How Job Seekers With Disabilities Can Overcome Career Obstacles


As a student or new grad, it can be easy to feel disheartened by a difficult job search.

However, for young workers who have a disability, there are additional challenges to be faced which can make the job search even more discouraging.

Richard McCallum, Lead Job Developer at Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, says, “The most significant challenge for anyone using a wheelchair is accessibility – especially in the Toronto area.”

For example, if there happens to be a gap between the entrance and the sidewalk, or there’s no available ramp (which is often the case with older buildings), candidates can’t get into their potential place of employment, which rules out working there altogether.

On that note, transportation is another major challenges workers with a disability will face. Even you have your own vehicle, you may still encounter the obstacle of locating an accessible parking space. If the spots are already filled or are not wide enough for your own wheelchair ramp, you will need to locate one which may be further away or in a less accessible area.

“There are many things people take for granted in getting around the city that someone using a wheelchair has difficulties with and requires a lot of planning on their part,” Richard says.

This can result in lateness that is completely out of your control – especially if you are relying on the subway system and a particular station has an elevator which is out of order, forcing you to go to the next station to get on the train or exit to the street.

Another major challenge young workers with disabilities will encounter is the fact that you may have gone through a major accident or life-changing event that has left gaps on your resume. This is something an employer will notice and often question. Some organizations, when they see gaps like this, will automatically exclude that resume from going any further without investigating why.

Job Developers like Richard connect with business leaders and have the opportunity to bring this fact to their attention. It is likely seen by employers as an easy way to weed resumes out, but there may be a legitimate reason for these gaps, thus unfairly eliminating potentially excellent candidates for no reason.

Another huge obstacle? Employers’ reactions to the fact that you use a wheelchair. Richard outlined the following scenario: “A young worker is having a phone screening with a potential employer and it’s going really well. After they have been invited for a face-to-face interview, a candidate may ask if their building is wheelchair accessible. Suddenly, they hear hesitation – a bit of stammering. Basically, they say that it’s not, and there’s really nothing the candidate can do about that. It’s very discouraging.”

He also illustrated a situation during a face-to-face interview when the employer first sees that their candidate is a person who has paraplegia and the reaction is less than positive. “Attitudes are definitely changing, but every now and then we continue to hear this story,” he says

However, it is important to note that attitudes are changing. People are simply more aware nowadays than they used to be. Things like the Ontario Disabilities Act, for example, has helped immensely in making it this way, and organizations such as Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, who assist with employment searches for job seekers with a disability are continually getting the word out.

Richard also praised he works closely with – such as JOIN (Ontario Job Opportunity Information Network) – and how they’ve managed to raise a lot of awareness by putting advertisements on buses and targeting places that are easily seen by many people. Even the fact that a greater architectural effort is put into making newer buildings more accessible can make all the difference.

There are a great deal of resources available to young workers who have a disability. Organizations like Spinal Cord Injury Ontario not only assist with job searches, but provide a variety of workshops dealing with interview skills, resume development and how to effectively prepare yourself for work. However, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario offers assistance beyond the actual job hunt and continues to provide job coaching all throughout your employment experience. “If someone encounters a difficulty while in the workplace, they can contact someone on our service team for support,” Richard says.

Other organizations also make inclusivity a priority. Many banks, for example, have diversity hiring programs, where they make hiring diverse individuals, including those with spinal cord injuries, a big priority.

“To all young paraplegic workers: utilize these resources!” Richard says. “And practice perseverance. Perseverance is key. You have to treat your job search like it’s work.”

Although inevitably discouraging, statistics show that candidates with disabilities are equally productive, more safety conscious, and require less time off.

“Typically, someone with a disability is reliable, dependable and motivated to work. They’re just looking for an opportunity,” he says.

Photo credit: Mike Gifford

About the author

Leah Ruehlicke works in video production, living in a tiny apartment in Toronto with bad water pressure and an amazing book collection. Follow her on @LeahRuehlicke.