Jacob Fehr told delegates that he has low vision caused by nystagmus, or nightblindness, something he sees not as a disability but as a characteristic. He told his story as a personal example of the transition from school into the workforce, while noting that no one size fits all.
Fehr gave an overview of his place of employment, Shaw Cable, and outlined his multiple roles at Shaw. The definition of "accommodation," he noted, is to accommodate or to change the environment in some way so that others can participate. At the post-secondary level, accessibility is well defined. Most institutions have a disability resource centre, and the onus for accessibility is shared between staff and students. In the workforce, some human resources departments have disability resources, but some do not. Employees must know their needs and know what resources exist, and they must take initiative, Fehr said.
Transitioning from school to work requires planning. Fehr listed some valuable workplace skills, including adaptability, communication skills, interpersonal skills, initiative, and motivation. Students should learn about themselves and set long- and short-term goals, research their field of interest, and combine extracurricular activities with career-related work, he said. Fehr, who grew up on a farm and did agricultural work which was not related to his chosen field, converted his resumé over time to make it more presentable to future employers. Tools for making this transition include internships and co-op positions, career services, employment Web sites, and staffing agencies. But these are only resources-one should also use one's personal network to find work, he said.
Fehr noted that transitioning can be facilitated by finding summer jobs and short-term work that is relevant to one's career choice, doing volunteer work, revising one's resumé, applying to co-op or internship programs, and running a club or association. Fehr, for example, revived the Association for Accessibility and Awareness at the University of Calgary.
In conclusion, he noted that there are fewer direct resources for people with disabilities at Shaw Cable than at the University of Calgary. However, employers are willing to provide accommodation, because this makes employees more productive. Students should plan ahead, research their field, and learn about specific companies and the resources available through their HR departments, Fehr said. Finally, independence and self-advocacy are great qualities. Fehr said that he always mentions his low vision and tells potential employers about the things he does to work around it.