Creating A Diverse Workforce

Parents of children with learning disabilities (LD) or ADHD often have many questions about their child’s future. These can include:

  • What kind of career / job should my child pursue?
  • Where will my child work?
  • Will my child be able to hold down a job?

In general, people with LD / ADHD have average or above average intelligence. This means that they should be able to secure and maintain meaningful employment. Despite this, many people with LD / ADHD struggle to find and keep a job. Sometimes this is due to a poor match between the individual’s strengths and the essential duties of the job, a lack of appropriate social skills, difficulty staying on task, etc… However, sometimes this may be due to employers having misconceptions about how having an LD / ADHD will affect an employee.

The Problem is not the Disability

What can you do to help?

If you are a parent of a child with LD / ADHD, encourage your employer to hire people with disabilities. Every business can benefit from ensuring they have a diverse workforce. This is not charity; this is just good business sense.

At one of their distribution centers where more than 50 percent of the employees have disabilities, Walgreens has experienced a 120 percent productivity increase. Now they are expanding that successful model to retail locations across the state and country.

– Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 2014 State of the State Address

At LDAWE, approximately 30% of our 40 employees have disabilities, including LD, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, mental illness, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and vision impairments. LDAWE does not create jobs specifically for people with disabilities. By ensuring that each of our employee’s strengths match their job duties the need for accommodations is minimized and employee moral and productivity has increased.

Melissa Donaldson, director of employee networks and communications of the Diversity & Inclusion department at Walgreens says:

Our guiding mantra is “same job, same performance.” Walgreens has no “special” jobs carved out especially for individuals with disabilities. Team members with and without disabilities assume the same job roles and responsibilities across the enterprise, earning the same pay and striving to meet the same job performance expectations.

LDAWE works with several individuals with LD / ADHD who are seeking employment through our Employment Supports program. If you are an employer who wishes to gain the benefits of having a more diverse workforce, please contact our office at 519-252-7889 or

The Loneliest Kid on the Bus

Sad boy in foreground being teased and bullied by three kids in the background.

Many kids with LD or ADHD also have social skills deficits which make school and life that much harder.

A Twitter ‘retweet’ via the LDAWE flashed onto my screen a few weeks ago, and it said this: “Stats Canada reports that 3.2% of Canadian children have a learning disability; that equates to 1 child in every full school bus”.  And it occurred to me as I read this that the one child on the bus who has the learning disability would very likely be the child who was sitting alone, being ignored or being bullied. I shared this observation with a friend, who pointed out to me that it would be just as likely that the child with the learning disability might also be the child wreaking havoc and doing the bullying. In either case, the reason might be the same: it is estimated that 75% of children with learning disabilities also have social skill deficits that make it difficult for them to have and keep friends.

It was these kids that Rick Lavoie was referring to when he coined the phrase “last one picked, first one picked on”, capturing the idea that it’s a real struggle for these kids to understand and “fit in” to the social structure around them. It may be that they were unable to learn the social skill or rule in the first place. It may be that they learned the skills but fail to consistently recognize when and how to use them. It may be that a lack of self-control results in negative behaviours which prevent them from either learning or applying good,  appropriate social judgment. Whatever the reason, the result can be a child who feels broken, lost, rejected, and unable to connect with the people around them for reasons they don’t understand.

A significant consequence of this kind of social struggle in kids can be anxiety, which only exacerbates the difficulties they are having. Although this is by no means a comprehensive list, a social skills deficit might manifest in ways that include:

  • Missed social cues
  • Failure to use proper manners
  • Difficulty taking turns in conversations
  • Missing important pieces of information
  • Distractibility, or appearing to ignore others
  • Misreading body language or facial expression
  • Misunderstanding information, not understanding jokes
  • Inability to maintain topic in a conversation, or ending a conversation abruptly
  • Disorganized or scattered thought and speech
  • Sharing information that is inappropriate (disinhibition, impulsivity)
  • Avoidance of social situations

For most of us, how we interact with one another is second nature, and is something we learned mostly unconsciously and without much effort (albeit with a few bumps and bruises, a bit of trial and error, and perhaps a touch of drama along the way). For most kids with LD or ADHD though, it’s not at all natural or easy. The good news is that, although they may need to learn these skills differently, they can in fact be learned with the right kinds of interventions.

For local resources, parents need look no further than the LDAWE’s Child Programs, and in particular the BEST Social Skills Program (BEST: Better Emotional and Social Times), for children 8-12. Their Summer Enrichment Camps also have a focus on social skills enrichment, with lots of opportunity for kids to practice what they are learning. For older kids (13-18), the LDAWE’s Youth Programs include a Youth Recreation Program where kids can “practice their social skills in an understanding environment and… become more active within their own community”.

