1. Employer Misconceptions and Discrimination
Employer Misconception #1: Liability & Safety
Employer Misconception #2: Increased Costs
There are a number of cost-associated fears that employers express:
- the cost of accommodations;
- loss of productivity due to disability;
- lost time due to disability related illness;
- increased WSIB (noted above) and benefits costs; and
- increased time/cost of training and supervision.
Employer Misconception #3: Fear of the Unknown
Employer Misconception #4: Fear of Firing
Solutions to Employer Misconceptions and Work-Related Discrimination
Solution: Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability Act (AODA)
Solution: Dispel the myths and misconceptions – ‘stereotypes and bias’
Solution: Needs Based Job Development Strategy
People who have a disability often require an employment agency job developer to ‘sell’ the client based on the critical needs of the employer.
The candidate and employer will need support services to assist the employer to integrate a person who has a disability into their workforce and to learn the specific skills of the job
Some employment agencies have made gains by addressing the perception of additional costs and supports through customer service programs that offer guarantees.
In addition, many organizations offer assistance to help transition an employee who is not meeting the job requirements to alternate employment.
Solution: On-the-Job Employment and Employer Supports
Working with the employer, employment staff develop a measurable plan to ensure, over time, the employee will achieve the essential skills of the job and become self sufficient in their work. Employment staff may also assist the employer with workplace accommodations which may range from adaptive devices to successful workforce integration (co-worker relationships). Supported Employment, this strategy provides assistance such as job coaches, job retention assistance, transportation training and/or assistance, assistive technology, specialized job training, and individually tailored supervision.
Solution: Employer Education
Ongoing education and awareness is key to dispelling employer misconceptions.
2. The Nature of Disability
Nature of Disability Issue #1: The Range and Scope of Disabilities
The range and scope of disabilities is vast. Each disability presents its own challenges and barriers often requiring specific and unique accommodations and supports. Further, each disability has a broad range of limitations, from mild to very severe, that may affect the individual’s level of independence. Furthermore there are a large number of people who have multiple disabilities which can compound an individual’s limitations. For the purpose of social participation and daily activity, including participation in the workforce, the severity and associated limitations of the disability defines the supports and interventions people need.
Often the disability, onto itself, poses other related barriers. For example a person who has an intellectual disability also may not be able to read or write; a person who is deaf may need a range of interpreter options (sign language, note takers, closed captioning); a person who has a physical disability may need accommodations for travel as well as physical accommodations within the workplace and a person with epilepsy may take medications which cause memory problems and need a procedures manual with personalized notes for reference. In each case, the interventions and supports required to achieve success on the job will be different.
Nature of Disability Issue #2: Individual Motivation
The life experiences of people who have a disability will have a significant impact on their vocational success. Some individuals who have a disability have been programmed into a life of dependency and control by others. They lack self confidence, initiative and the motivation that drives independence, often relying too heavily on the support of others, even for the most basic of life’s tasks and decisions. Many of the clients that Employment Agencies provide services for are not self directed. These individuals will not readily or independently: show up for appointments; read a job ad and forward a resume; follow verbal or written instructions that have multiple steps; understand the services and supports that are available to them; know how to exercise their rights; or, understand the demands and culture of a workplace. While some people who have a disability who are well educated and/or have a reasonable work history, may be self directed and able to access generic, mainstream supports, this is not the typical clientele that shows up at the doors of specialized Employment Agencies. Readiness and willingness to work – motivation is one of, and arguably, the most important quality to ensure successful employment for this group.
Nature of Disability Issue #3: Limited Education and Work History
The level of education attained can be an indicator of success in the workforce. The severity of a disability, regardless of type, can affect educational achievement. People with severe or very severe disabilities are more likely not to have a high school diploma, and thus any higher education. According to the 2010 Federal Disability Report 19.3% of individuals with a disability indicate that they feel their training is not adequate to become employed. Many people, especially those with a severe or very severe disability, also have limited or no work history. Many people who have a disability were excluded from the student job market where they would learn their first lessons of responsibility and workplace culture. This is also when many people develop and formulate their career goals and expectations. As such, they have no idea about what jobs or careers are suitable to match their skills and interests as they have limited exposure to the labour market. Related work experience and education are the two key job match criteria for a hiring employer.
