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Factors and Reasons Leading to the Society's Existence

The Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities was formed to recognise, address, and represent issues facing Canadian professionals with disabilities.

Some of the factors and reasons that led to the non-profit's formation are as follows.

a. Lack of Information, Support, and Awareness Regarding Professionals with Disabilities

b. Life and Quality of Life Issues That Impact and/or Are Impacted by the Career Realities That Professionals with Disabilities Specifically Face

c. The Need for Confidential Services for Professionals with Disabilities to Ask for Support and Information

d. Professionals with Disabilities Are Falling through the Cracks

e. Poverty

f. Disability Supports Issues

g. Duty to Accommodate

h. Financial Disincentives to and in Employment

i. Professionals with Disabilities Are Available to Address Skill Shortage Problems

j. Link to Finding Talented and Skilled Professionals with Disabilities

k. Aging into Disability and the Maturing Workforce

l. Break the Glass Ceiling Barring Professionals with Disabilities from Getting to the Top of Their Professions

m. Increase the Respect for, and the Influence, Recognition, and Acceptance of the Value and Abilities of Professionals with Disabilities

 

a. Lack of Information, Support, and Awareness Regarding Professionals with Disabilities


Insensitive

"Teamwork was a big part of my masters degree program. Learners were expected to find a team that would accept them as members. As a result, people were included based upon similarities and excluded for differences. This may explain why the handful of people with disabilities that entered my program quickly shrunk to include no one but me by the end of our second term. Constantly being treated as different and often less than those who exclude you is tough enough, but you also have to be more determined and confident in your abilities as you can be certain that you will feel unwanted and may even be told, as I was that people who require accommodations should not be allowed in masters programs. "


There is still little awareness and support regarding professionals with disabilities. If the employment situation is to improve for them, there has to be greater awareness, knowledge, understanding, inclusion, and acceptance of them and their abilities.

There are good employers who respect, hire, and include professionals with disabilities. However, discrimination is still a major problem facing professionals with disabilities, as it has no respect for intelligence, training, qualifications, abilities, and experience.

Accumulatively, the indifference, misconceptions, discomfort, ignorance, prejudice, and fear that many relevant stakeholders (such as employers, co-workers, service providers, government, educators, and professional associations) have towards professionals with disabilities may be their greatest barriers to finding sustainable and rewarding livelihoods.

When it comes to programs that support them in securing (or remaining in) employment and other income generating opportunities, more has been done to help people with disabilities get into unskilled, entry level, support, semiskilled, and clerical work. Very little is being done to help professionals with disabilities to enter, develop, advance, and/or sustain a career.

Also, the programs aimed at people with disabilities to become self-employed/entrepreneurs are not a solution for all professionals with disabilities. The jury is still out on whether they can effectively address the economic and life issues faced by many professionals with disabilities and the sustainable income and desired quality of life that they want. Furthermore, the same barriers facing them to secure regular employment may still be present in self-employment and entrepreneurship. In some cases choosing self-employment/entrepreneurship may even introduce more problems - i.e. the loss of income and disability benefits and supports; increased social isolation; mounting debt; and the inability to pay for "the unexpected" (i.e. equipment repairs or replacements including work related adaptive/assistive technology). In a climate where most startups fail or never get off the ground (for anyone - whether able-bodied or not), before any person with a disability determines that self-employment/entrepreneurship is right for them, that person has to do some assessment of their situation. Going straight into the self-employment/entrepreneurship route without doing any type of constructive and realistic personal and life assessment can lead to hardship and anguish and threaten their current and future economic, disability, and quality of life situations.


The Ugly Duckling

"I wanted to get a new start in life and increase my employability, so I entered a co-op based graduate program to get that fresh start. Up until then, I had a history of short-term positions and long-term unemployment. I also wanted to get beyond only working in the disability non-profit sector, as it did not offer much security, constantly reminded me of being disabled, and was pigeonholing (and labelling) me in my career aspirations.

My graduate studies application stated why I thought the co-op would help me meet my career goal of moving out of working in the disability sector, but the co-op coordinator took no note of that. He asked me if I ever considered working with people with disabilities and thought that I should work with them, as I was one of them and could relate. He also felt I had too much experience for a co-op (I was only in my early 30's and there were people in their 40's who had successful, long term and continuous high level positions getting co-ops.). The purposes of co-ops are to: gain experience; increase people's employability; and/or gain opportunities to work in different industries and fields.

I was the only person in my class who wanted a co-op but did not get one. The only time I was called for a co-op opportunity was after all the other students turned the position down. I later found out that my experience was not that unusual from other students with disabilities who had similar experiences."


When speaking about the need for greater awareness and understanding,, many people have the misconception that professionals with disabilities should (or want to) work in hidden, backroom, self-directed, low energy, non-challenging, or sit down/desk job type positions. Some even believe that people with disabilities should (or want to) "work with their own kind".

This is far from being the truth. Like other people, many professionals with disabilities: want to and can effectively work with the public, clients, and staff; do not want to be working alone or in offsite contract positions; have plenty of energy and want challenge; and do not want to be tied to a desk, telephone, or computer. Like anyone else, professionals with disabilities want career choices not limitations.

From our research and networking, the Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities found there was no organisation in Canada that solely focused on the unique needs of all professionals with disabilities. (However, we were happy to find during our incorporation process, the then recently created Canadian Association of Physicians with Disabilities). Though there are some services to support students with disabilities in post-secondary education, there is little or no support for them once they graduate and enter the world of work.

