DIEPPE – Kathy Malley, the vice-president of Malley Industries, carries little magnifying glasses everywhere because she is visually impaired.
“My disability is not visible to the average person, except if they drive by me in a car and I don’t wave back because I didn’t see them. They think I’m a snob, but really, I just didn’t see them,” she said, laughing. “Or they see me working on my computer and my nose is right up on top of the computer because my vision is very poor.”
Malley may not be able to drive. But alongside her husband Terry, the President and CEO of Malley Industries, she has taken leadership roles in an award-winning company that makes and sells ambulances and custom components across Canada and the U.S. Malley Industries also converts vehicles to make them accessible to wheelchair users.
Malley said a job at the Atlantic Lottery when she was younger empowered her.
“They knew I had poor vision, they knew I couldn’t drive, so there were limitations to the type of work I could do. But I worked in the public relations department and it really inspired me to realize that I was a professional and I was able to get professional employment with a disability,” she said.
“They were very diplomatic. They came and said, ‘Look, do you need a different screen? Do you need different lighting?’ They were very willing to accommodate but not pushy and patronizing. I think that’s kind of the tipping point.”
Persons with disabilities are often overlooked for jobs when they too are looking for independence and to contribute to society. That shouldn’t be the case, especially as businesses are struggling to find workers, said Maureen Haan, President and CEO of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW), which has a chapter in Moncton.
“Employers need to be able to look at what it is they need for talent and then reach out to different pools of possibilities,” Haan said. “Lots of employers haven’t even thought about it. It hasn’t even crossed their minds to hire somebody with a disability, to look at this talent pool.”
“It really is that shift in thinking among business leaders…how business leaders need to see what their future is and what kinds of talent they need in order to move their business forward and how that talent will complement.”
The CCRW advocates for workers with disabilities and helps match job seekers with disabilities to employment. It also works with employers who are looking for talent and needs help accommodating workers needs.
Haan was in town for a Christmas gathering with CCRW staff when she spoke to Huddle. She said there are various barriers to employment for people with disabilities, including a lack of understanding that disabilities aren’t just the visible, physical ones. Many Canadians have more than one disability and the bulk of them face mental health issues, she said.
“But we always come back down to stigma or fear: fear of the employers not knowing how to talk to people with disabilities or to say the right words, or that they’re afraid that they’re going to get sued, or they’re afraid of a human rights case,” she said.
Malley, who is on the national board of the CCRW, said people even avoid asking important questions, out of fear.
I think people are so frightened that they’re going to offend that they don’t ask basic questions.”
It’s important that needs and limitations are communicated properly in order for both the employer and employee to know that the job is a good fit. People with disabilities who are working or looking for a job also need to advocate for their needs more, so employers know what to provide, Haan said.
Malley said employers should be open-minded, but they shouldn’t make “a sympathy hire.” A proper fit is necessary so someone’s disability is minimized and not maximized. That will be good for employers too.
“In our facility, there’s a lot of bending, reaching, but there’s also a fair amount of lighting and noise, we’re testing sirens and all that….that wouldn’t be a good fit for someone with a disability that that kind of environment magnified. And it would be difficult for someone in a wheelchair, for example, to work inside a van. But someone in a wheelchair could do any of the computer work or sales or anything like that,” she said.
“As it gets more and more difficult to find people, we have to be open-minded at looking at older people as well as people who are non-traditional employees.”