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Expert on Island to dispel myths about hiring disabled people

Inaccurate assumptions about disabled people sometimes stifle their employment opportunities, according to a leading UK Disability consultant.

Rick Williams, Managing Director of Freeney Williams Ltd, said while some believe that hiring disabled staff can be more expensive, with money being spent to improve accessibility, some 92 percent of disabled people can be hired without any changes to the business.

And some 90 percent of the others can be hired with less than $300 worth of changes, such as special software.

“I wouldn’t hire someone just because they are disabled,” Mr Williams said. “I would hire someone because they can do the job.”

Mr Williams, along with Executive Officer for the Human Rights Commission Lisa Lister and John Payne, Acting Manager of the National Office for Seniors and Physically Challenged spoke to the Hamilton Rotary Club yesterday in advance of new human rights legislation coming into affect.

The Human Rights (Unreasonable Hardship) Amendment Act 2011 comes into affect next month, making it more difficult for employers to not hire an applicant because of a disability.

It states that a disabled or prospective employee shall not be disqualified for employment by reason of their disability if it is possible for the employer to modify the circumstances of the employment so as to eliminate the effects of the disability in relation to the position without causing unreasonable hardship to the employer.

The legislation could affect many on the Island, according to Mr Williams.

He said according to the 2000 census around ten percent of the Bermudian workforce works with some form of disability, but he felt that the actual figure was likely to be higher.

“Everywhere around the developed world, that figure is around 20 percent,” Mr Williams said. “That is not a percentage you can ignore.”

He said that some employers veer away from hiring disabled applicants because of preconceptions about the disabled, including that it would displease customers and other staff, but recent studies suggest the opposite is true.

“It does actually make people want to shop there,” he said. “The principle is that if they care about their staff, they might be good to me as a customer.”

He also said that according to a recent survey in the UK, 81 percent of disabled persons stopped going to a retailer last year because the business made it too difficult to shop there.

For example, he said that he is unable to use 80 percent of English websites because he is blind, and the websites are incompatible with his screen reading equipment.

With the ageing population, and around one third of people between 50 and 65 developing age-related disabilities, he said the disabled population should not be ignored.

Detailing his own experiences living with a disability in the UK, Mr Williams said he began losing his sight in 1968 while studying for his pre-university exams.

After losing the ability to read, he said he was expelled following a meeting neither he nor his parents were invited to attend.

“They didn’t know how to handle me, so they expelled me,” he said. “All of these decisions were being made about me without me being involved.”

When they later said they would get him employment, he was told his employment options were limited to typist and piano tuner.

“That really wasn’t what I was looking for,” he said.

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Published November 23, 2011 at 9:07 am (Updated November 23, 2011 at 9:07 am)

Expert on Island to dispel myths about hiring disabled people

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