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b. Life and Quality of Life Issues That Impact and/or Are Impacted by the Career Realities That Professionals with Disabilities Specifically Face

Upon post-secondary graduation, many graduates with disabilities find that they have lost a support network of like-minded career oriented peers with disabilities.


Stuck Sitting on the Bench

"I can take what life throws at me, but it would help if someone pitches me a ball first."

From a professional with a disability talking about the lack of employment opportunities and prospects who are willing to give her the opportunity to show her competencies.


In fact, most have just fallen off the radar screen upon graduation and many may become socially, professionally, and economically isolated.

After continuously encountering employment barriers barring them to succeed in their careers, countless professionals with disabilities suffer in silence. Some give up on their dreams and sometimes even give up on life.

Facing rejection continually would beat down almost anyone, and many professionals with disabilities have been experiencing this for decades.


What Not to Say to a Person with a Disability

"I work with someone with a disability who is a champion extreme sports athlete and competes around the world. (and as such) He is so driven and inspirational. Why can't you be like him?"

Many people with disabilities have been at the receiving end of hearing similar insensitive "super disabled person" stories to the one above.

This is like telling the "average woman" that she has clearly failed as a woman, because she does not look like a supermodel and that she hasn't tried hard enough to look like one.

Imposing such bizarre expectations on anyone is disrespectful, as it does not value people for who they are. Just because a person with a disability chooses to do such larger than life superhuman feats that does not mean that they have any more drive than a person with a disability who chooses to direct their energy somewhere else. Furthermore, it is wrong to expect that people with disabilities should develop such trademark disability stereotypical qualities of being super positive, iconic, superhuman, heroes, inspirational, and/or having that hyper joie de vivre just so they can be recognised, accepted, respected, and valued by others.


 

Still a great many professionals with disabilities are finding it very hard to stick to the adage "fake it until you make it" in their efforts to succeed.

Apart from it being potentially soul destroying when taken too far, by putting on such a good facade for others, it does not leave much room to ask for help when one really needs it, express oneself honestly, or to tell it like it really is.

After all, some of them may believe that this, in theory, is not suppose to be happening to them. These people are often portrayed to be the exemplary role models of successful people with disabilities, and for many of them, because of trying to maintain this image, they find it very difficult to express perceived vulnerability or ask for help. These professionals with disabilities have done all the right things to be employed, to retain and advance in employment, and to be accepted in the workplace culture, yet they are still having problems despite their supposedly sought after skill set, willpower, and right attitude. Meanwhile, many risk watching life pass them by and seeing their dreams dashed in trying to become established, re-established, or continue in their careers. Often, their lives have been put on hold until their careers turn around in their favour. Sadly, some even foist unwarranted shame, blame, and anger upon themselves as they internalize the career difficulties affecting them as being caused by them rather than by factors that are outside of their control.

Likewise, numerous professionals with disabilities who become disabled during their careers share many of the same problems faced by graduates with disabilities.


I Have a Dream

"It would be great to see more people with disabilities being hired in "permanent" positions so that they can have more stability to create a life and future.

I know that there is no such thing as a permanent job anymore, but I would love to live in a bit of bliss and reprieve of knowing that I have something that lasts for more than a year. I have had several short-term jobs and contracts (as well as long periods of unemployment). Others would call some of these jobs" foot in the door" positions, but more often than not, my foot remains lodged there. Besides, "the foot" line does not seem to make sense when one decade rolls into the next, and I am still living like this.

Temporary positions have enhanced my flexibility, knowledge, and skill set, but they are very emotionally draining because of constantly having to re-establish myself. Apart from the fatigue of always having to adapt to a new situation and living with instability, just when I am getting to know my coworkers and feeling part of the group, my job ends and I feel torn apart from people I love to work with. My last position like this ended with almost everyone in tears. Part of enjoying work and life is the social connection you have with others at work. When the position ends, often that social connection ends too, so there is a double loss.

Again, I am looking for permanent and temporary opportunities. Temporary positions give me income, (perhaps) the opportunity for now, and the chance to develop other streams of income if time, energy, opportunity, and resources permit, but they postpone and perhaps eliminate the opportunity for me to pursue my other dreams and participate in other aspects of life. For example, for every maternity leave posting I apply to, I ask myself will I ever have the choice to have children and the opportunity to go on maternity leave too."


 

Life changes suddenly once one becomes disabled. Dealing with the newness and stigma of having a disability while trying to build or sustain a career can be very difficult.

To make matters worse, we live in a society where having a career is a major factor in defining who we are (and to a significant degree how others see us). That only makes it worse for many professionals with disabilities who are already living with enough hardship and rejection.

Work impacts the ability of professionals with disabilities to have a good life, partake in life opportunities, take risks to independence, and take part in such critical aspects of life as: the ability to afford to "move out" and have a place of one's own; the choice to remain single, enter into a relationship, get married, and/or have children; the ability to live a health conscious lifestyle; the ability to socialise; the access to home ownership, transportation, and health care; the pursuit of advanced education and career development/opportunities; the planning for retirement; and the pursuit of active community involvement.

One of the goals of the Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities is to address life and quality of life issues that impact and/or are impacted by the career realities that professionals with disabilities specifically face, and to provide that assistance through support, camaraderie, and linkages. We are dedicated to full participation in society and finding a balanced life regardless of what may be happening in one's career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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c. The Need for Confidential Services for Professionals with Disabilities to Ask for Support and Information

The Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities understands that the need for discretion, confidentiality, and anonymity for professionals with disabilities is of paramount importance when seeking information and support for a variety of reasons.

