on with all of our staff,” said Johnson. “By creating this inclusive culture, we’re setting up our employees for success and that helps everyone, including our hotel.”

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