Nature of Disability Issue #4: Limited Capacity Due to Disability
A significant portion of working-age adults are not in the labour market at all as they do not have the capacity or ability to work due to their disabilities. Some are significantly limited in the type of work they can do. Others feel they cannot participate in the labour market simply because they do not have the ability to look for work. It must be noted that individuals with a disability that are not actively looking for employment are not included in unemployment statistics but would be captured in the employment participation rate.
Nature of Disability Issue #5: Fear of Failure
Many individuals who have a disability have had limited employment experiences and many have had bad experiences or have tried jobs that failed. In addition, many people struggled to gain access to ODSP Income Supports and are hesitant to have this benefit put at risk. Irrespective of experiences, there is a very real fear of failure and the impact failure will have on their eligibility to regain ODSP Income Supports. People do not understand or, in some cases trust, the government’s rapid reinstatement policies.
Solutions to the Nature of Disability
Solution: Specialized Employment Agencies
Each intervention is unique and customized to the specific needs of the job seeker. Specialized Employment Agencies have developed expertise over the past 30 years. This has been driven by the needs of the individuals served and the lack of success provided by other models of service delivery. In the 70’s and early 80’s, everyone who wanted to work went to the Canada Manpower Centre. If you had a disability, you were referred to the sheltered workshop for a life of menial labour without pay. Since those days, much has been learned about specific strategies to assist people who have a disability to access the labour market so that they can be contributing members of society.
Solution: Facilitated Job Selection
To address the issue of limited education and work history it is important that the individual in this situation be provided with resources and support to identify realistic job goals. For these people job exploration/preparation programs are a necessity. This may include:
- Time limited pre-employment preparation programs
- Job trials to help assess individual’s suitability and interest in the job;
- Unpaid work experiences to measure the individual’s skills relative to the essential skills of the job;
- Interest testing and or formal skills testing; and
- Labour market research to ensure the job is available in the community.
At the conclusion of this phase the individual looking for work should have a realistic job goal in-line with their skills (or potential skills) and related work and/or life experiences. The goal, if available in their community labour market, must then consider the appropriate supports needed based on the individual’s disability and be something they are motivated to pursue. Development of a realistic job goal is critical to securing and retaining work.
Solution: Motivational Interventions
A significant yet under acknowledged component of an Employment Agency’s work is assessing and building the individual’s motivation to work. As noted above, motivation and personal independence is a significant contributor to retaining employment. Due to the life experience of persons with disabilities, especially those with moderate and severe disabilities, Employment Agencies spend time working with clients to help them gain awareness of their motivational level and remove the barriers related to lack of independence, self confidence and other lifestyle related issues. While the client is working toward greater independence, Employment Agencies will provide a degree of personal assistance. This will range from reminder calls prior to appointments to accompanying people to go to appointments and interviews and even intervening during and after these appointments. Addressing motivational issues is not a focus of employment agencies dealing with the general public but is an important component of the support to successfully place people who have a disability.
Solution: Place and Train Model
Many community Employment Agencies have moved away from the traditional vocational rehabilitation ‘train and place’ model. The reality for people with a disability, who may have limited education and work experience, is that they are uncertain what to train for. In the past many of these individuals ended up in training programs that went on for years. Very few graduated and moved on to employment. In the mid 80’s, primarily prompted by the developmental sector, agencies started moving to the ‘place and train’ model. This model, based on the premise that people learned to work best in the workplace, proved to be much more efficient and effective. Supports are provided by the Employment Agency in the workplace in coordination with the employer. The employee’s hours and responsibilities at work increase over time as their capacity and work skills improve. Over time, this model has been adopted by many service providers supporting people with other disabilities and, in turn, other types of employment barriers.