There is still a stigma attached to being a professional with a disability. Many professionals with disabilities and health/medical conditions feel that they cannot afford to disclose what they have to their employers, colleagues, coworkers, and clients out of fear that it could damage their careers if they do.


If You Can Read My Mind

A person with a disability chose a career to become an icon to people without disabilities, as he felt no one was hiring him for what he wanted to do because of discrimination, and he needed to support himself. He was paid to re-enforce the disability stereotypes of being heroic, triumphant, and inspirational. He was giving people what they wanted to hear - not what he believed. People believed he had it all because of his onstage persona and inspirational stories. Behind the scenes, he became a very bitter and lonely person and knew he was living a lie. He was not true to himself nor did he "walk the talk". He became a teller of tales rather than truths. The only time he felt happy was when he was performing. The more he presented this persona, the more he hated people without disabilities. He regarded every "performance" as a way to get one over the able-bodied. He could make his audience do anything with the right word, story or look. This person had seemed to reach a point of despair where he was unable to give anyone without a disability a chance to show support and goodwill.

No person with a disability should feel forced to exploit themselves to perpetuate a myth in order to make a living, and at the expense of compromising their values, and losing their social and emotional well-being.


Often professionals with disabilities have to become model employees (or professionals) out of necessity to minimise being stigmatized. They have to be as good or better than all the other employees (or professionals) just to fit in and be accepted. Countless professionals with disabilities have to constantly struggle to prove their competencies to clients, colleagues, and management without disabilities despite their achieved professional status, experience, and education. At times, many feel they have to become (or appear to be) overachievers, super human, or iconic not only at work but often in their personal lives too just to be heard and accepted, move forward, and/or keep their jobs. Others learn to act as if they have no disabilities just to protect themselves, their colleagues, and their positions from the negative reactions that people with disabilities often receive. These are major sacrifices and tall orders to fill just to be accepted as an ordinary person, as it leaves no room for these professionals with disabilities to be themselves or the frailties of just being human.

Furthermore, out of fear of facing long term unemployment in their career or in any other paid work (It may take months to years to find employment - some may never find another position again.), many professionals with disabilities will put up with being treated badly and exploited at work.

Sometimes professionals with disabilities work in environments where the expectations of them are so low that doing even the most mundane, simple task is seen as being something out of the ordinary, the exception, and remarkable by coworkers and management. They may receive overblown accolades, but any other higher expectations of them stops there. Often they find themselves as being the token employees with disabilities. However, if the alternative for them is unemployment, many professionals with disabilities feel they have to accept the token status in order to put money in their pocket and build a life, and with the hope that it may provide opportunities for them in the future, and perhaps open doors for other workers with disabilities.


And Your Point Is???

"I once hired a person with a disability. It didn't work out."

Said by an unenlightened employer


Frequently, professionals with disabilities find themselves as unwitting or reluctant role models and ambassadors for all people with disabilities and what people with disabilities can do in the workplace. This can be a huge responsibility to bear, but it comes with the territory of breaking down social and employment barriers.

As many professionals with disabilities can attest to, when an employer evaluates the work, ability, and character of a professional with a disability, many of them are still judging the results of that professional with a disability as being synonymous to all people with disabilities or on the basis of a past employee with a disability (or past experience with a person with a disability).


Simply Not Capable

"I find people with disabilities who do not live independently are not capable of taking on responsibility or being effective at work."

The above was a mean spirited, unfounded, pointed remark directed at a professional colleague with a disability who was not living independently. It was a purposeful attempt to demoralize this new co-worker and discredit her in the eyes of fellow co-workers. The attempt succeeded, as it was a short term job with a possibility of extension. Co-workers supported their new colleague but were fearful of their positions, as the person who made the remark was their senior. As a result, they more so supported and socialized with the new colleague when their superior was not around. The organisation professed to be inclusive and team oriented, but this new colleague felt like she had be sent off to Coventry. It made it very difficult for her to do her job, demonstrate her abilities, and for co-workers to get to know her better.


For an employer who is already predisposed to doubting the competencies of people with disabilities, this does not bode well for any current or potential employee with a disability.

The Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities realises the very real realities and dangers professionals with disabilities may face if they express any sign of perceived vulnerability or that their talents are not being fully utilized or recognised in their careers to their colleagues or employers. In many cases, by doing such a good job of keeping a stiff upper lip and expressing that everything is fine, they are doing a disservice not only to themselves but to other professionals with disabilities. If professionals with disabilities keep quiet, people will not learn about the real issues affecting countless professionals with disabilities, and it will be harder to get support(s) and be heard, if and when it is needed. We understand that there is a very fine balancing act that professionals with disabilities must undertake about when, how, and if they express their perceived vulnerability or concerns, but they must be mindful of every approach they use and its potential outcomes.

