Career Development for People with Disabilities

Career Development For People With Disabilities.

People with disabilities are like other employees; they want to do a good job, appreciate constructive supervision, enjoy new challenges and want to get ahead. Businesses that successfully recruit and retain qualified employees maintain a competitive edge in the global marketplace. One way for employers to retain employees is to establish career development plans for all employees, including those with disabilities. Typical programs include goal setting, team building, networking, mentoring, performance evaluations, leadership opportunities, supervisory and management development, and professional skills training.

Career Planning

Employers must recognize that people with disabilities have aspirations and career goals. Supervisors should discuss career expectations with each employee, including an evaluation of the employee’s interests, talents, and skills in relation to the requirements of available jobs. If an employee’s career goals seem unachievable, the supervisor should provide constructive feedback and try to reach an agreement with the employee on appropriate goals and the path to achieving them. However, the supervisor should not assume an employee’s disability will be a barrier.

Employers should ensure that employees with disabilities have the same opportunity as other employees to participate in career development programs and career lattice opportunities. Career lattice opportunities include moving laterally within the company to gain new experiences and skills to explore jobs where an employee’s skills and interests have the best fit. Job rotations familiarize employees with disabilities with the entire operations of the business, helping an employee recognize the transferability of skills and abilities to other positions. Job enrichment (i.e., more responsibilities and new assignments) is another important career development tool for people with disabilities.

Team Building

Team building opportunities give employees chances to solve problems and develop solid working relationships with co-workers. Employers should ensure that employees with disabilities have leadership opportunities and are assigned to special projects, planning sessions, off-site projects, and assignments requiring travel. Do not make career development decisions for an employee with a disability based on limiting concepts or stereotypes about that employee’s disability.

Networking

Employers should include employees with disabilities in both formal work groups and informal employee gatherings. People with disabilities enjoy the same types of social and recreational activities as employees without disabilities. Frequently, important business is discussed at these events and interpersonal relationships are developed. All employees should be given the opportunity to participate. Employers must arrange events in accessible facilities and arrange transportation to accommodate staff with disabilities.

Mentoring

All staff can benefit from the guidance of a more experienced employee. All employers should encourage employees with disabilities to find mentors, whether or not the mentor has a disability. When these younger employees become more experienced, they should be encouraged to mentor other new employees, who may or may not be disabled. Mentors provide many benefits:

Broadened perspectives about the transferability of skills and interests, as well as future career directions to consider
Motivation to take calculated risks
Advice on the “politics” of dealing with human relationships within the organization
Honest and constructive feedback about problem areas
Coaching on technical, interpersonal, and management skills
Encouragement
Networking contacts, references, and introductions

Performance Appraisals

Performance appraisal procedures vary widely among companies. Some companies use formal, written documents; others use less formal, often oral, procedures. Employers must treat employees with disabilities the same as all other employees. If a position has been restructured to accommodate a person’s disability, evaluate the employee only on those tasks he or she is expected to perform, but apply the same performance standards to employees with disabilities that are applied to all employees. Supervisors should discuss the evaluation with the employee prior to the final writeup. After the discussion concerning the job performance in the current job is completed, it is important to have a career development discussion.

Training

Training opportunities should be available to employees with disabilities. Management and leadership training should be among the options available, in addition to specific skills training. Formal classes must be held in accessible facilities. Materials should be available in large print for persons who are visually impaired, interpreters should be provided for participants who are hearing-impaired, and other necessary accommodations made.

Self-Development

An employee with a disability also must take responsibility for his or her career development. Employees should continually seek out new education, training and information. They should keep up on the latest information in the field, network and volunteer for new assignments.

Mentoring

Why is Mentoring People with Disabilities Important?

Mentoring is an on-the-job educational process that provides opportunities for professional development, growth and support for both the mentor, or teacher, and the mentee, or student, involved. Individuals planning or advancing their careers receive information, encouragement, and advice from their mentors, who are experienced in the career field of the mentee. Mentors get a first-hand look at the mentee’s abilities while serving as trusted counselors or teachers. Employees in the workplace benefit from the positive dynamic created by all individuals involved in the mentoring process.

