Ability first, disability second during the job search and career building process


According to the Government of Canada, about 4.4 million, or 14% of people living in Canada have a disability. Ranging from chronic pain to a hearing, sight, mental or learning disability, each person managing a disability faces unique challenges during the job search and career-building process.

In addition to potential physical or mental barriers that may be caused by a disability in the workplace, the largest barrier is often that of the attitude of the person with the disability, their employer, or co-workers.

The job search

“No one with a disability needs to ever disclose their disability to an employer at any stage in the interview or on the job,” says Tara Orchard, a career consultant at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“Disclosing personal information is not appropriate on the resumé. The resumé is a document highlighting your education, experience, activities and general qualifications for the job. Disability, like culture, marital status and so on, is personal information.”

Not disclosing a disability in the interview or job application ensures that an employer cannot make decisions based on a person’s disability. “An employer needs to be very certain that the person with the disability really cannot do the job, not just cannot do some of the job or the job the way it has always been done. A person with a disability may have other strengths that enable them to make a contribution in different ways and they can ‘sell’ these in the interview as strengths,” Orchard says.

Disclosing a disability can create an unfair interview process where an employer may be concerned with or distracted by disability rather than ability.

Overall, Orchard recommends disclosing a disability at a time that makes sense, which may be weeks after the job has started.

Accommodation is almost always possible

While there are some exceptional situations when a disability cannot be accommodated (for example, a blind person cannot be a bus driver), this is not often the case.

When at all possible, it is an employer’s responsibility to attempt to offer any needed accommodations for qualified applicants.  Since accommodation is nearly always possible, the largest barrier for a person with a disability is often their own attitude or self-esteem or the attitude of an employer or co-workers who see disability before ability.

“Accommodation is almost always possible . . . Keep in mind that the key is the concept of a qualified applicant. Just like anyone applying for any job, they have to have the qualifications first. Once an individual has the qualifications, disability should not be the deciding factor,” says Orchard.

A weakness in one area is often the gateway for strength in another. As with all recent grads and students, it is important to harness your strong areas, whether they be communication, relationship building, math or writing. Focusing on your strengths rather than allowing weaknesses to become barriers and your employers and co-workers will likely do the same.

Additional resources

  • Persons with Disabilities Online, created by the Government of Canada, offers an employment section with information about careers, job searching and starting your own business for those with disabilities.
  • WORKinc, created by the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, offers resources promoting equality and the meaningful employment of people with disabilities. WORKinc offers job postings, career guidance and other resources relating to education and employment of Canadians living with disabilities.
  • The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada collects and provides information on a wide variety of topics, including education and employment. The LDAC offers assistance and information to Canadians with learning disabilities at locations in ten provinces and one territory.
Photo credit: Dyslexia by Janine on Flickr