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(In the future, we will be developing more content on this page to assist job developers to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities.)


Close Encounters of the Enlightening Kind - the importance of face-to-face encounters with people with disabilities.
Attitudinal Change -Perspectives on attitudinal barriers in the workplace.
My World Too - The importance of believing that there are opportunities for everyone.
People with Disabilities (like everyone else) Come in Ones.


Welcome to TransitionLinkTransitionlink is an on-line community for sharing ideas, strategies, resources, and information concerning the transition to life after high school for adolescents with disabilities.


Access for All book Cover and Link
Access for All
guide to One-Stop
 service design
for customers
 with disabilities

Beyond Traditional Job Development - Cover and Link
Beyond Traditional Job Development
The Art of Creating Opportunity

Working With People With Disabilities - cover and link
Working With
People With
In a job placement
/job retention environment

Close Encounters of the Enlightening Kind

By Rob McInnes

It was several years ago, and I woke up as Hank returned from his daily early-morning run. I had to admire his dedication to his daily regimen of healthy food and exercise. Hank was Vice President of a large telecommunications company. He was one of my team-mates on an intensive 3-week course that had us traveling across the country with another 248 “young leaders” from business, labor and community based organizations. The course had just begun and Hank and I had readily formed a bond from the start.

When I first heard about this course for “upcoming leaders” I knew that it was going to be a rare opportunity for “disability awareness”. I remembered how the Employers Forum in Great Britain had negotiated with their country’s most prestigious management training firm – to enable leaders from the disability community to attend their courses. Imagine – all the up-and-coming executives from major corporations taking their management training side-by-side with leaders from the disability community!

With this inspiration, and the opportunity to “infiltrate” a group of 250 future leaders, I did everything I could to get many of my friends with disabilities to apply. To my delight, three of them were selected to participate – as was I. One of them was my friend Gary. I was pleasantly surprised that Gary had been selected. Accommodating people with disabilities was new to the organizers and Gary’s accommodation needs were significant - he is paralyzed from the neck down and requires a full-time attendant.

On the second morning of the event, Hank and I were seated high in the auditorium and waiting for the proceedings to begin. He nudged me and, pointing, said “See that guy over there?” The following conversation ensued:

Rob: “Which one?”

Hank: “The one in the wheelchair.”

Rob: “Yes, I see him.”

Hank: “I would kill myself if I was him!”

Rob: “Oh… that would be really hard on his wife and kids!”

Hank: “You know him? He is married? He has children?”

Rob: “Oh yes. His name is Gary and his youngest child was born only two weeks ago. Because of that, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to attend this course.”

That gave Hank food for thought and I let him silently dwell on it. I knew that with his own fixation on health and fitness, he was having a hard time imagining Gary’s quality of life.

During coffee break later that afternoon, I was chatting with my friend Gary. The room was totally congested with people, but I managed to make eye contact with Hank who was on the other side of the room. I waved him over.

Now, because the room was so packed and because Gary was seated in his wheelchair, Hank had no idea that I was with Gary. As Hank finally burst through the crowd and saw Gary, a look of total shock crossed his face. Giving him no time to recover, I simply said “Gary, this is Hank. Hank this is Gary. I have to make a phone call. I’ll see you guys later.” And I left them.

A couple of hours later, Hank found me. “You know your friend Gary…” he said; “He is a very bright guy!” Extremely animated, he went on to tell me how impressed he was with Gary. He said he never suspected that people with disabilities could be so competent and knowledgeable.

That was the first of several conversations that Hank and Gary shared during the course. Hank also made a point of meeting my two other friends (with disabilities) that were also participants. He also began quizzing me with questions about other disabilities and disability issues. During the next three weeks the course gave us opportunity to converse with many businesses, government offices and community organizations – and Hank had numerous disability-related questions for all of them too.

A few weeks after the course concluded, I received a phone call from the Diversity Manager at the company Hank worked for. “What did you do to Hank?” she asked. She explained that for years Hank had been resisting all of her initiatives and wouldn’t give her the time of day on any of her concerns. Suddenly, he had arrived home from this course very keen on diversity issues. She also told me that almost immediately upon his return Hank told her that he wanted all of his regional managers to learn that their company could benefit from the talents and skills of people with disabilities. Knowing that it was a personal encounter that had enlightened him, he wanted a similar experience for his managers. Hank called them together for a special and unprecedented meeting – where they all spent several hours in conversation with the (blind) owner of a very well-known and successful local business.

Hank’s life was truly enriched by this whole experience of encountering “disability”. There were scores of others on this course who, I am sure, were similarly enriched - all because they had the opportunity to meet Gary and my other two friends face-to-face in a collegial atmosphere.

