Thursday 5 December 2019

Gina London: 'Bridging the gap between employers and the disabled'

Around the world, people with disabilities are working.
Around the world, people with disabilities are working.

Gina London

When I was a student at Indiana University, my first 'journalism' job was unenviably in the cramped basement circulation department of my college town's local paper. The newspaper had only 30,000 daily readers and it was my duty to increase that figure. I sat in a cubicle working off a printed call-list of homeowners, ringing each family and, if they didn't immediately hang up on me, offering them a 'special deal' on a weekly subscription.

My fondest memory of that job had nothing to do with the task and everything to do with a colleague named Kyle. On the first day, as I was introduced to him, Kyle was wearing dark sunglasses. He lifted his hand toward me but it was slightly below and off-centre from where I was extending my hand to meet his. I realised then that Kyle was blind.

During the time I worked there, Kyle and I always took our breaks together. We became friends, and he shared he wasn't born blind.

He'd had full sight until he was in his teens, when his vision degenerated. I'll never forget hearing him describe how he "used to see vivid sunsets, then only dim lights, then nothing".

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Around the world, people with disabilities are working. They're doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, labourers and farmers. For almost any job you can imagine, someone with a disability is performing it successfully. And yet the most recent report from the World Health Organisation shows employment rates for people with disabilities are significantly lower than the overall working-age population. The numbers don't always reflect the complexity of the issue, but it prompts a question for employers: are you doing enough to hire the disabled? Conversely, we can also ask the disabled community: are you doing enough to get hired?

For help, I turned to the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI). Denis Daly is an employment adviser for the NCBI with a masters degree in organisational psychology.

Our conversation centred around the visually impaired, but the takeaways could easily be applied toward helping bridge the divide between employers and the much broader disabled employee community.

FOR WOULD-BE EMPLOYEES:

1 Get support

First off, as with any kind of goal, I encourage you to not try to go it alone. Whether you were born with a disability or developed it through an illness or accident, seek support. "We have a lot of resources," Denis offers. "For instance, someone may come to me with a dramatic psychological issue adjusting to a new disability. Others need mobility training or retraining in equipment. We also run pre-employment training courses. It can be isolating to be disabled. We bring people together."

2 Get organised

You need to prepare like everyone else. The NCBI pre-employment training helps participants understand how to craft a proper CV and fine-tune communication skills. You can't expect to be taken seriously if there are typos on your CV or if you haven't planned your answers to basic interview questions. Winning employers over with a killer CV and meaningful interview preparation is essential.

3 Disclose with discretion

"Some disabilities are not immediately obvious," Denis explains. "A person with a visual disability may not necessarily have a cane or a seeing eye dog." Dazzle during the interview and then politely provide a high-level disclosure after you've impressed.

"Perhaps I should tell you, I have an impairment that won't impact the success of my working life," is a statement Denis suggests.

Land the job, build trust and then offer guidance if there are modifications you need.

FOR WOULD-BE EMPLOYERS:

1 Get rid of outdated misconceptions

In the past, employers might have shoe-horned disabled people into low-level, low-skill jobs. But Denis tells me after his time with NCBI, he's convinced almost anything is possible. He has placed bank officials, insurance clerks and medical professionals, to name a few. "The potential of people is so great. It's best to treat them like any other person applying for a job, not to have preconceived prejudice," he says.

2 Seek ways to accommodate

"Technology is an employer's best friend," states Denis. "We have a whole dedicated section on this and trainers in every county. We can help you find the latest software and hardware, and there are grants available to employees and employers." Communication and co-operation to seek a solution are key.

3 Embrace the opportunity

Firms are constantly competing to attract and retain talent, so why limit your field of candidates? Purposely expanding openings to disabled employees can provide a couple of advantages. First, Denis says disabled employees are extremely loyal: "Often times, people with disabilities tend to stay longer with their employer and are better time trackers." Second, you're improving your diversity and inclusion efforts when you hire someone with a disability. Introducing your team to a variety of people enhances everyone's understanding of each other.

Kyle was the first truly blind person I had met, let alone worked with. He taught me so much and I am better for having known him.

Sunday Indo Business

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