The Conference Room on the 29th Floor of the TD Canada Trust tower in downtown Vancouver was full to capacity as AIM hosted “Candidly Speaking: A Collaborative Approach to Disability in the Workplace” on February 15, 2012.

The event featured a panel of AIM Business Partners from TD, Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver and Nucleus Labs as well as Advisory Committee Members. The audience combined individuals with disabilities and interested employers. The result was a stimulating discussion on key features in hiring and retaining persons with disabilities.

After panel members introduced their own key issues and points of view, the participants that were in attendance were divided into seven groups. Each group was asked to come up with two or three questions focused on the concerns around employment of persons with disabilities. The questions were varied and thought provoking. Here is a sample of some of them:

When and how do you disclose your disability?
What are your fears when hiring a person with a disability?
How do organizations shift to inclusive culture at employee level?
How do you avoid making assumptions during the interview process?
How do we get to the point where disability is not a negative in the hiring process?
The panel and audience were then invited to comment on a selection of the questions. The ensuing conversation generated many excellent ideas and brought to light the perspectives of both the business community and those seeking to succeed in careers despite challenges.

Many left the event with new ideas to bring back to their workplaces. Others commented that the discussion could have gone on all day. Responses from panelists are featured on the AIM website.

Feedback from the event has been universally positive confirming that such dialogue is timely and valuable in the pursuit of a more inclusive workforce. More events of this nature are in the works – stay tuned!


Small Group Discussion Questions and Answers

These are the questions generated by the discussion groups at the “Candidly Speaking” Event held on February 15, 2012. We have included answers to some of the questions generated by our panelists and staff. If you have anything you would like to add, please email Karen or Mark and we would be happy to include it.

  • 1. How do we gather and use statistics to support change?

With advances in technology, there are many resources and statistics on the internet related to employment and individuals with disabilities. Recent Canadian statistics are limited owing to the decision to cut back on the long census survey in Canada.
The most recent source of information generated by the Canadian Government is the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006. As well, HRSDC has good resources about disability and employment. (AIM Program Coordinator)

Statistics can be used to demonstrate current practices in hiring persons with disabilities. The drawback of relying on statistics is that they demonstrate trends but do not take into account individual circumstances of persons with disabilities and employers. The most relevant statistics are the ones that focus on unemployment rates of persons with disabilities. These rates are shockingly high around the world. (AIM Program Manager)

2. How should we use resources to support organization commitment?

There are many resources available to support organizational commitment to hiring persons with disabilities. Perhaps offer “lunch & learn” sessions to your staff focusing on locally available resources. Allocating a portion of the professional development funds to workshops or conferences that focuses on this issue can be helpful as well. (AIM Program Coordinator)

Form a diversity committee to discuss issues of inclusion openly. (AIM Program Manager)

3. When and how do you disclose your disability?

As I have a visible disability that requires minimum levels of accessibility, I have chosen to disclose in my cover letter to be fair and honest to employers. (Person with a disability)

When you are comfortable to do so. Know that most employers are trying to work in the best interests of the employee so the more information that they have around employee needs and concerns, the better equipped they are to manage and make changes. Would also say that to disclose when it is necessary for you to be able to do the job as it relates to the accountabilities and responsibilities of the role. (Employer)

I believe the best time to disclose your disability is during the time when you are scheduling the interview. Personally I do this closer to the end of the conversation. For the majority of the conversation I focus mostly on demonstrating confidence and enthusiasm. (Person with a disability)

4. When and how do you ask a candidate about their disability?

Most persons with disabilities I have met, myself included, are very open and comfortable with our disabilities. I believe that as long as the question is posed in a polite and fair tone, not derogatory or condescending, people will answer freely. Keep in mind, “You’re definitely not the first to have asked me why I’m in a wheelchair, and you certainly won’t be the last”. (Person with a disability)

Although it is illegal to ask a candidate in an interview whether they have a disability, the interviewer can talk about the company’s attitude towards inclusion and diversity. This must be communicated genuinely and positively rather than sounding like you are reading from a script. It would be advisable to go through the normal interview process to explore the candidate’s qualifications and experience before making any assumptions or judgments. Listen to your gut instincts. If you suspect there may be something going on with him/her, there may be. The key is to be sensitive, positive and demonstrate inclusiveness. (Person with a disability)

Questions of this nature should be asked in relation to the job duties required. If a candidate is asked about ability regarding job specifics then there should be much less reason for either party to feel awkward. This could be done in an interview situation or in a pre-screen. (AIM Program Manager)

5. What techniques have you used in the hiring process to ascertain beyond the disability the right candidate?

  • Ask if they have references that they can share
  • Talk to their job coach or employment developer
  • Talk to their previous workplaces or colleagues
  • Ask for previous work samples (AIM Program Coordinator)


