Access to Success: A Guide for Employers

Persons with Disabilities Succeed: Some Examples from Halifax

By Stephen Noel, Employment Counselor, Saint Mary’s University

I’ve been working with university students, as an Employment Counselor, for six years. In that time I’ve seen every myth and stereotype shattered - “blown out of the water!” These are just a few of many success stories that I’ve witnessed. Like all persons with disabilities, these individuals have had to overcome obstacles and barriers, some real and concrete, and others attitudinal. As I recall, each of these individuals expressed that the greatest barriers to their success in the employment market were attitudinal.

If one could sum up my experience working with people with disabilities, I’d have to say that it is all about attitude. Every disabled student I’ve seen has demonstrated a work ethic and a degree of determination that is truly extraordinary. I’ve known some students with great limitations who could get good jobs very easily. Their attitudes and the way they present themselves make them “stars” in any arena. It’s all about progressive attitudes and thinking and that includes our own as well as those of employers doing the hiring.

Leigh Derry graduated with a Political Science degree, from Saint Mary’s University in 1988. Through the course of his degree, Leigh, who has Spina Bifida, gained a lot of knowledge and strengthened some general skills. He went on to pursue a college diploma in computer applications to follow his interest in computers and to develop more specific skills to make himself more competitive in the labour market.

When he completed the computer studies program, Leigh hit the streets to look for work. After a lengthy period of applying for many jobs, during which Leigh remained active and proactive in his job search, things began to turn around. Just prior to being hired as a help-desk specialist with a large telecommunications company’s Internet Service, Leigh had several good employment prospects. A job with a telecommunications company was the one he wanted most. He was hired and he’s still working full-time with the same company six years later. Leigh’s success appears to be the result of wise career planning and persistence in his job search. Alex Orbegoso, who is blind, graduated from Saint Mary’s University in 1998 with a Sociology degree. A multi-skilled individual, Alex is a musician who also speaks several languages. Alex had ‘worked at’ several different jobs before graduating from university. Upon completing his degree Alex quickly began job-searching. Over time he became an effective, diligent job searcher, writing quality cover letters and resumés, while networking with employers. Alex found a full- time contract job as an employment counselor. Through this work he further developed his networking skills and learned to conduct himself as a professional in the field.

After the contract position, Alex continued his job search and before long he found a full time job in telephone banking as a Customer Service Representative with a major bank. The use of Text-to-Speech and Braille Display computer technology enables Alex to perform all the tasks of a Telephone Banking Customer Service Rep.

Nadine Legier, has a love for learning! She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in English from Saint Mary’s University. After which she moved on to pursue a Masters degree from the University of Guelph. Nadine completed her Masters degree and has since gone on to a career as a university professor. She now teaches at both Saint Mary’s University and Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. At this time she is contemplating further study to complete a doctoral degree.