Minutes of March 24, 2012 ‘Employment and Employability’ Town Hall | Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians

For clients who work with OPC-AODA’s Olga Dosis here is an excellent resource website regarding hiring employees who are blind; Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. Great employer resources in this website. Our consulting team who specialize in the AODA/ADA, accessibility and developing Inclusive/Diversity programs can assist in developing strategies for the hiring and accommodation of employees who are blind.  O. Dosis JESleeth OPC-AODA

Minutes of March 24, 2012 ‘Employment and Employability’ Town Hall

Meeting Date:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jeff Stark is a program manager of Accessibility, Accommodations and Adaptive Computer Technology Program (AAACT), part of Environment Canada. Jeff has worked in the federal gov’t for 10 years. He has applied for jobs and has conducted staffing actions. Jeff directed job seekers to visit http://www.jobs.ca often. Jeff noted that every Federal Government posting is listed there and that a number of the job postings are up only for a short period of time. If one does not check regularly, postings may be missed. Jeff also stated that there are postings for specific positions as well as collective mapping actions. Jeffery stated that language used in the posting is extremely important. Each posting lists essential qualifications and assets – the first screeners may not have familiarity with the subject matter so applicants are advised to stick to the terminology used in the posting.
Jeff encouraged an applicant to self identify if he or she has a disability as this will guarantee accessibility for future communication regarding that application. Jeff noted that the Government of Canada has a duty to accommodate. Jeff noted that the gov’t of Canada posts many different positions and activities on its site and that duty to accommodate ensures everyone has the tools he or she needs.
Chris Chamberlin is the owner of Frontier Computing, a distributor and provider of assistive technology for those living with vision loss or a learning disability. Frontier Computing is based in Toronto and has served the blind and low vision community for 26 years. Frontier employs 12 staff representing administration, sales, service and shipping. Frontier stocks up to 500 products to address different needs. Clients include Governments, private and public corporations, individuals and educational institutions. When hiring, Chris looks for people who are sensitive to disabilities – they may have a disability, have a family member with a disability, have previous employment experience working with people with disabilities. The current staff is representative of the disabilities Frontier serves and who utilize the technology Frontier sells. Frontier has a low staff turnover, many staff have stayed with the company for up to 19 years. Chris also values employees who are self starters, highly motivated, possess a high energy level and are willing to work flexible hours depending on the workload.
Sandra Carpenter is Executive Director of CILT (Centre for Independent Living Toronto). Sandra stated that the CILT work force is a mix of people with and without disabilities, although preference is given to people with disabilities. Sandra further stated that in spite of efforts on all levels, people with disabilities are not well represented in the work force and barriers to people with disabilities securing and maintaining employment in Toronto continue to exist. Sandra explained that people with mobility impairments must depend on Wheel Trans, a system which continuously loses flexibility and cannot guarantee reliable transportation. Sandra further explained that disability supports are not in place; if one receives a disability pension, one takes a risk trying to get into the work force.
Questions

1. Do panelists have any thoughts on self employment? Do panelists have any suggestions on opportunities for working out of one’s home?

a. Jeffrey Stark – A good starting place for self employment would be to talk to provincial government reps. Ask if there are any grants or loans available to start a business. For advertised “at home jobs” a search through the Better Business Bureau may provide information.
b. Sandra Carpenter stated that accommodation and integration in the work place would

2. Do panelists have any suggestions about how to prepare for a job interview?

a. Jeffrey Stark suggested applicants become familiar with ‘competency” as listed in government job postings. Jeffrey noted there are sites that explain the government scale used to evaluate competency. Applicants can give themselves a leg up if they are familiar with the language and how they are going to be assessed. Applicants can then display those competencies. This may include a written test, may include questions about how an applicant might display those competencies. Applicants should be comfortable with the language used in the posting and the competencies, perhaps find online resources specific to competency based management and should go into the interview with a number of stories or explanations to demonstrate that you have those skills.

3. What about the attitude of employers as regards hiring people with disabilities?

a. Sandra Carpenter – Attitudinal barriers are an ongoing problem and although some steps forward have been taken, this is a chronic problem that needs ongoing work.
b. Jeff Stark – Jeff believes that integration of blind children will influence attitudes in the future and increased media representation of successful people with disabilities will help break down attitudinal barriers.