There is little in the way of statistics and information on how professionals with disabilities are doing after graduation or whenever they acquired a disability as a professional. To complicate such matters, many professionals with disabilities find it very difficult to reach out for support or even talk openly about the negative impacts of having a disability and being a professional, and this makes it more difficult in gauging how they are doing and what needs to be done to support them. One of our goals is to provide a confidential vehicle to track and monitor how professionals with disabilities are doing over their work lives and with other factors affecting their employment. We also want to provide support, linkage, and information in a safe and confidential environment for life after school or whenever one acquired the disability and to provide camaraderie amongst professionals with disabilities and others who support them. Furthermore, in addition to the more traditional forms of communication and support, by using technology such as e-mail and the Internet, we will also be able to provide: anonymity; another type of communication accommodation; and a method to communicate with professionals with disabilities who may live in remote areas or in places where transportation, services, and support may be limited to them. As a result, we feel we will be able to connect to and support more professionals with disabilities.

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d. Professionals with Disabilities Are Falling through the Cracks

Currently, it seems that professionals with disabilities are slipping through the cracks in support services and awareness of their issues. The following exemplifies such cracks:

1. Professionals with disabilities needs are being lumped into support services that focus on:

    • all people with disabilities who have varying abilities and education. Many use the "one size fits all" technique in service delivery and options

    • all unemployed but providing little in supporting or understanding the issues affecting unemployed persons with disabilities. Not all persons with disabilities need to (or want to) be directed to "specialised services". An awareness and understanding of barriers facing people with disabilities in employment and some attitudinal adjustment to accommodating the person first rather than the disability may be all that is needed.

    • rehabilitation and/or training rather than relevant career placement (or acquisition opportunity), career retention, and advancement

    • entry into semiskilled, clerical, support, and/or entry level work opportunities [including obsolete (or soon to be obselete) and low grade lines of work] rather than professional opportunities

    • educated able-bodied professionals who may have employment problems but do not address the barriers to employment faced by many professionals with disabilities

2. Apart from some support services that do not want to support professionals with disabilities, those who do, are not given enough resources and support to actually help them. As a result, inadequate, inappropriate or no education, rehabilitation, and employment services are being offered to professionals with disabilities.

Often support services must choose clients based more on their expediency and costs savings to outcomes rather than effectiveness, as that is how their funding is determined rather than supporting all people with disabilities. In such cases, if a professional with a disability is harder and in some cases costlier to support even though they are fully capable and ready to work, they may not get support or get substandard support from the support service - not necessarily because of neglect but of limited resource allocation.

When it comes to finding positions in professional careers, frequently such support services will tell professionals with disabilities that they cannot help them as most of their employers who want to hire people with disabilities are not looking to hire them in professional positions.

3. Training, job search/interview strategies, and generic confidence/esteem building services are often touted in employment programs as the solutions for people with disabilities to find employment.

    Training and confidence/esteem building programs are irrelevant when a professional with a disability is already trained and qualified and has confidence and self-esteem. In fact, like for anyone else, one of the biggest esteem and confidence boosters and remedies around for professionals with disabilities is to: have sustainable employment; be recognised and valued; and have a sense of contribution and accomplishment and a rewarding and fulfilling career life.


    Been There Done That

    "A good portion of people with disabilities have gone through enough workplace readiness/job search programs that they can probably teach them, and this was also true for me.

    I participated in a job finding club program for people who have university degrees. Again, I was helping others more than I was getting in return. My disability related employment issues were poorly addressed. However, the coordinators did tell me that I was a great resource for job search and interview techniques, and career and contact information (and knew more than they did)."


Some programs are doing a disservice to many people with disabilities when they assert that the main reason people with disabilities cannot get jobs is that they lack training. Those who are trained and have their hopes, aspirations, and confidence raised through more training and being told that they will then be in demand, frequently have their hopes shot down again when no job comes of it. If people with disabilities were given accurate statistics on what the success rates and outcomes were for people with disabilities in such training programs in regards to securing sustainable employment relevant to their new training, they might think twice before investing time, money, and energy in such programs.

     


A Real Commitment

"There is still a long way to go in improving the type and level of program support in how persons with disabilities can be helped in employment. For example, many career practitioners who specialize in supporting people with disabilities find that their profession can be a thankless and very difficult one. They are in the firing line to getting flack from some clients, funders, and other stakeholders who want them to perform miracles with little or no support to do it from anywhere. I have seen caring career practitioners fervently advocate for their clients to get them effective supports and resources so that their clients are served appropriately. For many of them, going beyond the call of duty is a regular occurrence and this should not be expected. They often help at great personal cost - for if they only worked with the resources they were given, many of their clients would suffer.

This sector has to attract and keep its best professionals, but it is very difficult to do so when the disability field is continuously under funded/supported and the profession itself is precariously funded. Meanwhile, as in any profession, people with disabilities have to deal with both good and bad career practitioners. Some career practitioners assume that all clients with disabilities need rehab and life skills training before they are work ready. Some treat their clients as numbers, stats, and pawns in programs rather than as real people and pay little heed in the negative impact that their actions have on their clients and their clients' families. Perhaps this attitude comes from burnout or giving up because of lack of supports. Another reason might be that people with disabilities are not respected and influential enough to get their needed supports, and as a result, the sector can attract unsuitable programs and people to work with them.

Programs serving people with disabilities often have funding that depends on the whims of funders, other key stakeholders, and whatever approach or philosophy is popular at the time. Serving the needs of people with disabilities has to be a permanent active commitment if real positive change for them is to happen and not based on some 6 month - 3 year project or passing fancy."