Individuals with disabilities continue to face attitudinal barriers in employment. The mentoring process can help break down employment barriers by encouraging individuals with disabilities to take a more active role in planning and pursuing their careers. Conducting mentoring programs provides employers with access to new talent and an often underutilized workforce. It also promotes greater awareness and understanding of disability in the workplace.

Rod Holter, Director of Manufacturing for Cessna Aircraft Company, describes mentoring people with disabilities as “giving someone a chance who may not have otherwise had the opportunity.” Holter says, “It is the right thing to do.”

What are the Benefits to your Business?
1. It is an investment in your future workforce.

Mentoring individuals with disabilities builds human capital. Mentoring experiences prepare individuals for advancement by strengthening their skills and providing them with confidence. Employers groom employees for current and future positions. In today’s labor market, this is an advantageous strategy. “Mentoring has to be one of the most important aspects of any business because it builds your next generation of employees,” says Michael Dunbar, Vice President of Public Relations for the Greater Columbus, Georgia, Chamber of Commerce. At Cessna, “We have had really good luck with the people we have mentored, and in today’s tight labor market, they really fill a void,” Holter says.

2. It sends employees a message that you care.

Mentoring represents a commitment of time and energy to staff. It demonstrates that a value is placed on professional development and growth. According to Holter, “Mentoring [people with disabilities] sends a message to our other employees that the company really does care about people.”

3. It creates positive attitude changes in your corporate culture.

Numerous individuals who have participated in mentoring experiences can attest to its impact on organizational culture. “Mentoring is an eye-opening experience for employers. In some cases, employers are not sure how to deal with a person’s disability. Once the employer starts working with a person with a disability, he or she begins to see the person’s capabilities rather than the disability. The experience can also have an impact on everyone in the office,” says Donna Mundy, who is the Florida High School/High Tech Program Project Director. Mundy adds, “It’s a positive step for all concerned.”

Promoting a greater appreciation of diversity in the workplace is another benefit of mentoring. Dunbar notices that “Mentoring individuals with disabilities has helped our organization broaden its understanding of disability. You learn that disabilities are not limiting.”

Mentoring Tips
Anyone can be a mentor. It is important to have positive role models, whether the individual has a disability or not.

Here are some suggestions for starting a mentoring program in your organization.

Make sure that you have senior management’s support of your program.
Work with staff to ensure that they understand the concept of mentoring and are committed to it.
Hold training sessions for staff to make sure that they understand the commitment they are making.
Provide disability awareness training for staff who are working with individuals with disabilities for the first time. Many people, although happy to mentor, have questions about disability.
Appoint a mentoring coordinator who can serve as a resource for both the employee and the individual mentor within your organization (perhaps someone from Human Resources).
Provide incentives for people to both mentor and receive mentoring. For example, hold special recognition events for individuals participating in mentoring.
Have the mentor and the individual being mentored agree on expectations up front, including how long the mentoring will last and how frequently meetings will take place.
Encourage participants to work together on an individualized development plan as a mentoring activity. Have the plan approved by all those involved, including senior management. Individualized development planning helps define expectations and the plan can be used to measure progress.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy sponsors programs offering mentoring opportunities. If you are interested in mentoring youth with disabilities, please contact the Office of Disability Employment Policy at 202-376-6200 to see if there is a program in your area. Also, the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Business Leadership Network (BLN) represents companies throughout the United States who are committed to hiring qualified job candidates with disabilities. To learn more about the BLN Networks in your state visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy Web site at U.S. DOL – Office of Disability Employment Policy or call the Office of Disability Employment Policy at 202-376-6200.

National Disability Mentoring Day

National Disability Mentoring Day is held every October. Information on the day, and great Mentoring ideas can be found at http://www.aapd-dc.org/mentor.html