Finding and interviewing for a new job can be difficult – and even cause anxiety – for many.
For those who have a disability, it can be even harder just to get the chance to be interviewed.
Surrey resident Ekamjit Ghuman, who has cerebral palsy, has been having difficulty finding work since her last position, which was working as a constituency assistant in then-Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadiuex’s office, ended. Cadieux stepped down to become Canada’s first Chief Accessibility Officer in May of 2022.
“As of 2017, more than 6.2 million Canadians are living with a disability,” Ghuman said in an emailed statement.
“Unfortunately, a large number of working-age adults with disabilities are unemployed and live in poverty and the post-pandemic inflation and cost of living crisis is causing further financial hardships for persons with disabilities.”
With September being Disability Employment Month in B.C., and October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month in Canada, Ghuman thought it would be a good time to draw attention to the plight of people with disabilities who want to work – but aren’t given the opportunity.
With Bachelor of Business Administration from Simon Fraser University and a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Human Resources Management from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, it took Ghuman five years to find the job working for Cadieux.
Still on the job hunt since last year, the 34-year-old noted that cerebral palsy affects her speech, hand co-ordination and dexterity, as well as her ability to walk, which requires her to use a walker, but she uses HandyDART to commute. While she mainly uses text and email to communicate, people can understand her speech once they get to know her, Ghuman said.
“As an individual living with cerebral palsy (CP), I struggle to obtain employment.
“Searching for employment with a disability is demoralizing and demeaning at times,” she continued.
“I seldom make it past the phone interview to the (in person) interview, as my CP affects my speech. I have been hung up on more than once after disclosing my disability to the hiring manager. Just recently, an executive director hung up on me.”
The constant rejections are hurtful, she said.
“I only apply for jobs that I know I am fully capable of doing and will require minimal accommodations. If I could say one thing to all of the hiring managers that have rejected my applications over the years, it would be: ‘I wish you had given me an opportunity to demonstrate my skills, knowledge and abilities instead of making assumptions about my abilities and how you think I might perform. My disability is something I deal with every day and as a result, I am adept at innovating to do the things I want and need to do.’”
Cadieux, who has used a wheelchair since she was 18, said that while there have been successes when it comes to employers hiring people with disabilities, the challenges “run deep” and “we’ve got more to do but we’re getting there.”
Hiring Ghuman didn’t present any particular difficulties, Cadieux noted.
“It’s really not that difficult. You just have to ask the employee what they need to be successful in the job,” she said, adding it could be a laptop versus a desktop computer that is required, or a different mouse, or an ergonomic chair. “It just takes having that conversation and being open to it.”
Cadieux pointed out there’s plenty of research that shows hiring a diverse workforce with people of all abilities is not only good for the employer, as workforces that are diverse are more likely to exceed their financial targets, more likely to be innovative and more productive, with reduced turnover.
“The reality is, people with disabilities are the largest untapped resource for talent in our country and around the world.
“People with disabilities are underemployed compared to the rest of the population,” she said.
“We know that right now, about 645,000 people in Canada are waiting on the sidelines, wanting to work – and almost half of them have a post-secondary education.”
Seema Tripathi, director of employment and innovative services for UNITI, said barriers still remain for people with disabilities in finding employment.
“One of the biggest barriers I see is the lack of expectation we have for people with disabilities,” she said.
“The social construct we have – the way our society is organized – is that we’re always focusing on the disability part.
“We’re not focusing on the ability part.”
At UNITI, they’re not only there to support individuals looking for job, but also, the employers who are looking to hire them.
Sometimes, a traditional job interview might not work, but digital literacy has advanced in many ways, largely due to the COVID pandemic, Tripathi noted.
“I think there needs to be platforms where (the) focus is on there is a job for everybody, regardless of the disability they have. It needs to become a best practice – universally – among employers,” she said.
She and Cadieux noted that often, people think a disability means a wheelchair and a ramp or van, but that is not always the case.
“Disabilities are much larger in range of issues, from cognitive to physical and, in some cases, it might affect somebody’s speech or somebody’s dexterity or eyesight or hearing… all of those things might require a slightly different approach, but it doesn’t make the people any less competent or capable,” Cadieux said.
“I think sometimes if it looks scary and we haven’t experienced it before, we’re not sure how to do it, and so we shy away from it. We need to be a lot more open and a lot more enquiring – we need to ask the questions so that we can learn.”
Ghuman agreed, adding that employers often, “fail to understand that people with disabilities, too, have dreams and ambitions.”
“Like able bodied individuals, persons with disabilities also desire to establish themselves as independent and contributing members of society,” Ghuman said.
“Awareness of inclusive employment opportunities for candidates with disabilities is imperative, as it will enable individuals with disabilities to establish financial stability and make viable contributions to the workforce while achieving their dreams.”