Without the right kind of guidance and support, kids with social skill deficits are likely to become adults with social skills deficits, making it difficult for them to get and keep stable employment   The LDAWE ‘s Adult Programs offer support through their ERASE Program (Effective Resources and Skills for Employment), their Employment Supports Program, (Job Placement, Job Advancement, and Job Retention), and their Adult Recreation Program.

I don’t imagine that it’s easy to be the loneliest kid on the bus, nor to be the last one picked or the first one picked on, but this is not typically a problem that will get better on its own.  The reality is that if left unacknowledged and unaddressed, social skill deficits are more likely to become bigger problems than to go away as one grows older.  The loneliest kids on the bus often grow up to become the loneliest people in the workplace, if they are able to land and hold jobs at all.  But it doesn’t have to be that way, and with the right guidance and support and information and resources, these kids can learn to develop and sustain the kinds of supportive, productive friendships and relationships that we are all entitled to have.

If you’re looking for a good book on the topic of social skills deficits and LD/ADHD, I offer a couple of recommendations:

“It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child With Learning Disabilities Find Social Success” (Richard Lavoie)

“What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?”   (Michele Novotni)

And finally, Rick Lavoie’s video, “Last One Picked, First One Picked On”  is a terrific resource for parents and educators. Check out the Viewer’s Guide below for some very helpful information.

last one picked

Stepping Stones

I am incredibly fortunate to work with amazing people at LDAWE.  We are lucky to be able to hire amazingly compassionate, talented, and knowledgeable people.

Many people have asked me what we look for when we hire someone.   Mainly, we look for people that appear to be genuinely interested in working with people with disabilities.  Experience is helpful, but we are also willing to train someone if they appear to be a good fit for our organization.  We are also an equal opportunity employer, which means that we provide employment opportunities to people who have disabilities as well.

It’s important to know that we only hire people on a part-time basis.  There are only 2 positions at LDAWE that are full-time (my position as Resource Manager and my boss’ position as the Executive Director).

The main positions for which we hire are:Reading the Paper

  • Adaptive Technology Trainers
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Job Developers / Coaches
  • Lead Facilitators
  • Program Facilitators
  • Tutors

The level of experience necessary, the number of hours, and rate of pay vary depending on the position.  When hiring, we typically hire students or recent graduates in the following fields:

  • Psychology
  • Education
  • Social Work
  • Child and Youth Workers (CYW)
  • Developmental Support Workers (DSW)
  • Educational Assistants (EA)

Many of the people we hire are using these positions as a stepping stone on the way to their ultimate career goal.  While this may upset some companies, it is actually part of our plan.  We want to be able to expose as many people in the above mentioned fields to learning disabilities (LD) and ADHD.  We give our staff members first hand experience and provide them with insight, tips, and strategies for how to best help people with LD and ADHD reach their full potential.  We hope that as they continue on their career path they use the skills they learned from LDAWE.

As a result, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have had the opportunity to work with many compassionate, talented, and knowledgeable people over the past decade.  I am often very sad when some of them move on to work for other companies.  However, knowing the difference they are going to make in the lives of people with LD and ADHD throughout their careers makes it all worthwhile.


For this month’s blog I am going to revert back to some of my earlier blogs, and focus again on job searching. Specifically I am going to discuss ‘the resume’, and some tips or guidelines that you should follow when writing a resume. In my experience, I believe the two main objectives you need to focus on in a resume are:

 Does your resume clearly communicate that you meet the needs of the employer?

Think of a resume as an advertisement for a product, only this time the product is you, so positioning is everything. The person who receives your resume will scan it quickly to determine whether you can h

elp her company. Your job is to say quickly, clearly and loudly that you can! It is often easier to do this if there is a job ad posted, rather than if you are sending out resumes to employers at random. With a job ad, the needs of the employer are basically stated. That being said if there is a job ad for a customer service representative, it is worthwhile to do an internet search for “duties of a customer service representative”, and see what comes up. This is also what you would do if you are handing out, or dropping off resumes to companies or businesses who have not posted a job ad.

How do you include this information into your resume; that ties in to the second objective in your resume?


Is your resume easy to read?

At least 50% of the impact of your resume derives from design.  Simply stated, your resume needs to be easy to read – especially for entry level positions. This is achieved by using headings (Skills and Qualifications, Employment History, Education…) and bullets or point form information.