© Rob McInnes, Diversity World, 2003

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People with Disabilities (like everyone else) Come in Ones

By Rob McInnes

“We don’t come in teams” said my friend Lance Dawson. Lance is a terrific speaker on topics of disability awareness & etiquette. At the time, he was addressing a crowd of about 300 HR professionals. I had to chuckle at the visual image that his statement invoked for me – of a dozen or so people with disabilities trotting along with matching sweaters with a big “D” on the front. As someone who is blind, Lance knows from personal experience how erroneous it is to lump people with disabilities (even with the same disabilities) together.

Human beings have a tendency to do that. We readily categorize people and things by some common characteristics and make generalizations about what we think we know about them. For the most part, this can actually be a very useful skill. For instance, seeing a plant with thorns on it and lumping it into the category of “plants we don’t touch because they hurt” can be a good thing. Seeing a person who is waving a gun around and lumping them into the group of “people we stay away from because they are potentially dangerous” can likewise be useful. Unfortunately, most human beings also have a tendency to lump people who are different from themselves into the “people I stay away from because I am unfamiliar with them, uncomfortable, and possibly intimidated by their differences.” Of course, this is the root cause of most of our societal and workforce discrimination. Not only is this kind of thinking not useful, it is wrong, harmful and hurtful.

In the context of attitudes towards people with disabilities in the workplce, we need to examine this “grouping” tendency even closer. We know how an employer’s unfamiliarity with people with disabilities can be a barrier. Familiarity can also be a barrier.

My earliest memory of a personal encounter with a person with a disability was when, as a young teenager, I would cut my grandparents’ grass. Almost every time, a boy who was close to my age would appear. He would follow about 12 feet behind me – walking with a strange gait, talking to himself and drooling. (On the one occasion that I tried speaking to him, he only looked down and mumbled incoherently.) For many years, when anyone mentioned the words “handicapped” or disabled”, his was the image that would immediately come to mind. For me, people with disabilities became synonymous with feelings of discomfort and assumptions of incompetence. Similarly an employer, whose first encounter with someone with a disability is with someone who does their job poorly, will tend to generalize that “all people with disabilities do their jobs with equal incompetence”.

Of course, there are employers who have a great first experience with a person with a disability – and, from then on, are always on the lookout for more of them. This is the “six pack” phenomenon: “Hey, this person with a disability is great! Send me six more of them!” Those of us in the “job development business” love this one. We play on it. We make sure that our first placement in a company is going to be a great fit – so the employer will readily hire more of our job seekers with disabilities.

Further playing on the dynamics of group perception, we may find ourselves using statistics like the DuPont study to convince employers that “All employees with disabilities are…”.

I have met few people who wanted to be offered a job because of their disability. Over and over, however, I hear stories from people who commend their employers for hiring them despite their disability – for being able to overlook the disability and see their skills and abilities clearly.

Speaker and writer Richard Pimentel, was the first one to make me realize that promoting people with disabilities as a group, even positively, has an inherent flaw. It just reinforces the tendency to group people – instead of promoting the idea of seeing each person as an individual. (Richard’s perspective on this is explained in more detail later in this newsletter.)

Richard’s “Pick-a-Disability” module in the Windmills attitudinal training program is a brilliant way to make people understand that everyone with a disability is different and needs to be seen for their individual strengths and weaknesses. I also think that the “No Two Disabled Persons Are Alike” chart in the book “Job Hunting for the so-called Handicapped” is another clever tool for driving home this lesson.

Our overriding job in educating employers about disability is not to convince them that people with disabilities make good employees; but to convince them that each prospective employee with a disability should be considered equally (without bias or preconceptions) and individually, on his/her own merits, throughout the recruiting, interviewing and hiring process.

As an employer, I’ve had the opportunity to employ dozens of people with disabilities. There were people with disabilities that I would rank among the best people that I ever worked with. There were others who ranked among the worst. Based on my experience, I would never tell another employer that people with disabilities make great employees; but I would readily advise them that some of my very best employees have been people who happened to have disabilities.

That has to be the message, loud and clear: People with disabilities come in Ones.

(Oh, and the guy who followed me around when I used to cut the grass? We met again about 10 years later. Ross and I ended up working for the same company. Admittedly Ross was employed doing simple tasks for piece-work; but he was working and proud of his job. His mumbling turned into real conversation once we got to know each other. I learned that he had always had a fascination with machines and he wasn’t following me at all – it was the lawnmower that had held his interest.)

© Rob McInnes, Diversity World, 2003

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My World Too
By Rob McInnes

I never gave it much thought until this week; but I think it would take two things to motivate me to look for a needle in a haystack: the belief that the needle was really worth the effort – and the belief that it was somewhere in that haystack.

