JOB DEVELOPMENT AND PLACEMENT
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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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
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
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?
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
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
- 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
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
of Communicating With People With Disabilities (Video)
Attitudinal Training Program (Training Program)