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Persons with disabilities still facing stereotypes in workplace

SASKATOON – Canadians are known for innovation, from inventing the Canadarm and the Blackberry to using light beams in Saskatoon to help solve scientific and medical mysteries.

Yet, there is still no solution to dealing with inequalities persons with disabilities face.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission says about 40 per cent of the complaints they receive are related to persons with disabilities.

That has caused the commission to change their approach to now advocate about persistently broken, systemic problems.

“Transportation is number one,” said David Arnot, chief commissioner of the commission.

“Housing is right there and it’s really employment opportunities and education opportunities that are all together. They’re inter-related and that’s where we have to make the most improvement.”

A new federal report, Rethinking DisAbility in the private sector, is looking to shed light on the employment situation.

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According to the report, 795,000 Canadians with disabilities are able to work, but are not and almost half have post-secondary education.

Dr. Gary Birch, one of the members of the government appointed panel behind the report, has a disability himself and leads the not-for-profit Neil Squire Society, an organization that develops programs, services and assistive technology for people with physical disabilities.

He says it’s important to shed light on the fact that people with disabilities are able to work but are being denied the opportunity.

“We felt we had to get out why would you want to hire people with disabilities or why it is important,” said Birch.

Two-hundred employers were consulted for the report. Those with experience hiring people with disabilities shared their best practices while the inexperienced explained their hesitancy.

One myth that was dispelled was the cost of accommodating disabilities.

Many employers felt it was expensive and prohibitive to business, however in 57 per cent of the cases, no accommodation was required and in another 37 per cent, there was a one-time cost averaging $500.

Another myth is that workers with disabilities do not perform well and require extra supervision.

A DuPont study found 90 per cent of people with disabilities rated the same, or better, on job performance as their non-disabled co-workers.

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“Part of the myth is that it’s hard, and it’s not,” said Birch.

“With the right supports, and the right education on both sides, it’s an easy transition and then you have a very dedicated, ready to work employee.”

The report found there were value added benefits for companies and businesses, from higher employee retainment, attendance and productivity to a morale boosting atmosphere and an improved community profile.

However, some say the report was missing a few elements.

Those tomorrow in part two of Rethinking DisAbilities.