This past week, I had a conversation with a woman who finds jobs for high school kids with disabilities – professionally known as a “job developer”.

Enthusiastically, she recounted the story of how she found one young person their “dream job”. The young person that she was working with was fully passionate about wanting to work in a music store. (I’m sure it was nice to have a job seeker with such enthusiasm and focus!) The problem, however, was that this particular young person had a form of epilepsy that could not effectively be controlled by medication. In other words, she was subject to frequent and intense seizures.

Think about that for a moment… you are asked to find a job for someone with uncontrollable and serious seizures – in a retail environment that is full of customers and breakable products. As that job developer, what would you imagine doing? I think I might consider asking the young person to consider working in some other part of the industry or in a different role. Maybe the warehouse? Maybe cleaning the store or stocking the shelves after store hours?

Not this job developer! She cared enough about that job seeker to know that a position in a retail music store was going to be the job that truly satisfied and thrilled that young job seeker! It was worth looking for. Against the odds, she began to canvass every music store she could find… looking for that valuable job (needle) in the haystack of her city’s businesses.

To her admitted surprise (and delight) one of the music store owners was immediately receptive to the idea. Maybe he was attracted to the job seeker’s passion for music. Whatever the reason, he gave her the opportunity. He and his other employees readily learned how to respond to her seizures and how to explain any commotion to their customers. The young woman thrived in her new job. Result: needle found, well worth the effort!

There are a lot of job seekers with disabilities who can effectively find jobs on their own; but there are many, particularly those with more “severe” disabilities who face much larger haystacks. They can really use help in searching for their own “needles”. Enter… job developers (needle hunters).

Unfortunately, many people with disabilities have no choice in the selection of their own job developers. Too often, they have to rely on someone who isn’t interested in hunting for their needle… someone who doesn’t value their dreams enough to hunt for them… perhaps someone so disillusioned by past experiences that they no longer trust that there are employers in their communities that care enough to make substantial accommodations.

Thank goodness that the job developer I spoke with had the determination, commitment and gumption to give that young woman’s job search her “best shot”. Her efforts effectively made this world a much richer place for that young person – and for the employees and customers of that music store.

After countless stories like this, I have come to believe that no matter what limitations a person might have, there is likely to be somewhere for them to work where their talents and skills will be valued and appreciated. The discovery of those opportunities is only limited by the collective commitment and imagination that is put to the task.

My partner, Denise Bissonnette, sometimes tells a story about working with a man who had some characteristics that seriously limited his “employability” – until he found an employer who saw his unique talents, looked past his other deficits, and gave him the opportunity to let his true talents “shine”.  He became wildly successful on that job. When Denise reflected on that situation, she said “Why should I have been surprised? This is his world too!”

Those words hit a chord with me and continue to motivate and challenge me… “This is his world too!”  

Hmmm… maybe I should open an organization that gives job seekers t-shirts before they walk into their job developers’ offices – t-shirts that say “This Is My World Too”.

© Rob McInnes, Diversity World, 2003

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Attitudinal Change
by Rob McInnes

For many years, I have the opportunity to work closely with employers on issues of disability and employment. In recent times, and on several occasions, I have heard employers say that most companies have now effectively dealt with attitudinal barriers and that disability/employment efforts should concentrate on other fronts. In fact, I’ve heard some job developers and employment specialists say the same thing. I’m not convinced.

New research from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, A Survey of Employers about People with Disabilities and Lowering Barriers to Work (pdf), once again highlights the enormity of the subjective barriers that still prohibit people with disabilities from effectively participating in the workplace. In this study, over 500 employers where queried about employment practices and people with disabilities.

Among other questions, employers were asked to identify the single greatest employment barrier to people with disabilities. 25% cited employer attitudes as the biggest single barrier. (15% cited employers’ general reluctance to hire people with disabilities. 5% cited employers’ discomfort and/or unfamiliarity with disability. 5% cited discrimination or prejudice.) This is supported by a 1999 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in which 22% of 1400 Members surveyed cited attitudes and stereotypes as a major barrier (to both employment AND advancement opportunities) in their companies. Related to this, another study of 800 employers by Gallup Robinson revealed that 15% of them admitted discomfort with the notion of working for, or nearby, a person with a disability.

As a job seeker with a disability, this is truly a daunting notion – that 25% of the people who you will encounter in your job search – the people who read your resume, who interview you for a job – are likely predisposed to discriminate against you based on their own entirely subjective preconceptions.

As employment professionals seeking to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities or as proactive employers seeking to increase the representation of people with disabilities in their workplaces, this information is of no small consequence. I believe that, in aspiring to inclusive workplaces, attitudinal change is one of the very most urgent and challenging issues that we face.

