and Reasons Leading to the Society's Existence
The British Columbia Association of Professionals with
Disabilities was formed to recognise, address, and represent issues facing
BC 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
c. The 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
to Finding Talented and Skilled Professionals with Disabilities
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 abilities.
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 livelihoods.
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 students 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
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.
Before the British Columbia Association of Professionals
with Disabilities was formed, 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,
the Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities was happy
to find during its 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 peers with disabilities. In fact, most have just
fallen off the radar screen upon graduation and many may become socially,
professionally, and economically isolated.
"I can take
what life throws at me, but first, it would help if someone pitches
me a ball."
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.
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. After all, facing rejection continually would beat
down almost anyone, and many professionals with disabilities have been
experiencing this for decades.
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.
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?"
Many people with
disabilities have been at the receiving end of hearing similar insensitive
"super disabled person" stories to the one above.
This is 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.
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.
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. 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
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 too."
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 British Columbia 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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c. The Need
for Confidential Services for Professionals with Disabilities to Ask for
Support and Information
The British Columbia 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.
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 too 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 disabilities.
once hired a person with a disability. It didn't work out."
by an unenlightened employer
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 barriers.
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.
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). 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 disability.
The British Columbia 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
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
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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.
rehabilitation and/or 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
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
"A 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.
I 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 did)."
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.
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 suffer.
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.
Programs serving 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 them.
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.
reason why I do not always give my references ahead of time for
job interviews (unless
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.
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.
"Before I became
disabled, I was getting called up 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.
"A 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.
A 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
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 them.
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 told
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 supports.
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
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 inaccessible.
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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 begin working.
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
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
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 hardship.
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
Every Person with a Disability is Treated Equally in Terms of Income and
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 a 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 also 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 preexisting 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
British Columbians 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 British Columbia, it is felt
that the British Columbia 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.
"A 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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j. Link 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 British Columbia
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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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
British Columbians with disabilities, we feel we can help towards improving
the quality of life and opportunities for all British Columbians with
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Countless professionals 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 receive anything.
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
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); 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 for work).
instances 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
Back to Financial Disincentives
to and in Employment Section
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