For individuals with disabilities, there are many myths and misconceptions that come with seeking a job and finding employment. Officials with Workforce Solutions Texoma worked to dispels some of these myths Wednesday at the annual Forum on Disabilities.
The event is one of several held throughout the month of October as a part of disability employment awareness month.
Throughout the discussion, workforce officials and experts gave information to local employers and human resource representatives on the ease of accommodating individuals with disabilities in the workplace.
“Most accommodations cost little to nothing,” Rex Moses, representing Assistive Technology Solutions, said. “We have people that cannot move from the neck down but can type at 160 words per minute while talking on the phone.”
The awareness of disabled workers comes during a period of record low unemployment for the region, with rates hovering around three percent. However, about 10 percent of individuals with disabilities remain unemployed, leaving a potential source of workers untapped, WST Executive Director Janie Bates.
For Bates, the topic of disability workforce is a personal one. She has utilized an electric scooter as her primary source of mobility for the past eight years following a two-decade fight with advanced peripheral neuropathy. The disease causes intense numbness in the legs and can lead to balance and stability.
In that time, Bates said she has run into many stereotypes including people who are in disbelief that she is able to work. As an example, Bates was asked if she was a resident during a recent work trip to a skilled nursing facility. Bates said she is often amused during doctor’s visits when receptionists see that she carries company insurance.
“In her generation, there was no thought of someone with a disability being able to work,” Bates said, regarding the skilled nursing visit.’
Bates said she still takes these situations in stride and tries to make the best of them.
“When someone makes those assessments, it is an opportunity for me to educate,” she said.
Contrary to common belief, many disabled workers can be brought into the workplace with very easy, inexpensive accommodations to the workplace. Some accommodations may be as extensive as creating a wheelchair ramp, while others can be as simple as ensuring there is enough room for wheelchair mobility.
“It may be that you just need to raise a desk,” Rex said. “it totally depends on the situation.”
Bates said one of the common issues she sees while visiting businesses is furniture placement. It is fairly common for businesses, including restaurants to use tables in a restroom for decoration, however these can block individuals who use wheelchairs.
Attorney John Hagan focused his discussion on how employers can address disabilities during the hiring process and throughout employment. Hagan said employers during interviews should not ask about someone’s disabilities but instead focus on if the individual can perform the tasks needed for the job.
“You want to focus on the job description and not on the applicant,” he said.
If a job requires someone to lift 25 lbs as a part of the job, a person would not be qualified for the job if they can’t do this with reasonable accommodation, he said. An individual who was once qualified may no longer be qualified in the future, he added.