By Kevin Connor ,Toronto Sun
posted: Sunday, December 22, 2013
John Huynh doesn’t mind being the poster boy for disabled people fighting discrimination in the workplace — if it helps eliminate the problem.
The 35-year-old marketing analyst has neurofibromatosis type 1, which causes him to walk with a limp, changes skin colour and causes the growth of tumours.
Employed since 2001, Huynh has felt the stigma faced by the disabled in the workforce. He applauded a new study highlighting the bias and misguided conceptions about those with disabilities.
The BMO study, conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights, found half of Canadians believe a potential employee is more likely to be hired if they are able to mask a disability.
The study concluded 62% of respondents believed those who can hide their disability are more likely to be promoted and that there are too many myths held by employers which keep the disabled under-represented in the workforce.
“I have had experiences trying to find work and I never heard back and I attribute that to public perceptions not changing quickly. We are well trained, educated, loyal and given the chance, we can overcome people’s misconceptions,” Huynh said.
Mary Anne Jackman, a 50-year-old full-time IT product manager — whose lower right arm was amputated at birth — said things have never been easy for her in the job market.
“I grew up in the Beaches and when I was a teenager I got a job at a fast food place and after three hours on the job a manager realized I didn’t have an arm and that was that. In my 30s I had a job at a law firm and the manager thought I couldn’t move things even though I had a cart. I moved on,” Jackman said.
“I feel as a person with a disability that you always have to prove yourself because people doubt you have the ability. It is what you can do and not what you can’t do. There needs to be more communication.”
While retired, John Rae — who is blind and vice-chairman of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities — knows all too well how common stories like those of Huynh and Jackman are in the workforce.
“Their feelings aren’t unusual. In my mind there is wide-spread discrimination. Studies have debunked myths that people with disabilities are less productive and that there are greater safety risks,” Rae said.
“I was one of the fortunate ones. I was hired for 23 years with the Ontario government into a permanent job.”
Another barrier for disabled people is many jobs they would qualify for are contract positions without the life-line of benefits, said Sandra Carpenter, executive director of the Centre for Independent Living, which is run by disabled people.
“People want to work, but it can be a risk to be employed. It would be much more easier for people to take the risk and take a job if they wouldn’t lose their benefits, but we aren’t there yet. This is the same problem we have had for 40 years,” Carpenter said.
There are too many taboos about discussing disabilities in the workplace by employers, job candidates and employees, said Sonya Kunkel, managing director of diversity and inclusion at BMO.
“Despite dismantling many barriers to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce, certain, perhaps hidden, forces are still at play. We need to do more to uncover and address them. This is the only way to reduce a persistently high employment gap,” Kunkel said.
“Long-standing myths and misconceptions continue to get in the way of businesses hiring more employees from this relatively large and untapped talent pool.”
The study found there is a belief among employers that the costs of employing a disabled person are very high.
One-fifth of disabled employees require no finical accommodations and the average cost for most is in the range of $500.
Almost 70% of employers in the study overestimated the cost of employing a disabled person to be in the range of $10,000, the study said.
“This is a misconception. There is a strong business case for including more people with disabilities in your workforce. Numerous studies and our own experience show that people with disabilities perform as well or better than their colleagues and have similar or better retention rates,” Kunkel said.
“With findings like these, there is an onus on all individuals in any given workplace to check their biases at the door and pave the way for more inclusive and accessible workplaces.”
Kunkel added businesses need to review recruitment practices and partner with organizations that connect disabled people with job opportunities.
In 2011, the province implemented the Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation program requiring organizations to establish a process to be accessible for the disabled from recruitment to retirement, said provincial Economic Development Minister Eric Hoskins.
He said that businesses are already required to accommodate disabled employees under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The government is also partnering with umbrella organizations working for disabled people to help organizations to comply with ha accessibility standards.
The Pollara study relied on a sample of 1000 Canadian adults and is cosidered accurate within 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.