Published Tuesday April 19th, 2011
By HOLLY DUNN
For The Daily Gleaner
Becoming more accessible to people with disabilities was a matter of a few simple steps for the human resources and organizational development department at University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus.
The department took the steps as part of efforts to attract new talent and provide an inclusive, positive experience for students and employees.
Monique Dunlap, a human resources adviser specializing in employment equity, decided that to improve systems for employees with disabilities, she first needed to learn more about potential improvements and available resources.
Her search led her to New Brunswick Employer Support Services, a one-stop resource to help improve business practices to accommodate workers with disabilities.
Employer support services is funded through the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour and receives advice from a voluntary advisory committee, which includes representation from the department, the New Brunswick Disability Executives Network and New Brunswick employers. Funding comes from the federal and provincial governments through the Canada-New Brunswick Labour Market Agreements.
Employer support services delivered a lunchtime session to 17 human resources employees at the Fredericton campus. The session focused on the myths and realities of hiring people with disabilities.
“We want employers to understand that it’s not difficult to open your workplace to people with disabilities. In many cases, there are simple steps that
can make a huge difference,” said Michel Martin, provincial co-ordinator for employer support services.
Based on what they learned from the session, members of the department formed an accessibility committee with a mandate to improve the office for people with disabilities.
The committee plans to set up additional lunch-and-learn sessions for managers in other parts of the university.
“The session taught us there are easy things you can do, things that don’t require huge financial investments, to accommodate people with disabilities,”
“We looked at our office from the perspective of a person with a disability coming in to apply for a job, and we were able to make some simple changes right away.”
Dunlap said the committee made the decision to remove part of the reception desk because members realized the receptionist couldn’t properly welcome someone arriving in a wheelchair. In addition, one of the committee member’s daughters, who uses a wheelchair, toured the office and pointed out areas that needed to be adjusted for wheelchair users.
“We removed part of the front desk so the receptionist could greet people at eye level. We also moved wires and opened up pathways to make it easier to get around. It’s basic changes like that that make a difference.”
The department also installed a computer with a screen-reader program dedicated to potential employees who are visually impaired. Dunlap said NBESS showed her resources that would enable UNB to access equipment at lower prices.
“We want to communicate that the door is open for everybody. We want everyone to have the opportunity to apply to study and find careers at UNB. Across the board, we want people to feel welcome when they come here to apply for work or an education.”
Dunlap said it’s important to the university that all students and employees have a positive work/study experience on campus. It’s also important to improve and update UNB’s spaces, so people will want to work and study here.
“We have to be aware that everyone is a potential employee or student. We’re taking steps to make sure our website, our staff, our facilities and our programs and resources convey a welcoming, accessible learning and working environment. It’s also a tremendous opportunity to access another highly qualified sector of the workforce.”
Dunlap said working with employer support services made it easier to adopt accessible business practices by simplifying the research process. She said preparing to hire people with disabilities doesn’t have to be a step into the unknown. She said it’s easy to improve the work environment to accommodate everyone in the workforce.
“It was great to see how much support is out there. New Brunswick Employer Support Service was a one-stop shop. I didn’t have to try to find the information and resources myself. I just had to call one number,” Dunlap said.
“We didn’t want people to have to wait to apply to UNB, and with the help of NBESS, we were able to make changes quickly and easily to open our doors to a broader pool of talented employees.”
Employer support services helps employers across New Brunswick hire people with disabilities and advances diversity in the workplace. Employers can call 1-888-350-2202 or visit www.employersupport.nb.ca to receive free consultation directly from the provincial co-ordinator. This consultation will provide the employer with individual support, tools, information, access to training and linkages to increase opportunities for hiring and retaining skilled employees who are persons with disabilities.
Reproduced from http://nbbusinessjournal.canadaeast.com/gleaner/article/1399129