In Support of Clients With Disabilities

By Tanya Kett.

When people ask “What do you do?” many of us will answer in a way that indicates that we define ourselves by our career. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Careers foster self-esteem, status, social responsibility, and well-being. All of these things are benefits of a satisfying career, and things that non-disabled people can easily take for granted.

With growing numbers of highly educated people with disabilities, the challenge for these individuals is finding gainful employment. Clodagh Nolan and Claire Gleeson state, in their 2016 report titled The Transition To Employment: The Perspectives of Students and Graduates With Disabilities, “…more work needs to be done in educating the employers on disclosure and to foster a more positive culture on hidden disabilities.”

Using a strengths-based approach when coaching clients, career practitioners can empower those with disabilities. Living with a disability can enhance skills such as creative problem solving, persistence, perseverance, adaptability, tenacity, and overcoming adversity. Progressive employers recognize and appreciate the high value of these skills, and understand that “given the right environmental supports, most people with disabilities can be productive employees.” (Nolan & Gleeson, 2016).

The Human Rights Code of Ontario supports and encourages employing people with disabilities, stating, “Under the Code, employers and unions, housing providers and service providers have a legal duty to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities who are adversely affected by a requirement, rule or standard. Accommodation is necessary to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities, access and benefits.”

Success comes from being in the right role, in the right culture, and having the tools for the job, which is where workers with disabilities may need additional support. Some employers may be concerned about the costs of providing job accommodations, but according to a study done by the U.S. Department of Labor’s  Job Accommodation Network “…employers in the study reported that a high percentage (59%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.”

Experienced career practitioners know that many disabilities are not visible, and it is entirely possible that you are working with, or have worked alongside, someone with an invisible disability who is very successful at his or her job. Despite the wide range of disabilities that exist, people with disabilities are sometimes perceived as a homogeneous group. Disabled individuals may also identify with other groups such as LGBTQ+, visible minorities, etc., compounding the potential obstacles and challenges of finding work. There is no one accommodation or one-size-fits-all program to serve this diverse population;  each person brings his or her own strengths and challenges.

How career professionals can help

Whether a client discloses a disability or not, we can be sensitive and supportive. We can be accepting and respectful of the fact that clients’ skills present at varying levels. We can empower clients using a strengths-based approach, helping them to understand their value and the unique qualities they bring as candidates for employment. Offering a holistic approach, treating each person as an individual, we can take care to ensure we do not define any client based on a disability.

We can educate employers on the value of hiring people with disabilities, working with them to provide equal opportunities, and promoting those opportunities. We can reinforce with employers the value of building a reputation as a progressive and inclusive employer. We can recognize employers who are doing their part through programs such as Canada’s Best Diversity Employers 2018.

Together, we can work to bridge the gap and build supports to help clients with disabilities find meaningful employment.


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