The skills and qualifications area is important; this is where you match your skills to the job you are seeking. For example in customer service you would want to state that you get along with people, enjoy helping others, can multitask, adapt to different situations and problem solve. Possess good communication, listening and time management skills; – if you so possess these skills. The best way to state these skills and qualities is in point or bulleted form.  Eg.

  • Strong problem solving and time management skills
  • A team player who works well with fellow workers
  • Excellent communication skills
  • A quick learner who is able to adapt to different situations…

What the bullets do is make your resume easier to read. This is important because employers often have a stack of resumes to go through when looking to hire. If your resume looks like a page from a novel, or is difficult to read, it may get eliminated before they even take a look at it. Sometimes less is more. The statements above, on their own, give information, but are more than that when tied with other parts of your resume. For example, if in your employment history section (or your volunteer experience section) you state that you worked as a bus person, waitress, cashier… it shows how these skills were developed. Even your education section shows that you can problem solve and can learn new things.

Therefore showing an employer that you meet their needs and qualifications in a simple, easy to read way, should be the basic model you remember when writing a resume.

Torn Post-it Notes

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?”

  1. Like Rick recommended in his post, Tree-Climbing Fish, we focus on people’s strengths, not their weaknesses.
  2. We provide an understanding environment where people can learn from their mistakes.
  3. 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

Torn Post-It NotesSome 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!

Work Place Accommodations

Workplace Accommodations: Know your rights

By: Cam Wells

The Learning Disabilities Association is an example of an organization offering one of the most valuable disability services of all. In Ontario, as part of the Ontario Disability SupportPutting the pieces together program (ODSP) a person with a disability, whether physical or neurological, may be entitled to employment support.

Employment support is a process of assisting individuals with disabilities in not only finding a steady job, but also to ensure that said individual is being treated fairly. This can be done by creating an accommodation plan, which can include a modified workload or adapted duties. It can also include things such as providing mediation in the event of workplace issues.

To begin the process one must apply through the provincial government and be granted ODSP, then select a service provide for employment support. Then the potential employee must work with the service provider to develop a plan.

Too many times I hear of a person with a disability not knowing they have the right to ask, or of an employer hesitating to hire such people for fear of extreme costs to accommodate. This is very rarely the case, many times accommodations cost little or nothing. In these economic times we as a society do not need to make the job search worse for these people.

It is crucial that employers recognize individuals with disabilities as having hopes, dreams and capabilities all their own. An example of an employer with this outlook is Mark Wafer, a Tim Horton’s franchisee, who makes a consistent practice of hiring workers with disabilities.

Finding Employment

When I was asked if I wanted to contribute to a blog about learning disabilities, I was a little skeptical to say the least, because I definitely am no expert on learning disabilities; but I do enjoy writing and doing research, so I thought why not. (The fact that my girlfriend is involved with the LDAWE and is a LST for the public school board was a motivating factor as well).

After reading some of the other posted blogs, and I sat down to write my first blog; I am now a little nervous. I realize that I know very little about learning disabilities. That being said I will concentrate more on what I do know….preparing people for the workforce.

At my job (I work at Insight Advantage Inc.) I work with adults who have physical ailments or restrictions, or have been referred to us by help_wantedOntario Disability Support Program ODSP. Many of them receive computer, life skills, customer service or job specific training either with Insight or another company or agency. (Some are even referred to us after receiving a post-secondary education.) Our ultimate goal is to help find employment for our clients. My job is twofold. The first part of my job is to teach the classes and skills I discussed above, the other part is teaching a Job Search training course which consists of creating a resume, writing cover letters, thank you letters, job searching skills and job interview preparation and training, including mock interviews. The two biggest hurdles I see clients facing (outside of the economy) are confidence and motivation. I am going to talk today about confidence.

First off let me tell you what my definition of confidence is in this context. describes confidence as: belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence. In job searching it is belief in yourself and your abilities to do the job you want or are applying for. That may sound so obvious, but for somebody with an ailment or a disability (physical or learning) it is often a struggle to find that confidence. To help attain this I talk to the job seeker, get to know them, find out their interests, what they want to do, even if they do not think they could do it. What you have to do is find a job area or field they are interested in. Offer suggestions abimagesout jobs by asking, “What about…., or Can you see yourself,” questions. If the job seeker is looking for work doing something they would like, the confidence will increase. At Insight, we have the capability and means to offer job specific training as well, to help boost the confidence of the job seeker.

If you have a learning disability it is important to disclose this information to anyone helping you find a job. If you were to secure an interview, thought should be given to disclosing the disability to the interviewer, especially if it would affect your performance in the interview.  In my next blog I will discuss disclosure in more detail.