Any program too that assumes that the main reasons people with disabilities have difficulty in securing employment is because they lack something inside them, are deficient as a person, or that there is something wrong with them (and they need to be fixed), do not (or do not want to) understand the multitude of factors affecting a person's employability. Some of these most critical factors are out of the person with a disability's control. A professional with a disability's ability to succeed cannot just be solely based on their skill, willpower, having the right attitude, and coming equipped with the best disability supports, but also being in environments and with stakeholders that are truly supportive, inclusive, and accepting of them.

In regards to the above programs and services, many professionals with disabilities have done them a few times and have mastered them. However, they often find that they have to go through them again because of the lack of alternative suitable resources. In some cases, they need to have support in other areas and repeating the program is the only route they can take if they want those supports.

4. Many times, professionals with disabilities are "forced" to go into programs that are unsuitable for them, because they fear losing supports if they do not. They need to have access to these limited resources and supports just to survive. It is not the best way to enter a program or service with that mindset, and not a good use of resources for the service providers (many of whom know that their services are not suitable for professionals with disabilities). Other times, professionals with disabilities may be given a limited choice of programs for support or no choice at all. Often they feel like their right to shop around for the best support service for them has been denied. If a professional with a disability has been around long enough, many will find that the new services available to them are repackaged old ones that never worked before.

5. There are many professionals with disabilities who are working but are worried about: barriers to career development and advancement opportunities both within and outside of their organisation; training and promotion opportunities; attitudinal and work environment issues; being excluded in the often critical social/work culture at work; back to work and job retention issues; and retirement and long term planning issues (i.e. financial, insurance, transportation, housing, medical, social, accessibility/accommodation, family issues, and ability to be approved for loans/mortgages).

Even for professionals with disabilities who are not traditionally working or bringing home an income, current and long-term planning issues are still very important and thus they cannot take a break. These issues are rarely if ever being adequately addressed.


It's All Coming Back to Me Now

"One reason why I do not always give my references ahead of time for job interviews (unless asked) is because on 2 separate occasions that I know of, employers have phoned up a reference before even meeting me to ask if I had a disability. These employers believed I did as my application had stated that I had worked and volunteered at some disability organisations. When my reference said I did, the employers said they were not interested in interviewing me then even though I was fully qualified and my disability did not affect my ability to do the job. Interestingly enough, both employers were suppose to be practicing equal opportunity. One was even promoting the hiring of people with disabilities, and the other had received a subsidy to go towards hiring an employment disadvantaged person for the position that I had applied to."


6. Countless professionals with disabilities have a colourful and interesting work history chalk full of interesting career turns, roadblocks, and experiences.

For instance, they may have a work history that still does not translate well even though their résumés are used as the model "knock them dead" résumés. Sometimes it is a patchwork quilt of experiences (paid and unpaid) and/or gaps that seem to have no semblance of progression in responsibility or not remaining long enough in a particular field or job that so many employers want. "Transferable skills" are still foreign words to lots of employers. Many employers assume that applicants' résumés that look like they have had too many short-term and/or incongruous positions may imply that those people cannot keep jobs or perform poorly, lack motivation, or are indecisive. However, countless people with disabilities' résumés may look like the above, because they are taking whatever job comes up for they have no other choice, as they are being excluded and marginalized from full and sustainable workforce participation because of barriers to employment that are outside of their control. Sadly, as a result, such misguided assumptions, do prevent untold numbers of people with disabilities from getting interviews [and especially getting interviews and positions in their desired career choice(s) the longer that this continues. In these instances, even career related references can be harder to attain and retain (i.e. how current are the references?) the longer one is being marginalised or being kept out of being employed in their profession.]. Even volunteer work may not be viewed as "real work" experiences in some circles even if that work carried more responsibility and used one's skills set more than one's paid work experiences. Any implication of having a disability on one's résumé, even if it was in the name of where one worked or volunteered or who one's clientele were, can get a professional with a disability screened out for an interview. Some employers may even try to confirm their suspicions to screen out by calling up an applicant's references beforehand or perform an Internet search of an applicant's name and see if there is any mention of a disability.


You Don't Call Me Anymore

"Before I became disabled, I was getting called in on a regular basis for interviews by an employer who had a general job applicant inventory. After becoming disabled, I put my name down as an applicant with a disability for the same employer's employment equity inventory, and I have not been called back since."


 

Many people with disabilities have chosen not to disclose on their employment applications that they have disabilities for employers who promote the hiring of persons with disabilities and other equity groups, because they feel that they have been screened out for doing so.

It is a judgement call in deciding whether to disclose or not. If one knows that an employer sincerely believes in transferable skills and is sensitive to the type of work experiences of so many people with disabilities, then it MAY be helpful to disclose that one has a disability. However, one has to be cautious when doing so.


People with Disabilities Need Not Apply

"A government position for a disability information officer position would regularly become vacant. When it did, the position would be advertised encouraging applicants with disabilities to apply. However, for this position, this government department was known not to interview applicants with disabilities including those with the requisite background of having direct experience and a comprehensive knowledge of community resources.

