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
and Quality of Life Issues That Impact and/or Are Impacted by the Career
Realities That Professionals with Disabilities Specifically Face
Need for Confidential Services for Professionals with Disabilities to
Ask for Support and Information
with Disabilities Are Falling through the Cracks
Disability Supports Issues
Duty to Accommodate
Financial Disincentives to and in Employment
with Disabilities Are Available to Address Skill Shortage Problems
Link to Finding Talented and Skilled Professionals with Disabilities
k. Aging into Disability
and the Maturing Workforce
Break the Glass Ceiling Barring Professionals with Disabilities from
Getting to the Top of Their Professions
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Sitting on the Bench
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.
Not to Say to a Person with a Disability
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?"
with disabilities have been at the receiving end of hearing similar
insensitive "super disabled person" stories to the one
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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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
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.
You Can Read My Mind
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
Your Point Is???
once hired a person with a disability. It didn't work out."
Said by an unenlightened
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
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).
"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
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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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 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.
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.
There Done That
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
All Coming Back to Me Now
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.
Don't Call Me Anymore
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.
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.
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
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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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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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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
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
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
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.
Time Will Come
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."
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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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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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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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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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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
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
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.
Back to Financial Disincentives to and in Employment
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