October is Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM). To help raise awareness, CBC Calgary highlights stories of self-advocates and inclusive employers. Learn more at cbc.ca/mycalgary.
This is an email interview with Chantelle Robinson, who is the human resources manager at the Calgary Winter Club. She shares her experience overcoming some of the fears, assumptions and biases of hiring people with disabilities.
Why is it important to hire people with disabilities?
The hardest part of hiring people with disabilities was our personal inability to understand how and where to start – we had to overcome fear, assumptions and prejudices about disabilities.
When we hear the name of a disability, we assume the worst version of it. Cerebral palsy can be serious. However, many people with cerebral palsy lead very productive lives with little or no limitations. Blindness does not necessarily mean the total inability to see. People tend to focus on what people with disabilities can’t do rather than what they can do. We had to consciously change our way of thinking to focus on the opportunities.
People tend to focus on what people with disabilities can’t do rather than what they can do. We had to consciously change our way of thinking to focus on the opportunities.-Chantelle Robinson
We worked with Prospect to conduct an audit of our policies and an employee survey to help us see our unknown roadblocks. There was no cost to us.
What became apparent were some of the requirements we had in our job descriptions. For example, requiring a high school diploma for an entry-level position is an unnecessary barrier, but is so common in typical job postings.
What benefits have you seen in hiring people with disabilities?
Having a diverse workforce builds empathy, community, and respect for others. We support everyone’s successes and goals and have a better understanding of what community really means.
We have and continue to see our employees grow as people when all abilities are represented in our workforce.
What does it take as an employer to adapt to hiring people with disabilities?
Drop all your assumptions. Hosting is usually neither complicated nor expensive. There are also many agencies to help employers. Assess your policies and culture to see if there are any hidden barriers for people with disabilities and proactively make changes.
Drop all your assumptions. Hosting is usually neither complicated nor expensive.-Chantelle Robinson
Sometimes new hires don’t identify disabilities or required accommodations during the interview process. However, when we learn what we can do to adapt, it’s usually inexpensive and simple, or sometimes we have to get creative.
For example, we had an employee with limited use of both arms. We were able to do job carving – swapping tasks with another position – to create a role that worked for everyone. In another case, we had a new hire support person shadow them for the first few weeks on the job to train and familiarize themselves with the workspace. We also brought in agencies to do on-the-job training with existing staff to understand how to support others in the workplace.
Regardless of ability, I believe employers should regularly ask employees if they have what they need to be successful in their role, as things can change and different accommodation may be more helpful.