Solution: Client Education
Often Agency staff spends considerable time educating clients about government regulations and policies; various programs and supports available; the ODSP Income Support system and the impact on benefits as a result of working; and what rights they have to services and supports. This type of education is often necessary to provide some assurance to clients that the risk-reward to gain employment can be balanced (see System Barrier #1).
3. System Barriers
System Barrier #1: The Income Supports System
For an individual with a disability the risk-reward equation is out of balance. People who have a disability and are recipients of the ODSP Income Support program loose $0.50 on every dollar earned (beyond the $100 monthly work incentive). Even though the person is always better off working, there exists a perception that ‘it’s not worth it”. The financial gain from work (which is often part-time for people who are getting their first job or re-entering the workforce) does not create an incentive to follow this path. This perception is coupled with the fear that if the job does not work out, the person will not be able to get back on the income support system or will face delays that will put their well being at risk.
There are also some very real and legitimate concerns about what happens when a person declares employment income.
- Income fluctuations. People may, for various reasons, see great fluctuations in their employment income. At the same time people, living on the edge of poverty, tend to spend what they have. This combined with the lag in Income Support, due to reporting processes, makes for a very untenable result. People will often choose to live with less, but consistent, income in order to maintain security and stability.
- Impact on subsidized housing. When people report their income there is the possibility that they will loose their housing subsidy. When you combine the increased rental payments with the 50 cent on the dollar equation people may, in a very real way, be in greater financial difficulty.
- Employment Insurance. People who have a disability who have worked long enough to be EI eligible must exhaust that system of supports before returning to the ODSP system – both in terms of financial supports and employment supports. At this time the EI system does not have the capacity or ability to adequately support people who have a disability, particularly when it comes to employment supports.
All in all, people who have a disability often look at these variables and conclude that the risk of pursuing paid employment is not offset by the financial rewards.
System Barrier #2: A Patchwork of Funding
In Ontario there are 5 key government funding sources of employment programs for people who have a disability – MCSS ODSP-ES, MCSS DSA, MTCU Employment Ontario, Ministry of Health & Long Term Care and Service Canada. Some Employment Agencies receive funding from only one government source while others access several and some access them all. Agencies may also secure fee-for service business from private sources such as insurance companies and additional revenues from donations or foundations may also be solicited. This patchwork of funding is timely to manage, inefficient and inconsistent in its application. The reality however, is that some Agencies find this the only way to provide a ‘complete’ basket of services and supports that meet the needs of their customers – both employers and the people who have a disability they serve.
As an example imagine an Employment Agency within an organization that primarily serves a population of individuals who have an intellectual disability. To be viable and meet the needs of people requesting assistance they have secured funding from multiple sources.
- Job exploration/preparation is paid for by Service Canada Opportunities funding.
- Job Development and initial coaching is paid for by ODSP-ES.
- Wage subsidies and the Resource Centre are funded by Employment Ontario
- Once the ODSP-ES funding for job coaches runs out, on-going coaching, employer supports and trouble-shooting are covered by the agency’s Developmental Services funding as is assistance for career development and job advancement.
- The agencies quality assurance and marketing programs were also paid for with a combination of funding from the Developmental Services budget and private donations.
Remove any one of these funding sources or dramatically change the rules and two things happen: 1. Key elements of the service are at risk as is a successful outcome; and 2. The financial viability of the entire program is at risk as, over the years, there has become an inter-relationship of funding to support the overhead costs e.g. office space, staff, training programs, etc.
Many agencies, however, do not have access to all these funding mechanisms and, therefore, are not able to provide some of the critical supports and services their clients require. This often results in poor job retention by the client.
System Barrier #3: Lack of Policy Framework
Ontario lacks an overall policy framework that focuses on employment for people who have a disability. As a result, various ministries and their branches compete with each other and/or lack clarity about their mandate and funding parameters. This leads to the patchwork of funding described above. In addition, other disability programs often compete or undermine employment programs. Historic service delivery models such as sheltered workshops continue. These programs have limited ability to move people through the service to employment and clients stagnate. These programs tie-up employment related funding/resources for non-employment related outcomes and entrench people who have a disability to a life of dependency on social assistance.
