By Greg Snider
Editor’s Note: Greg Snider is Chair of the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Group, and a member of OPSEU’s Disa bility Rights Caucus.
Recently I was camping and I observed my friend Steve taking down a tarp he had put up earlier and I was struck by the human ability to find ways to complete a task. You see my friend only has one arm and had to untie a knot above his head, a task I find with two arms sometimes frustrating, and yet he accomplished this task with seeming ease.
As a person with a disability myself I understood the skills involved in finding less traditional ways to get a job done.
In a world where a person can learn to tie knots with one arm, a person who is blind can move throughout his community with ease and a person who is Deaf can communicate with the world around them why do 80 percent of persons with Disabilities continue to face unemployment or underemployment.
It seems that we live in a world where the skills one develops through overcoming barriers is not truly being recognized; the ability to adapt when faced with a unique challenge. In today’s ever changing market, these should be valuable and fully transferrable skills and yet a community of people who use these skills on a daily basis are being ignored.
Perhaps some of the fault could be laid at the foot of the Person with a Disability for not recognizing their own strengths. This seems to be rather unfair since many People with Disabilities have grown up with a greater understanding of what they didn’t have then what they have. Lets be clear here, I am not talking about focusing on the ability and not the Disability. Rather I am talking about a unique, enhanced or more practiced ability.
I don’t recall ever looking at how I got things done and saying that is a unique problem solving skill that is a transferable skill.
A larger part of the problem is that the world around us and in particular those who do hiring do not recognize this unique ability. Worse yet they avoid a community of people they feel come with limitations – People who would not meet their perceived needs for maximum flexibility.
But is this true? Is anyone able to provide maximum flexibility? Is a Person with a Disability able to provide the same flexibility, but in a different way? Or in a different area of ability? I think we are able and we do bring different abilities to the workplace.
Regardless of the employer’s legal duty to accommodate individual’s disability short of undue hardship, ultimately, success in the workplace still seems to come back on the worker with a Disability to see his unique ability to adapt, to share that ability with others (especially employers) and most importantly to take pride in the skills he has unique to others and to believe in himself.Is this entirely fair?
It is time both employers and unions did more to recognize the variety of transferrable skills that workers with disabilities possess, and do much more to bring this group of skilled and enthusiastic workers into the mainstream of our society.