Hiring People With the Right Abilities (Seeing Past ‘Disability’)

A while ago, I attended an interesting seminar on the benefits of hiring “disabled” workers.  I had a particular curiosity in what they would have to say because I am one of those types of workers.

I don’t normally think of myself as disabled (I tend to use ‘limited’ when it’s necessary to draw a boundary), but I get reminded when we respond to requests for proposals and there’s a question regarding Kwela’s policies around hiring disabled workers.

At the seminar I attended, a guest speaker talked with the audience for a while – he was blind and worked full-time in a very technical organization.  I was struck that being able to see his disability may have contributed to his colleagues’ understanding of what he faced on a daily basis.

That isn’t to say I wish my co-workers would engage with me on the topic of my health — it is for sure best kept personal.  But I do sometimes feel alienated by the stigma of having ‘limitations’ and “ongoing problems” (which is the very nature of a chronic illness).

When you think of the word “disability”, does an image pop into your head (accompanied by an inherent definition)?  Many forward-thinking organizations bend to accommodate employees’ needs – a dad whose special-needs child’s school doesn’t start until 9:30am so he needs to work 10:30am-6:30pm, and a regular meeting needs to shift because of it.  Is that a ‘non-ability’ on his part to start at 8:30am?

Thinking back to when I could work full-time and was a manager — hiring administrative staff on a regular basis — if I ask myself, back then, would I have considered hiring someone with a disability, the truth is that it would have depended a lot on the type of disability it was, but I think I would have been leery.

I think my thinking around it then would have been that someone with a disability would work more slowly, require more support, cost the company more money and, ultimately the incumbent would be less productive.  Nuts?!

When Russ* interviewed me the first time, pretty close to Kwela’s inception, I let him know right out of the gate that I would never be full-time.  The intent at the beginning actually was for me just to get the Ops set up and then hire someone to take over.  Awesomely though, both he and Nic* felt I provided value at just half-time and the rest is history.

* – Russel and Nic are Kwela’s two owners (Principals)

Yes, they have spent a bit more money than they may have as we augmented our admin staff as the company grew with additional part-timers (creating the need to purchase more laptops and software licenses than may have been required if a couple of us were full-time).

But thankfully they saw – and continue to see – the abilities first and foremost.  Could they replace me with someone who could work full-time and not have the limitations I have?  I have no doubt they could.  And yet when recently kibitzing with Russ via text about my tenacity being a thorn in his side, he replied that he wouldn’t trade me for anything.

That’s certainly not to say I’m perfect or the situation is a 100% win-win all of the time.  I sometimes have to push more than what really works for me, and Kwela sometimes has to wait longer than it may like for certain things to get done.  But no hire and no organization are “perfect” – it’s always about the fit, and that’s true whether the person has a disability or not.

Over to you.  What are the thoughts that first pop into your head around the notion of hiring someone with a disability?

Here are some resources:

BC Centre for Ability

BC Centre for Employment Excellence

Fraser Works Co-op
{Fraser Works has a case manager that can seek to match disabled workers with job openings}

Liz ‘Zed’