Helping employers have open dialogue around accommodating employees with disabilities in the workplace and bringing open-mindedness and solutions to these discussions are how successful hiring and retention are accomplished. That’s what Rachel Kubacki of the John Howard Society of Ottawa’s Arches Supportive Employment Services asserts.
- Tell us about your organization.
- The John Howard Society of Ottawa is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote safe and resilient communities through a broad continuum of services that prevent crime, reduce poverty, and build self-sufficiency and foster inclusion.
- One such service is the Arches Supportive Employment Services program which provides persons with mental health and substance-use challenges appropriate, ongoing support needed to connect back to the workforce, and find and remain in paid meaningful employment.
2. What types of job seekers with disabilities do you help find employment?
- This program assists persons with mental health and/or substance-use challenges, by using an evidence-based methodology that stresses the importance of employment for the maintenance of health and as an integral component to a successful and holistic recovery.
3. What services and supports can you provide to assist employers once they have hired someone with a disability?
- Arches’ core program goal is not just jobs secured, but jobs retention. Thus, intrinsic to our success is our ability to provide on-going and customized job support for both employees and employers once one of our candidates has secured a role.
- We recognize that every employee, every employer, every work space and every workplace culture is special and unique and we work hard to identify the unique approach that each situation requires to help ensure the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders – again with the ultimate goal that our candidates thrive and progress in the roles they enter into.
Practical support often looks like:
- Visiting workplaces and discussing with employers strategies to successfully hire, engage and promote persons with disabilities within their organization;
- Helping employees and employers devise and align to appropriate accommodation plans to ensure new hires can be successful and thrive in their roles;
- Helping create and participate in employee evaluations and progress improvement plans to ensure employee success and longevity in a role;
- Arches provides on and off-site training to help strengthen essential soft skills needed to excel in the workplace such as effective communication, receiving feedback, following direction, organization and time management, conflict resolution and self-care inside and outside of the workplace;
- If requested, we also attend initial training with a new hire to ensure they have the resources and information they need to confidently commence a new job; and
- On-going regular check-ins, at the employer’s convenience, to ensure satisfaction with the hire and trouble-shoot any arising matters that can come up from time to time.
- Ultimately we are a flexible program that seeks out collaboration and participation from both employees and employers to maximize success.
- Last fiscal, our two-person team helped 56 unique individuals find and maintain meaningful competitive employment. And 72% of these individuals are still thriving in these roles to date.
4. What are the top misconceptions employers have about hiring persons with disabilities and what approaches do you use to address these?
- Unfortunately we meet some employers who inaccurately view persons with mental health challenges as a liability who cost the organization dollars in presenteeism, sick days and long-term leave.
- If you work in the mental health field you know this is simply not true. In situations like this, my approach is to gently help create awareness that persons with disabilities can in fact be better workers often scoring above average in job place performance, attendance, job place safety, and retention in comparison to their peers without disabilities. Through relationship building and establishing trust, my team get to prove this in action when our jobseekers get hired.
- Also, we find some employers do not trust that they have the ability or know-how to hire and accommodate persons with disabilities. For example, some employers fear that accommodation costs will outweigh the benefits of hiring a person with a disability. Thus, they avoid hiring any persons with disabilities altogether.
- In these instances, it’s important to show that accommodation costs are minimal and affordable if they cost anything at all. And ultimately, that the majority of our jobseekers just want to know that their employer is supportive and a partner in their mental wellness plan.
- For example, we worked with an individual who on occasion suffers from anxiety attacks in the workplace. We worked with the employer to identify a safe and private room that the employee can use when they have an anxiety attack to do their grounding exercises. Then the employee agrees to let the employer know when they have returned to their workspace after such an occurrence.
- The employer and employee also set up a monthly ‘touch base’ to facilitate any conversations around support, if needed – and that support can come from the employer or they may request an Arches staff member to assist in solutions identification as well.
- Accommodating persons with disabilities is an open-minded conversation and the Arches program is here to help assist employers have these proactive, productive and worthwhile discussions.
We extend many thanks to Rachel Kubacki, Program Facilitator and Employer Liaison, Arches Supportive Employment Services at the John Howard Society of Ottawa, for giving of her time to take part in this interview.
To learn more about Arches Supportive Employment Services:
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