A former acquaintance of my sister and I had asked my sister to apply for the position, as he was part of the hiring committee. She was offended when he asked her instead of me as he knew of my background. My sister had just received her university degree, had hardly any work experience, had no experience in the disability field, nor had a disability. I had a relevant university degree, had loads of direct experience, excellent references and respected credibility, and had a physical disability. We both decided to apply for the position along with another respected and educated person with a disability with even more proven experience than me to see if our suspicions would be confirmed that my sister would get the interview instead of us. Our suspicions were indeed confirmed. "


 

Just by saying one is an "equal opportunity" employer or supports a "diverse workplace" is just not good enough if no active commitment to such statements is there. One has to know that an employer is sincerely proactively committed to the hiring of people with disabilities, and when they ask for the applicant with a disability to disclose, that such information will be appropriately and honourably used to support their equity hiring and workplace inclusion practices and supports. Disclosing may alert respectable, sensitive employers to who they are evaluating, and they may be less likely to make wrongful assumptions about a person with a disability's work history. Another thing to keep in mind too is that the heads and key decision makers of organisations must champion the hiring of people with disabilities. If they do not, even sensitive frontline recruiters and screeners who want to hire them might feel they cannot do so because of an unsupportive organisational culture and perhaps out of fear of losing their jobs or "getting punished" if they did hire them.

Unfortunately, in some circumstances, people with disabilities may feel forced to disclose that they have a disability if they want to practice in their field. Some professionals with disabilities may be screened out of jobs, as their license to practice stipulates that they must disclose that they have a disability beforehand to prospective employers. Others may find it a challenge to get a license to practice. They are being denied one upfront based on disclosing or showing that they have a disability (despite it having no affect in their ability to do the job and to safeguard others, and that they earned their credentials whilst having a disability and graduated with flying colours and glowing references.). At the same time, those who became disabled after getting a license can be seen working in these same professions.

Another career roadblock, apart from unemployment, is underemployment and ghettoization.

It is said that it is easier to get a job if one has a job already. That may be true in some situations, but for so many professionals with disabilities this is not the case. A professional with a disability still faces discrimination and other attitudinal barriers whether they are working or not. Many professionals with disabilities find themselves in jobs where they are underemployed, ghettoized, underpaid, and/or their talents are not being fully recognised. These jobs often act as a hindrance to getting better positions as many employers judge the applicant's capabilities based on their last position (and sometimes, on what they were paid) rather than on their credentials, education, training, and cumulative set of transferable skills and experiences. Furthermore, the longer they are unemployed, underemployed, or ghettoized in their careers, the likelihood in losing present and future career specific opportunities increases. In cases where one's certification (or license to practice) is based on one's employment status, the longer these professionals remain unemployed in their field, they may face a greater risk of being decertified.

7. Many professionals with disabilities do not have a professional association that they can turn to for information and support when it comes to talking about their disabilities and/or career issues. There is no voice speaking on their behalf. Numerous professional associations have no or limited support concerning disability-related issues for their members with disabilities. Also, many professionals do not fall under the auspices of belonging to a union if they needed support. Furthermore, countless professionals with disabilities are not traditionally working and may not be able to or afford to be a member of a professional association.

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e. Poverty


Teeter-Tottering

Going on social and disability assistance was humiliating and demeaning. As a professional, many of my clients were on disability assistance. Their fear and unease of applying and being on assistance was always prominent in my mind through the stories that they told me.

I had been unemployed for a long time. The effects of my disability were taking a toll on my health. I did not have the money to "stabilize" these effects, as that was a luxury while I was trying to maintain some semblance of an existence while living in poverty. Now I had depleted my meagre resources and had no other option but to ask for help even though I would have to sacrifice much just to get this form of assistance.

I prayed for a sympathetic caseworker to handle my case and I got one. Under these still demeaning circumstances, everything went as smoothly as it could. The caseworker told me that they were here for people like me and that I should not be ashamed to ask for help. She even recognised who I was which was embarrassing at first. She had referred many of her clients to me when I was working because of my good reputation. She even said that clients liked me and felt I helped them.

Now that I am working again, I can further appreciate the teeter-totter existence that so many people with disabilities experience when they are trying to attain and maintain sustainable livelihoods and a good quality of life. Again, a few of my clients are on disability assistance. The other day, one of these clients asked me to complete a form for her to give to her caseworker so that she could get an honorarium to supplement her monthly disability benefits. She said, "You know, you got to do what you got to do (in the system)". I replied, "Oh yes, I do know. "


Poverty is a major issue for countless professionals with disabilities - whether they are working or not. Being on a very limited income also dictates the overall quality of one's life, health, and well-being as well as what choices one can make if a good portion of that income is spent on addressing the disability and taking care of oneself and/or others. As a result, when one is just trying to survive, there is little or nothing left over for anything else nor is there hardly if any buffer to fall back on if things do not work out. For example, there may be nothing left over for such things as: keeping up appearances; paying for child care; networking; paying for the costs of looking for work; paying for professional membership/credential dues and/or professional development; keeping one's skills, certification, and/or assistive technology current and useful for what is demanded today; trying or experimenting with career opportunities; and being on the inside track of what is happening in one's profession. Poverty has a profound effect on taxing one's emotional resources and access to effective support systems and networks. Poverty also further encourages the facilitation of keeping poor professionals with disabilities as outsiders to their careers as it hinders their ability to keep current in or even knowing the "hidden rules" of their professional culture. As a result, poverty can bar professionals with disabilities from inclusion, participating, and advancing in employment related activities.

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f. Disability Supports Issues

Not all professionals with disabilities require disability supports (i.e. disability support person, technical aids, flexible working conditions, and other accommodations) to help them in their work, but many do. A major barrier to entering or continuing one's career is access to affordable and appropriate disability supports.

If an employer or funder is unwilling (or unable) to pay for disability supports, the inability for many professionals with disabilities to afford to pay for such supports can exclude them from career opportunities.