New service delivery models such as individualized funding – Special Services at Home, Passport, etc. – are unregulated and allow people to do almost anything they want. In many cases as a way to ‘extend’ these resources, families and independent support workers are placing people in volunteer positions in private sector, for profit businesses. This emerging trend directly competes with other people who have a disability who are seeking real, paid employment. Employers who get free labour refuse pay for labour from what they see as the same source or labour pool. Responses like: “I don’t pay for those people any more. I get them for free” is a stated roadblock. This has become a much more prevalent issue in recent years.
Solutions to System Issues
Solution: A Policy Framework that Frames and Coordinates Employment Supports
When it comes to day options and programs, Ontario needs a Policy Framework that crosses all Provincial Ministries and Departments that fund services, supports and programs for people who have a disability – MCSS DSA, MCSS ODSP-ES, MTCU Employment Ontario, Ministry of Health, Provincial portions of Service Canada, Municipal Employment Programs and Ministry of Education. This Policy Framework should place employment as the top funding priority for daytime supports and services for people who have a disability. It also builds in coordination and collaboration among all funding jurisdictions to ensure people who have a disability can access the services and supports they need. Often referred to ‘Employment First’, this policy framework:
- Focuses on integrated work at commensurate wages – “real work for real pay”
- Is not a ‘work for welfare’ approach whereby participation in work is required in order to access income support or that penalizes people for non-participation.
An ‘Employment First’ policy framework has been adopted in many US jurisdictions. For example, Employment First Policy was adopted in Washington State where it was reported in 2008 that 87% of people with intellectual disabilities receiving employment and day supports participated in integrated employment.  In Washington State this is primarily a policy framework for people who have an intellectual disability, however, we believe it would have similar impact across all disability types.
4. Employment Agencies
Employment Agencies for people who have a disability, although they exist to assist people to secure employment, may unintentionally contribute to the employment gap between people who have a disability and those without.
Employment Agency Issue #1: Limiting Service Offering
In today’s reality, Employment Agencies are often required to limit their service offering due to funding levels and contractual targets that are negotiated with the funder. The consequences of this are three-fold:
- Customer service for the employer is limited. Agencies cannot afford to provide on-going coaching, trouble shooting, or implement employer satisfaction programs. This ‘place and run’ scenario has a negative impact on job retention.
- Intentionally or not, people who have a disability are routinely screened ‘out’ of employment services if their disability and subsequent level of support is considered too costly. Even for those who are supported to find jobs, job quality and support for career advancement is not available. Employment preparation programs that assess a candidate’s skills and abilities to ensure a good fit and a better chance for job retention are less and less available.
- Employment Agencies are weakened by failing infrastructure and lack the resources to invest in things such as marketing initiatives, staff training, planning, innovation, service quality and evaluation.
Employment Agency Issue #2: Lack of Effective Marketing Resources
Employment Agencies need marketing materials and strategies that specifically target the employer audience. This means allocating both financial and staff resources, on an on-going basis, to successfully educate business and gain their support for the hiring of people who have a disability. Very few agencies have the resources or budget to develop marketing materials and programs. Staff who work in the employment field are not necessarily skilled at developing sophisticated marketing campaigns or strategies.
Employment Agency Issue #3: Lack of Focus on Employers
Businesses need assistance in various areas: creating organizational policies, procedures and planning related to hiring and accommodating workers with disabilities; orientation and training for employees, supervisors and managers; on-going trouble shooting when problems occur and, outplacement when needed. Without effective customer service and proper supports for the business, employee problems are often overlooked and not addressed until they have reached a crisis level and employment is terminated as a result. On-going communication and follow up with the employer will enhance job retention. Employment Agencies need to respond to the needs of business as well as the needs of their clientele. As such businesses must also be regarding as a client.
