Breaking down barriers

Mohawk has partnered with the Discover Ability Network to encourage employers to hire those with disabilities

Hiring people with disabilities is both the right thing to do and a smart business decision.

A diverse workforce increases profitability and innovation, opens access to new markets and helps organizations meet the challenge of a growing labour shortage.

Yet the greatest obstacle for people with disabilities is finding employment, says Toby Merritt, Manager of Accessible Learning Services (ALS) at Mohawk. Unconscious biases, misconceptions, and accessibility barriers leave qualified people with disabilities unemployed or working in jobs that are below their talent or training.

Those issues can be solved through boosting awareness and empowering both employers and job seekers. That’s why a cross-campus coalition at Mohawk, including ALS, Alumni Relations and Student Life, has partnered with the Discover Ability Network.

Funded by the federal government, Discover Ability promotes the benefits of hiring those with disabilities, works with employers to create safe, welcoming and inclusive workplaces, and matches job seekers with registered employers.

Mohawk College student sitting contently in front of indoor pond and foliage at mohawk college

Matthew Cordeiro, Mohawk College student

The Mohawk group has focused on developing supports for small- to medium-sized businesses.

“We are adding resources, hosting workshops and mobilizing industry experts to help employers understand the value of hiring job-seekers with disabilities for co-ops, internships and jobs after they graduate,” says Beth Gibson, Manager, Workforce Partnerships, Community Partnerships and Learning.

“This is a multi-level collaboration across the college and there is a lot of support for this. This accessibility work is an area of strength for Mohawk.”

The partnership resulted in engagement events for employers in 2021 and more are planned for 2022, says Gibson.

Mohawk is modelling equitable hiring, too. “The college actively endeavours to increase the representation of marginalized people, including women, Indigenous, Black, racialized, persons with disabilities, and 2SLGBTQIA+ at all levels of the organization,” says Sharon Kamassah, Manager of Workplace Equity and Inclusion.

That requires identifying and removing any potential barriers in recruitment and selection and coming to a deeper understanding of how privilege and power impacts employees, she says.

“We recognize, as proven by the research, that when we consistently remove barriers, people are more inclined to show up as their excellent and innovative selves. It also helps support our college’s culture of trust and wellness.”

Levelling the playing field for those with physical, mental or cognitive challenges means relatively easy and inexpensive adjustments, says Merritt. It can be as simple as pivoting the format of a job interview.

“People who are fantastic performers in their fields may not perform well in a traditional job interview. That can be true of people on the autism spectrum, for instance.”

By signalling that any accommodations will be facilitated or that people with disabilities are encouraged to apply allows those with disabilities to see a place for themselves.

“Making the call explicit, ‘We want you and we welcome you,’ makes all the difference.”

Mohawk provides a range of programs aimed at preparing those with disabilities for postsecondary education or for employment.

Matthew Cordeiro has completed four programs at Mohawk, beginning with Community Integration through Co-operative Education, a two-year program for students with intellectual disabilities and other significant learning challenges.

“Mohawk is a very inclusive college that cares about its students,” he says. His academic accommodations have always been supported and have allowed him to achieve success.

“I love Mohawk so much that right now I am completing the Counselling Techniques certificate in Continuing Education and got accepted into the Accessible Media Production  postgraduate program for September 2022.”

Amanda Coles says her participation in Career Pathways, a certificate program designed for students with a learning disability, autism or mental health challenges, prepared her to succeed in Mohawk’s Pre-Media program.

She’s now registered in TV and Broadcasting for September and hopes to one day work in film.

“I learned so much. I don’t know where I would be without the program.”