4. When, during the application process, is it appropriate to disclose a disability?

a. Jeff Stark – Jeff stated that the Government of Canada & federally regulated industry and businesses have a duty to accommodate and there are processes and funding in place to provide accommodation. Jeff further stated that managers do not hire directly, hiring is a collective process. Jeff strongly encouraged applicants to identify to ensure that funding required for accommodation is provided by the ‘duty to accommodate’ fund. Jeff also stated that applicants should concentrate on their skills and ability to meet the job requirements.
b. Sandra stated that under Ontario law, applicants are not required to identify and if an applicant believes they were overlooked because of disability, the applicant has grounds to lodge a complaint.
c. Chris Chamberlin stated he would prefer an applicant self disclose to ensure that proper accommodations are in place. Self identification ensures there are no surprises and both sides are provided with a fair interaction.

5. Should applicants self disclose in a cover letter for job applications other than Federal Government applications?

a. Sandra Carpenter. Sandra stated that a decision to self disclose will depend on the applicant’s judgment and where the applicant is applying. One should ask ‘is it relevant to the job?’
b. Jeff Stark suggested applicants consider what stage of the hiring process one is at and where one is applying. Jeff stated that in most cases, an applicant should self disclose prior to the interview.

6. What skills are potential employers looking for?

a. Sandra Carpenter – Sandra emphasized the importance of people skills at CILT, particularly creativity, and flexibility.
b. Chris Chamberlin stated that people skills are a high priority at Frontier Computing as computer skills can be taught. Everyone works together at Frontier and applicants must have an ability to work as part of a team. Chris stated that his interview process is based a lot on communication aspects.
c. Jeff Stark identified 3 tasks which occupy most of a Federal Government employee’s time: computers, meetings and telephone conversations. Jeff stated that people skills are important: an ability to work with a team and with a larger organization working with a team. An ability to work with Microsoft Office is required.

7. How do we make private industry more aware of accessible technology?

a. Sandra Carpenter stated that the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) requires accessibility and that OCAD has an inclusive design centre. Sandra discussed the role of social media in sharing information about accessible technology

9. How can applicants ensure application forms are accessible?

a. Sandra Carpenter stated that in time, the AODA will be a useful tool, and at present applicants can file a complaint with the Provincial Human Rights Tribunal if application forms are not accessible.
b. Jeff Stark suggested applicants ask an employer what procurement process is used to ensure accessibility. Jeff noted that http://www.apt.gc.ca references international standards.

10. What are the best strategies to educate IT departments about adaptive technology?

a. Sandra Carpenter suggested the answer will depend on the employer and the work environment
b. Jeff Stark stated that educational resources for IT are available.

11. What recommendations re JAWS scripting do the panelists have?

a. Chris Chamberlin stated that Frontier Computing provides a JAWS scripting service

12. Do the panelists have any advice for individuals transitioning from a small office to a larger office?

a. Jeff Stark suggested that individuals review required competencies and disclose disability. Larger organizations have a chain of command, but may not allow for personal contact. Smaller businesses may have less of a duty to accommodate as undo hardship may play a role

13. Where can individuals acquire computer training?

a. Panelists agreed that funding for computer training is extremely limited. Options are to contact vendors, CNIB, perhaps CCB or ADP. Participants stated that Quebec has some training programs and CNIB in the Prairie Provinces has some training programs. Neil Squire Society has some online computer training. Community colleges have computer training courses and students may qualify for financial assistance.

Melanie Moore thanked Chris Chamberlin for his participation as Chris had a prior engagement and had to leave the meeting.
Donna Jodhan thanked the participants, moderator Jane Blaine, panelists and the planning committee.

Resource Links

From Jeff Stark:

From Chris Chamberlin:
Chris Chamberlin
Frontier Computing
2221 Yonge Street, Suite 406
Toronto, Ontario M4S 2B4
Phone: (416) 489-6690 Ext 26
Fax: (416) 489-6693
Toll Free: (888) 480-0000

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