Also, the disability support may be only useful for a particular job. The job may only be short term, so the professional with the disability must weigh the costs and benefits if they are "expected" to pay for the disability supports if they want work - even though it is the law that the employer must provide reasonable accommodation short of undue hardship. Furthermore, without disability supports to look for employment, many professionals with disabilities are left out in the cold in regards to securing work.

Disability supports must be customized to the professional with the disability's needs and be practical and useful for what they are doing, and frequently they are not. For example, "one size fits all" solutions in assistive technology rarely if ever work, and as a result, the assistive technology becomes inaccessible.

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g. Duty to Accommodate

If there is any one deterrent in getting an employer to hire a professional with a disability, it is the amount of real or perceived accommodation costs incurred to hire them. For example, the financial (costs), administrative and red tape work in acquiring the accommodation (i.e. purchase outright vs. funding applications, etc.), and the time one has to wait before the accommodation is effectively in place before the professional with a disability can begin working.

As a result, any real or perceived special effort, cost, and/or risk to hire a professional with a disability can even sway some employers from not interviewing them or tip the scale in favour of hiring someone else.

There is also a great fear from some employers of potential lawsuits and human rights complaints from potential employees with disabilities regarding issues around discrimination, prejudice, and failure to accommodate during the interview or if they were hired. As a result, some employers will avoid the issue by not interviewing or hiring candidates with disabilities. For some employers, their fear may be out of ignorance, unfamiliarity, and newness of the situation (many do want to learn about and support people with disabilities) and not prejudice. However, because they are too scared to ask questions that may be taken the wrong way by a few candidates with disabilities, they too may decide not to interview any candidates with disabilities.

In Canada, the duty for employers to accommodate employees (and prospective employees and clients) with disabilities by the employer is the law. The duty to accommodate is written in the Canadian Human Rights Act and stipulates that accommodation is required, short of undue hardship.

Unfortunately, the "undue hardship" argument is a way out for some employers who can but choose not to accommodate and in some cases, force their current or prospective employees to pay for their accommodations, if they still want to have a job. Until the laws are effectively enforced and more professionals with disabilities feel that they have enough support to stand up for their rights without feeling that it will jeopardize their current or future career prospects, these types of responses will continue.

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h. Financial Disincentives to and in Employment

Many professionals with disabilities receive disability/health benefits income and many do not. (This is discussed further in the section titled, Not Every Person with a Disability is Treated Equally in Terms of Income and Supports)

For numerous professionals with disabilities the fear behind accepting employment is the fear of losing disability/health benefits (supports) and current disability income and that they will be poorer off financially. There is also the fear that they may not be able to get back on to such supports (and if they can, how long will it take to get back on) if their position ends.

Another financial disincentive is the costs incurred to "buy one's way into employment". If the costs incurred to work at a particular job far outweighs the benefits, a professional with a disability may have to think twice before accepting or continuing in the position. Even if a professional with disability is eligible for the disability tax credit (and not all are because of the tax credit criterion used to define disability and eligibility), they may not be able to take advantage of the credit because of not earning enough income.

Furthermore, there is sometimes a disincentive to save and build a secure nest egg (i.e. whether it is for rainy days, saving for disability supports, medication, modified van, assistive technology, treatments, planning for the future, retirement funds) when one is working. At times, the criterion used to get disability income and/or disability /medical supports is to prove that one has used up most of one's savings to survive or does not have much in savings (and then if one does meet the criteria, they are often restricted on how much they can save once they have been approved.). That means, in many cases, if one loses their job, cannot continue working, or can only work on a limited basis, whatever they have saved must be spent (or most of it spent). In some cases, they may even have to pay penalties and/or lose on their original investments for withdrawing them out too early or when markets go down such as in retirement savings plans if they are in need of disability/medical supports. Indeed, so many of the financial savings plans touted as long term security to professionals in general are of no benefit to many professionals with disabilities who live in poverty or income instability. For a multitude of professionals with disabilities, the instability of having a regular income causes them to cash out their savings and investments repeatedly just to sustain themselves and/or to obtain support. This only perpetuates a cycle of poverty and dependency, and as a result, the light at the end of the tunnel for them to break out of this cycle (and/or improve their lives) seems to become even more remote.

Another disincentive to employment happens when a professional with a disability may be ineligible to certain health coverage provided by an employer's insurer if they have a pre-existing medical/health condition. They must weigh that into accepting a position if they are getting those medical/health benefits now but may lose them if they accept work. They must also determine whether the same stipulations exist if they become injured on the job and whether they would be eligible for coverage if an injury happens.

Rising insurance premiums for employers is another financial disincentive. Often, an employer sees dollar signs in regards to how much their insurance premiums are going to rise by hiring a person with a disability even though it may be unfounded.

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i. Professionals with Disabilities Are Available to Address Skill Shortage Problems


Our Time Will Come

"A human resource professional told me that my skills would be in high demand when the baby boomers begin to retire. She told me to wait 5 years for my time to come. That is more likely when they will have to hire people with disabilities. Well it's 8 years later, the skill shortage has been going on for a few years, and I'm still waiting."


One would assume that the high unemployment amongst Canadians with disabilities is attributable to the lack of skills, training, and experience. In many cases that is true, however, joining the ranks of job seekers with disabilities is a growing number of highly qualified, skilled, and experienced professionals with disabilities who are finding it difficult to find sustainable employment - including those in careers that are suppose to be facing skill shortages. Professionals with disabilities are a largely neglected and overlooked pool of talent. In this era of the touted current and future skill shortage in Canada, it is felt that the Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities has to be a voice speaking on behalf of professionals whose talents are going to waste or are being underutilized.

