My Experience

As a full-time occupational therapist, when I survived a stroke at 24 years of age, I
naively assumed that my degree, motivation and newfound insight as both a patient
and therapist would make my return to work a synch. But I never imagined the
barriers that I would encounter in this process. I soon saw firsthand the huge
discrimination that exists and starves not only potential employees of self-worth, but
also adversely impacts organisational culture.

The Need To Work

A vast amount of research has demonstrated that returning to some form of
employment after acquiring a disability is an important indicator of one’s recovery.
It’s also demonstrated that people living with disabilities make an invaluable
contribution to a workplace when given the opportunity. But the huge barriers in the
recruitment process often preclude them from doing this. So how can we enable and
foster an employee’s potential, build and sustain good relationships and create a
culture of equality and diversity as employers?

In my own return to work, not only had I been unemployed for four years while I
underwent my own rehabilitation but I also had significant physical disabilities that I
had to adjust to and accommodate. Although desperate to reintegrate into my old life,
I confess to feeling so vulnerable and felt immobilised by the entire return to work
process. I was suddenly reliant on my employer to unleash the skills and strengths
that lay dormant in my new disabled body.

Empowering Applicants With Disabilities

I’m sure it’s often easier to angle our marketing and recruitment to exclude potential
employees with different needs from applying to join our organization. But it’s likely
that the person with a disability has already experienced some discrimination in their
feat to return to work. Those like myself may feel that their disabilities are so visible
or apparent, that they are disadvantaged from the beginning. Others may have ‘hidden disabilities’ such as fatigue or visual difficulties but are so intimidated by the process and desperate to get their foot in, that rather than disclose this information, they pretend that this isn’t an issue. Subsequently, without negotiating variable hours or suggesting resources that would enable their optimal performance, they may attempt to self-manage these obstacles and struggle to sustain their role. But are we creating a dishonest relationship from the onset? If an employee feels heard and accepted, it’s likely they will feel empowered to perform at their best. Surely by knowing and accommodating people’s needs we are also affording their potential?

Becoming A Visionary Employer

Perhaps it’s the difference between being a basic employer or a visionary employer.
A basic employer sees burden, extra cost and hassle in hiring the person with a
disability. Whereas the visionary employer may see that the potential employee not
only demonstrates the training, qualifications and knowledge base suitable for the job
but they also have an enriched life experience and subsequent added skills. For
example, in managing their disability, they perhaps have good problem solving,
planning, and time management skills?

Developing a Culture Of Inclusion

Recruiting for diversity also extends further, to the culture you are aspiring to create within your organization. If you’re subconsciously (or consciously) judging a potential employee with a disability, are you also creating a rigid environment where you won’t recruit anyone’different’ and aren’t open to being flexible to accommodate their needs? If we are not flexible in our own strategies, are we also not open to the inclusion of new ideas and the growth that’s necessary for our workplace to thrive? Seeing beyond someone’s deficits and facilitating their potential and performance,you will also build an inclusive and accepting environment. This will extend to all employees beyond any who may carry disability.

Many would take one look at my walking frame and vision problems and
automatically dismiss my application and entrance into that organisation. But with
that mindset we are depriving the individual of the opportunity to prove that they are
more than their disability. And, we are also starving our workplaces of the
opportunity to build a culture of acceptance, equality and value?

Let’s choose to inject diversity into our recruitment strategies.

Emma is presenting at the upcoming Australasian Talent Conference 2015 -‘Recruitment IS Marketing’
on Recruiting People with Special Needs. For further information about this event see –…/recruiting-people-with-disabilities-th…/