Employment Agency Issue #4: Lack of Infrastructure
Some Employment Agencies suffer the consequences of a lack of investment in their organization. The impact of the lack of investment compromises business practices that are essential to a vital and quality operation. While it would be untrue to say that all agencies suffer in all these areas, there are significant shortcomings in many agencies across the province. When revenue and thus investment is lagging the following business practices may be impacted:
- Lack of business or strategic planning;
- Minimal resources for staff training and skill development (beyond that which is legislated);
- Limited or poor quality assurance programs;
- Little focus on business innovation;
- Weak or non-existent service evaluation strategies; and
- Limited ability to explore diversification of business opportunities or revenue sources.
It is difficult to assess, with any certainty, agencies that provide quality services and achieve exceptional outcomes without examining how the system continues to undermine itself and its operating entities.
Employment Agency Issue #5: Lack of Standards and Credentials
Most Employment Agencies are staffed with well-qualified, trained employees who have specialized in social work and/or in providing personal supports. Social Services diplomas and degrees and Developmental Service Worker programs from a community college are generalist programs and provide very little training in employment services and no training in marketing or business. As such, Agency employees must receive this training on the job.
Vocational Rehabilitation Canada (VRA) and the College of Vocational Rehabilitation Ontario are striving to develop professional designations and standards of practice and conduct within this sector. Unfortunately, at this time, these organizations cater largely to those working within the sector that have university degrees or a ‘Masters’ designation. In many Employment Agencies a college diploma is the standard for employees therefore, they cannot fully take advantage of this professional association. Thus the services for people who have a disability are largely un-regulated.
Solutions to Issues Concerning Employment Agencies
Solution: Collaboration – Providing Enhanced Assistance to Business
Employment Agencies need to understand and respond to the needs of businesses as well as the needs of their clientele. There are examples of experiences and practices that demonstrate that superior results can be achieved when services and supports are provided in a collaborative fashion by Employment Agencies. This includes marketing campaigns and education directed to the employer. Further allocation or re-allocation of resources will be required to develop and sustain collaborative models. Collaborative models should be expanded across the province in close cooperation with all funding bodies.
Solution: Reward Positive Outcomes
While specialized services may need to be paid on a fee-for-service basis, government should find a way to reward positive outcomes – jobs. This should also include ways to recognize higher quality jobs – those with greater hours worked, better wages, benefits and working conditions as well as greater support needs for those with more significant disabilities. If organizations had a base budget to cover off essential infrastructure requirements and augmented this with financial incentives based on performance, we would likely see better outcomes in Ontario.
Solution: Profession Standards for College Graduates
Working with VRA and/or the College, Employment Agencies should adopt standards of operation, quality assurance measures and ethics and thereby provide sound training and credentials for employment service professionals who do not have a university degree but are currently working within the sector.
Solution: Invest in Employment Services
Dependency on Social Assistance and Income Support is rising at dramatic, if not out of control, proportions. Last year taxpayers spent over $3.3 billion on ODSP Income Supports. Yet, in spite of the recognition that helping people get into the workforce is key to managing this expenditure, the ODSP Employment Support budget for the same period was $55 million with only about $35 million of that going to direct employment supports for people who have a disability.
If government truly wants to see greater gains in employment for people who have a disability, they must take a hard look at the investments that are required.
Through the exploration of employers, the nature of disability, income and employment support systems and employment agencies, this document has reviewed many of the issues which impact the disparity in the rate of gainful employment between people who have a disability and those without a disability. Solutions, from the perspective of the agencies that currently serve people who have a disability have been developed to facilitate resolution to these long term and often chronic issues.
We hope that these insights provide information and an enhanced perspective regarding people who have a disability and their specific and sometimes unique employment support needs. We also anticipate that Employment Ontario will consider this information as it relates to integration of people who have a disability into their future service delivery strategies.
Appendix A The Path to Employment
Assessment, Resume development, Interview skills, Employment Life skills, Training
Finding the job, Employer engagement, self directed vs. assisted
Job Coaching, Trouble shooting, Employer assistance
Evaluation & Improvement Strategies
Appendix B Success Stories/best practice
 Achieving social and economic inclusion: from segregation to ‘employment first’ CACL June, 2011.