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j. Link to Finding Talented and Skilled Professionals with Disabilities

Repeatedly, we hear employers say that they cannot find professionals with disabilities to work for them. The Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities wants to be the conduit for employers to find and recruit talented and qualified professionals with disabilities. We also want to address their concern of why they may be hard to find.

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k. Aging into Disability and the Maturing Workforce

Acquiring a disability is part of the natural aging process.

As mentioned earlier, we are facing a skill shortage in many professions. To add to that, many employers are losing valuable talents and expertise due to age driven attrition. It is getting harder to find replacements for employees who are forced to leave because of health concerns or simply because they have reached the age of retirement.

Naturally, we are advocates into hiring professionals with disabilities to address the skills shortage, but we are also advocates in keeping the employees who have acquired disabilities while working for an employer. That means the employer has to have a strategic plan in place to attract, retain, and advance employees with disabilities and be proactive and committed to its implementation.

Sadly, the maturing workforce can be anyone over 40 years of age (and in some sectors, anyone over 30). That is too young to think about leaving the workforce or feel that one is forced to leave the workforce simply because they acquired a disability because there was no support for them to keep on working.

Furthermore, in Canada, we are facing the possibility that the mandatory retirement age of 65 will be eliminated. If that comes into fruition in every province and territory, it will mean that employers who are facing skill shortages will need to become disability friendly if they want to keep their talent pool or attract professionals with disabilities to work for them.

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l. Break the Glass Ceiling Barring Professionals with Disabilities from Getting to the Top of Their Professions

There is little representation from professionals with disabilities who broke through the glass ceiling while having a disability. Furthermore, they are also underrepresented in upper and lower management. Professionals with disabilities must have every opportunity to get to the top of their careers.

In Canada, according to the Canadian Council on Social Development, university educated employees with disabilities are less likely to receive training from their employers than their able-bodied counterparts. As training more likely leads to promotion, these same employees with disabilities are also less likely to be promoted (and break through that glass ceiling).

For more information, please go to www.ccsd.ca/drip/research/dis10/index.htm

No professional with a disability should be relegated to a static holding pattern in their career if it is their desire to move onwards and upwards.

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m. Increase the Respect for, and the Influence, Recognition, and Acceptance of the Value and Abilities of Professionals with Disabilities

We want to increase the respect for, and the influence, recognition, and acceptance of the value and abilities of professionals with disabilities and people with disabilities in general. By bringing together talented, respected, credible, influential, and capable professionals with disabilities to work together and speak on behalf of and with other Canadians with disabilities, we feel we can help towards improving the quality of life and opportunities for all Canadians with disabilities.

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Not Every Person with a Disability is Treated Equally in Terms of Income and Supports

Countless professionals with disabilities are poor or are on limited incomes. Some are on some type of disability income and/or disability/health benefits. Often disability income comes way below the poverty line. Other professionals with disabilities are living off savings and have no disability/health benefits even though their degree of disability and their need for support may be the same as those on disability incomes, but because of circumstance, they are not entitled to receive anything.

For instance, the source, type, and amount of disability income, supports, and benefits one may be eligible for may be based on where one lives and how and when someone became disabled. For example, the type and level of support a person with a disability receives varies from province to province, because provinces address disabilities differently. Some provide supports while others do not (or not enough). A person may (if fortunate) be awarded a pension for life and receive such things as benefits, training, post secondary education, supports, treatments, active career support/placement (or acquisition opportunity), and therapy to compensate for future lost income because of becoming paralysed in a workplace accident, whereas a person born with a similar type of disabling condition may not be eligible for anything as the loss of capacity to earn income is for the most part not recognised as the person had the misfortune to be born with a disability. As a result, those who suffer a disability at or before birth are not entitled to be compensated because of the absence of fault on the part of those involved in their care (Though there are cases where parents have sued on behalf of their children who were born with disabilities where fault was identified as being the cause or contributor to the disability.). Therefore, when and how someone became disabled and the criterion used to determine who gets what income and supports (and how much) has a major impact in determining the quality of life, choices, and opportunities for people with disabilities, and the risks they can and cannot afford to take. If we pride ourselves in being a supposedly inclusive, enlightened, and compassionate society, no person with a disability should have to go without the supports and services that they need and be limited to or barred from the choices they want to make and opportunities they want to take.

Other circumstances of not having access to disability income, benefits, and supports may also arise when professionals with disabilities do not meet other criteria to receive it. For example, they may be refused disability income, benefits, and supports, because of such factors as: having recent employment or a skill set that is in demand (even though no one is hiring them); having a "history of employment" while being disabled (however precarious the work history may have been); demonstrating one has the potential to be employed (i.e. volunteering, looking for work); and in some cases, even demonstrating one can take care of oneself without support (even though it may take 3 hours to get oneself ready before leaving home in the morning for work).

Other instances may be due to some restrictive and damaging definitions of who is entitled and not entitled to disability incomes and supports. For example, many employers see potential employees with disabilities as too disabled to work. However, those same people with disabilities are seen as too able for disability incomes and supports even though the community around them sees them as being disabled and should be supported.

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This page was last updated on Sunday, March 2, 2014

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