I think it is tragic that attitudinal issues have been so downplayed in recent years. I think it is sad, even maddening, that so much that goes on under the banner of “Disability Awareness” or “Attitudinal Training” is so frequently trite, haphazard and/or unprofessional. It is disheartening to see so many companies offering their employees presentations that are selected on “cost” not “cost-benefit” (selecting the cheapest – not the most impactful) and to see this important task of dismantling attitudinal barriers resting on the shoulders of poorly-trained and poorly-equipped personnel from community-based organizations.

Even the best attitudinal training of our day seems rooted in tools that were developed ten years ago in the spirited times accompanying the passage of the ADA – tools like the powerful “Windmills Attitudinal Training Program” and the engaging “10 Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities”.

In a 2002 study by Susan Bruyere of Cornell University on policies and practices that affect the employment of people with disabilities, employers reported that attitudinal changes are possibly the most difficult organizational barriers to change. 35% of them considered attitudinal change “difficult” or “extremely difficult” to accomplish.

With subjective employer attitudes looming as possibly 25% of the reason that people with disabilities are still not effectively participating in the workplace, isn’t it time that we address it, with renewed vitality, in a concerted and strategic fashion?

...no amount of factual evidence on productivity and cost benefit can hope to persuade an individual manager who has yet to address the embarrassment, the fear and the deep-rooted negative assumptions about disability which are so often at play.”

For many years, the Employer’s Forum in Great Britain, now boasting over 350 Member companies, has been striving to open Britain’s workplaces to more people with disabilities. A key focus of their activities has always been education of their Members. About a year ago, they evaluated the effectiveness of their training initiatives. The critical importance of attitudinal barriers was brought sharply into focus. In the words of their Chief Executive, Susan Parker, “We must now recognize that no amount of factual evidence on productivity and cost benefit can hope to persuade an individual manager who has yet to address the embarrassment, the fear and the deep-rooted negative assumptions about disability which are so often at play.”

The Forum’s response, however, was not to develop some new attitudinal training programs. Interestingly enough, their response was to increase the opportunities for employees of their Member companies to interact directly with people with disabilities. According to Parker; “We need a more integrated approach which links the evidence on the business benefits of including disabled people to the need for a planned commitment to engage actively with disabled people on as many fronts as possible… This face-to-face contact with disabled people as potential colleagues can precipitate a radical change in the way people look at the whole issue of working with anyone with an impairment.”

There is real wisdom here. I wonder if this isn’t something we can really “take to the streets” in North America? What if our rallying cry, against attitudinal barriers in our workplaces, became; “Maximizing the opportunities for positive contact between employers and people with disabilities.”?

Maybe we could infuse some existing initiatives with more vigor:

  • Putting more effort into organizing activities around National Disability Mentoring Day (coordinated by the American Association of Disabled Persons) and the Face-to-Face program in Canada.
  • More rigorously pursuing Internship and Work Experience opportunities for students with disabilities.
  • More aggressively engaging employers in volunteer roles that put them in contact with people with disabilities.

Maybe we can imaginatively create some entirely new ways to initiate that contact:

  • How about having job seekers with disabilities voluntarily assisting (taking registrations, etc. at employer-focused events (i.e. Chamber of Commerce meetings, SHRM meetings, etc.)?
  • Think about all the (often free) events that staff members are invited to, and that employers attend. What if clients with disabilities were given the opportunity to attend these events (and bring back briefings)?

Years ago, I learned about a 3-week training event that was to involve 250 upcoming leaders in business, organized labor, and community organizations. I took some steps that resulted in three people with significant disabilities being accepted as participants. In addition to the fantastic learning experience they themselves had, their very presence shaped and reshaped the attitudes of 247 future leaders. In a similar vein, Project HIRED in California and the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) in Canada are two organizations that have worked with large companies to create ongoing opportunities for job seekers with disabilities to attend the training courses that those companies hold for their own employees – both improving the skill sets of the job seekers and creating the opportunity for contact and interaction with company employees.

We all know that the watchwords in the real estate arena are “Location, location, location”. To be most effective in the arena of employment barriers, I believe that our new watchwords need to be “Contact, contact, contact”.

© Rob McInnes, Diversity World, 2003

Attitudinal Change Tools in our Store:
Disability Etiquette (video)
10 Commandments of Communicating With People With Disabilities (Video)
WINDMILLS Attitudinal Training Program (Training Program)


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Some of the items you will find...

A Difference of Ability A Difference of Ability:
why job-seekers with disabilities and employers have difficulty connecting effectively - and how that can change.
JCSsm.gif Job Coaching Strategies
goal-oriented staff development program of best practices in supported employment
Open Futures - Career Exploration for people with disabilities. Open Futures
Set of two videos and a CDROM help students with disabilities to set their sights on career goals!







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