6. At what point should the employer ask a candidate what, if any, accommodations they require?

I think to get an honest answer from the employee you would need to ask after employment has been offered. If asked as part of the hiring process a person with a disability may choose to “play-down” the extent of the disability to avoid burdening the employer. (Person with a disability)

During the interview, you can let the candidate know that the company promotes inclusion. It is important for the interviewer to provide a safe space for the interviewee to speak about their disability and their needs. (Person with a disability)

This question can be asked to any candidate during an interview, disability or not. If it is framed correctly, the question should not come across as awkward. Something like: “Are you aware of any resources that could help you to do your job more effectively?” (AIM Program Manager)

7. If the employer “senses” a disability, is it ok to ask the employee if they have a disability?
My advice would be to always have touch points with employees to make sure they have the tools and means to excel in their roles. Asking them if they have the right tools and if any accommodations needed might be a better way to introduce a conversation vs asking if they have a disability. (Employer)

8. What are your fears when hiring a person with a disability?

  • Not being able to do the job correctly
  • It may give your company a negative image
  • You may not be able to deal with issues related to having a disability (such as emotional or psychological)
  • You may not have enough funds to accommodate an individual with disability
  • Do not have time to train the individual with a disability (AIM Program Coordinator)

The common fears employers have when hiring persons with disabilities are often based on lack of information and stereotyping. Qualified candidates, whether they have disabilities or not should not be feared. It is important to focus on abilities. (AIM Program Manager)


9. How do you work with people who do not want to disclose their disability to customers and coworkers?

It is important to always demonstrate a safe and supportive workplace to your colleagues and staff. Always try to create an open environment to support relationship building and trust. (AIM Program Coordinator)

An individual has the right not to disclose a disability to a customer or co-worker if it does not directly impact the work they are doing. For the same reasons that someone may not choose to disclose their religious affiliation or sexual orientation, we should respect that someone’s disability is an aspect of their personality not necessarily open to the public. (AIM Program Manager)

10. How do organizations shift to inclusive culture at employee level?

It could begin at interview level asking candidates about attitude and comfort level towards disabilities. It also can implement sensitivity training into orientation and training. Activities can be organized at team building days. (Person with a disability)

By hiring a diverse group of employees at all levels, from different backgrounds and orientations. (AIM Program Manager)

11. What are effective methods of educating employers (at different levels) with hiring persons with disabilities?

  • Bring in subject matter experts who can address myths/stereotypes as well as challenges/issues that employers face
  • Hire a coach to work one-on-one with hiring managers/recruiters to explore fears/concerns
  • Work towards feeling comfortable, empowered, positive and a proactive environment so it is easy to embrace disability in the workplace (Person with a disability)

Encourage employers to include information on disabilities in their on-boarding procedures and to include diversity and disability topics in regular in-service educational programs offered to staff. (AIM Program Manager)

12. How have you convinced upper management to hire persons with disabilities?

By portraying “disability” as something that is an acceptable reality that can affect anyone at any time. Those who have direct contact with someone with a disability will acknowledge that someone with a disability is worthy of inclusion in society. That extends to employment. This line of reasoning is hard to argue against. In addition, many employers who have hired persons with disabilities have had positive outcomes and are willing to try it again. (AIM Program Manager)

13. What are the resources for assessment for both employer and employees?

Becoming an AIM Ambassador is a good first step as we offer training sessions and other workshops. There are many disability-related resources in the community – Please refer to our website links for more details.

There are also organizations supporting workplaces with accommodations and funding such as Assistive Technology BC or BC Supports Network. (AIM Program Coordinator)

14. How do we inspire a cultural shift from the “individual” to the “environment”?

We are beginning to do it, by increasing accessibility to public buildings for example. We need to stop focusing on “making allowances” for individuals with disabilities and begin to think in terms of making things more accessible for everyone. (AIM Program Manager)

15. How do you avoid making assumptions during the interview process?

Always ask at stages throughout the interviewing process if the employee has any accommodation needs required to do the role. Explaining the company benefits programs and details as well as flexible work arrangements might prompt the candidate to feel more comfortable sharing. (Employer)

Be objective in the questions you ask and ensure that the job at hand is the focal point of the conversation. (AIM Program Manager)

16. How do we get to the point where disability is not a negative in the culture, hiring process?

Having your leaders make it a priority and to constantly work on changing perceptions, removing biases and leading by example. (Employer)

17. What are “best practices” in communicating disclosure?

Show a willingness to discuss disability through messaging and image. As a business, open your doors to the possibility of alternative ways of doing things. As an individual seeking work, have pride in your abilities and accept your disability as part of you. (AIM Program Manager)

Event Photos