Like Cam mentioned in his post, Workplace Accommodations, one of the services LDAWE provides is Employment Supports. This program is funded by ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program); therefore, participants must meet their eligibility criteria. This includes having a documented disability, meeting certain financial criteria, and being ready, willing, and able to work. As part of our Employment Supports program, we help people with learning disabilities and ADHD find work and we also help them keep that job once they have it (this is often the hard part).
Many employers are still leary about hiring people with disabilities. Why is that? Is it a fear of the unknown? Is it because people with disabilities are different? Are they afraid of saying the wrong thing and being sued? Do they believe some of the myths… like their WSIB costs will rise, they will never be able to fire an employee with a disability, the employee will be off sick all of the time, or any of the other countless myths out there?
I can’t answer this question for every employer. What I can tell you, is some of our best employees at LDAWE have disabilities. In fact, a lot of our staff members and volunteers at LDAWE have disabilities. A couple of months ago, I did the math and discovered that 36% of our staff members and 41% of our volunteers have disabilities. Obviously this number fluctuates a bit as people come and go, but I believe these numbers have stayed relatively consistant throughout the past couple of years. Types of disabilities range from learning disabilities and ADHD, to cerebral palsy, high functioning autism, anxiety, depression, low vision, and hearing impairments.
So, how do we do it? How do we run a successful, growing, non-profit organization when so many of our people have “disabilities?”
- Like Rick recommended in his post, Tree-Climbing Fish, we focus on people’s strengths, not their weaknesses.
- We provide an understanding environment where people can learn from their mistakes.
- We use torn post-it notes.
Focus on Strengths
In our office we actually have 5 administrative assistants. They are all part-time. Three of them are staff members and the other two are volunteers. More importantly, 4 of our 5 administrative assistants have significant disabilities. Each one of them have a different set of tasks assigned to them based on their strengths.
One of our administrative assistants was the second person ever hired by LDAWE. She has been our Administrative Assistant for almost 12 years and one of our Literacy Tutors for approximately 10 years. She has cerebral palsy and a learning disability in the area of visual-spatial reasoning. She loves talking, so her main responsibilities are answering the phone and door, as well as the filing.
Another one of our other Administrative Assistant has been with us for over 4 years. He is our computer “guru,” and helps setup all of our new computers, install software, complete backups, etc… He does the majority of typing, faxing, and copying for the office. He is an incredibly efficient worker who rarely makes mistakes in his work. He has a high functioning form of autism and an anxiety disorder. He would be the first to tell you that it would be a disaster if he ever answered the phone at the office… so he doesn’t!
Our two volunteer administrative assistants fill in the gaps, they both do a little bit of filing, typing, faxing, photocopying, and other odd jobs that need to be around the office. Recently, they both have been completing an inventory of all of the books in the office. It is a painstaking task that no one likes to do and not many can do it well. They have not only been enjoying the task, they have produced the most accurate inventory that we have ever had. One of them has Asperger’s Syndrome and the other has learning disabilities.
Learning from Mistakes
Probably one of the biggest problem areas for many of our staff members with disabilities is lunch time. People with disabilities often excel when working with a lot of structure and routine. Lunch time does not provide either of those environments. We encourage all of our staff members to eat together. This allows our staff members with disabilities to learn what kinds of topics of conversation are appropriate for lunch time conversation and what isn’t. If needed, we provide direct instruction and give feedback to staff members about their behaviour during lunch to help them in the future.
Torn Post-It Notes
Some employers mistakenly believe that accommodations for employees with disabilities cost a lot of money. We can verify that this is simply not true. What is our number one accommodation for almost every employee that we have with a disability? You guessed it, torn post-it notes. I’m sure most of you have heard that using post-it notes are a great strategy to use if you have memory problems or need reminders. Well, we take this to a whole new level. We put a post-it note on everything. This lets the staff member or volunteer know what needs to be done. In fact, we use so many post-it notes in the office that we typically tear them in half (or even in thirds). This accommodation has worked wonders for us. It allows the person to work independantly and get their job done correctly.
Here at LDAWE, we try to help everyone reach their full potential, whether they are a program participant, client, volunteer, or staff member.
Please pass me the post-it notes!
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about hiring a person with a learning disability or ADHD… or would like to share some of your low cost strategies and accommodations!