Success in STEM
Rights Within the Workforce: A guide for employers
Researcher Jessica Cowan-Dewar explains in the first section of this guide that significant attitudinal barriers still exist for individuals wanting to enter into science and technology fields. Employers continue to hold misperceptions during the hiring process. As such, there is a great need for communication and partnership between Canadian employers and individuals with identified disabilities wanting to enter into these fields. In this section, we will highlight the paths to this partnership and the employment rights that can assist individuals into breaking into these markets. Knowledge and communication are required to bridge this gap.
The results of the NEADS 2008 study regarding people with disabilities in science and technology sectors revealed that individuals with identified disabilities are grossly underrepresented in fields such as math, chemistry, physics, environmental sciences, geology, information technology and engineering. Employers often hold misperceptions that these positions are ‘not suited’ to individuals with disabilities (Jessica Cowan-Dewar, 2009). This is especially true of visible disabilities, where employers may believe that the environment cannot cater to the individuals needs. These attitudinal barriers act to prevent individuals with disabilities from obtaining employment in these fields. This stigma and mentality is often also found in science-focused academia, and many students with disabilities are discouraged from engaging in science studies. These misperceptions are both false and discouraging for many individuals, who may be put off by the process of obtaining education and employment in these fields.
The myths and misperceptions outlined below are commonly held by many educators and employers in science and technology fields.
MYTH #1: Accommodations are costly and require significant resources
The lack of awareness around accommodation acts as a significant barrier. There is often a resistance to employ individuals with disabilities, especially those with acquired brain injuries, mental health issues, chronic illness, etc. (Jessica Cowan-Dewar). This is largely based upon the perception of costs and resources that would be demanded of the company. According to AccessSTEM (2009) the costs of accommodations are often less than employers expect and are usually easy to implement. According to the Job Accommodation Network (as cited by AccessStem) half of all accommodations cost less than $500. Furthermore, one fifth of accommodation requests cost nothing at all. (AccessSTEM, 2009).
Funding for Workplace Accommodation Costs
The Canadian government funds tax credit initiatives designed to encourage employers to hire and accommodate individuals with disabilities. “Employers and businesses may deduct the amount they paid during the taxation year to make certain modifications or alterations to a building for purposes of accessibility to persons with disabilities. These amounts are thus claimable as current expenses, rather than using the Capital Cost Allowance method. The treatment of these accessibility-related expenditures as current expenses is set out at sections 20(1)(qq) and 20(1)(rr) of the Income Tax Act (ITA) Only those expenditures specifically prescribed by regulation are covered” (Beatty, 2004). This credit includes making large structural changes necessary for individuals with mobility impairments including: installing ramps, installing electric door openers, bathroom modifications. Additionally, this includes many accommodations for those with visual and hearing impairments such as: elevator car indicator; Braille panel or audio signal; visual fire alarm; listening devices for group meetings; and disability-specific computerized software. This incentive provides further assistance to employers to make the appropriate accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Each province differs in the number of resources made available for accommodations. In Ontario, employers are provided with a ‘Workplace Accessibility Tax Incentive’ (WATI) to assist companies in making these structural provisions (ramps, modified elevators, and bathrooms).“ It also includes the purchase of devices or equipment that is required by an employee to perform job duties.” (Beatty, 2004).
MYTH #2: Determining accommodations requires much time and effort
Employees are the best resource for assessing which accommodations are needed within the workplace. Each individual is different and there is no set checklist of required accommodations based upon disability type. Communication between employee and employer regarding what is needed for a happy and healthy work environment will eliminate any guesswork from determining which accommodations are best (AccessSTEM).
If the communication exists and there is still confusion as to how to proceed with accommodations, it might be useful to contact local community organizations that work to serve individuals with disabilities (AccessSTEM, 2009). These supports are useful resources for employers to navigate in setting up accommodations.
MYTH #3: Employers are solely responsible for providing all accommodations
While it is true that employers should be facilitating accommodations within the workspace, employees are responsible for their own day-to-day accommodations (for example, a wheelchair). According to AccessSTEM, the company should cover all accommodations as they pertain to the job and anything that requires onsite modification. However, personal accommodations to facilitate daily activities remain the personal responsibility of the individual.
How to Recruit Eligible Employees with Disabilities
This section outlines select programs and services identified as helpful for employers in the recruitment of persons with disabilities.
NOWS: NEADS Online Work System
A bilingual, free, online tool where employers can post opportunities and search for job-ready candidates with disabilities. These candidates are either students or graduates who self-identify as having a disability/impairment. The service is operated by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS): www.nows.ca
Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP)
A recruitment resource for identifying persons with disabilities as job candidates for employment in a number of fields. Through their Outreach Program for Youth with Disabilities, Microsoft develops partnerships with potential employers and conducts disability awareness and sensitivity training with these employers: https://wrp.gov/LoginPre.do?method=login
The Alliance for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is a program operated out of the University’s of Washington’s Do-It program: www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/
Job Accommodation Network
A service offered in Canada the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work: www.jan.wvu.edu/links/employ.htm
A job opportunity website for persons with disabilities and inclusive employers: www.abilitylinks.org/home.aspx?&PageID=506
Model examples of Science & Technology companies who implement the inclusion of individuals with disabilities include some of the following organizations:
Bender Consulting Services of Canada, Inc.
Has a mission to provide superior consulting services while creating employment and career opportunities, independence and freedom for people with disabilities. Visit their website at: www.benderofcanada.com
Goddard Space Flight Centre’s Program for Individuals with Disabilities. This program addresses this barrier through organized internships that promote the hiring and advancement of people with disabilities. Visit the NASA program website at: http://eeo.gsfc.nasa.gov/disability/index.html Another valuable, comprehensive Government of Canada resource is Persons With Disabilities Online: www.pwd-online.ca
Within Canada, employers are required to accommodate individuals with disabilities within their work environment (short of causing undue hardship). It is suggested that employers treat accommodation requests in a respectful and urgent manner. Understand that disclosing a disability may be intimidating for many individuals and should be treated with confidentiality. Refrain from asking disability related questions that are not relevant to the accommodations needed. Acknowledge that temporary accommodations may need to be set in place until long term solutions can be resolved and be open to the employee in question contributing to this process. Finally, it is important to remember that everyone is different, and accommodations will vary depending upon employees particular needs. It is believed that accommodation works best if approached in a cooperative and collaborative manner.