Please don’t ask me what part of the sandwich I would be. Recruitment, Retention, and Development of Individuals with Disabilities

October 26, 2023

By Stephanie Hollingshead, CEO TAP Network

“With approximately 20% of people identifying as having a disability, exclusion is not a good business decision.”

- Trish Kelly, Managing Director, Untapped Accessibility

October is Disability Employment Awareness Month in Canada and the US. Earlier this month TAP Network was fortunate to host a lunch and learn with four amazing panelists: Carol Simpson, CEO of Focus Professional Services Inc.; Marco Pasqua, Award-Winning Entrepreneur, Accessibility Consultant and Inspirational Speaker with Cerebral Palsy with Meaningful Access Consulting; Trish Kelly, Managing Director at Untapped Accessibility; and Yat Li, Senior Accessibility Consultant, Presidents Group.

Together they shed light on the recruitment, retention, and development of individuals with disabilities, both visible and invisible, and fostering an environment of psychological safety for self-disclosure. They also shared insights into the anticipated regulatory changes from a national perspective, alongside the Accessible BC Act.

I was meant to be managing the slides for the webinar. Thankfully there were few slides because I was frantically writing down almost everything I heard. The panelists were informative, frank and pragmatic. Here are some highlights from the event.

When asked about the biggest challenges employers face when hiring people with disabilities, Carol Simpson moved us straight to retention and spoke about her experience supporting neurodivergent employees.

“Employers are open to doing recruitment differently to hire neurodivergent people. The challenges occur with retention because the policies, practices and culture within the work environment are neuro-typical biased. It results in neurodiverse employees feeling additional stress and masking who they are, which can result in leaves of absence, performance improvement plans and often quitting. The root cause is not their capabilities, it’s that the environment is not set up for them.”

- Carol Simpson, CEO, Focus Professional Services Inc.

Where’s the special website I can visit, to hire a person with a disability?

Marco Pasqua suggested that rather than seeking websites, it would be more impactful to build in processes that tailor to all, including people with disabilities. Look at the systems you have in place first. People with disabilities look for jobs using the same websites as everyone else.

Here are some dos and don’ts from the panel

  • Scale back the required and nice-to-have skills listed in your job postings. Studies have shown that a man will apply if he meets 60% of the posted requirements. A women will apply if she meets 80% of the posted requirements. A neurodivergent person will only apply if they meet 100% of the posted requirements.
  • Don’t screen out resumes because of gaps in employment if you want to be accessible in your hiring practices. People with disabilities often have gaps in employment and get screened out.
  • Don’t just note that accommodations are available. Put an actual email in the job posting, for people to contact someone and request accommodations.
  • People with disabilities are often reticent to disclose a disability because of past job seeking experiences. Why not flip this norm on its head and give every person who discloses a disability a second-round interview?
  • Think about the type of room in which you’ll be interviewing people. Are there bright lights? Ticking clocks? Loud espresso machines? If so, change it.
  • When notifying someone about an interview, share details about the dress code, who and what to expect at the interview, where to find accessible parking and nearby transit stops.

“What part of the sandwich would you be?”

  • Don’t ask hypothetical questions of neurodivergent people. A real-life example was shared where a neurodivergent candidate was asked “Why should we hire you over the other candidates?” The person responded that they have no idea because they hadn’t met the other candidates. Sounds flippant but it wasn’t. It was just honesty. Neurodivergent candidates will speak the truth.


One powerful positive example was shared. Before the person started work, they were asked to come to the office to meet with an Occupational Therapist who helped to assess the person’s new job environment and determine accommodations that would help. That information was then shared with HR and accommodations were approved prior to the person’s first day of work. The individual started that job feeling supported and set up for success.

Leaders have so many misperceptions about accommodations.

“58% of accommodations cost nothing at all and 37% require only a one-time expense of $500 for accommodation.”

  • Yat Li, Senior Accessibility Consultant, Presidents Group

Yat’s insight certainly stops those misperceptions in their tracks.

Interested in hearing more?

You can listen to the recorded webinar or download the transcript HERE. You can also find a library of additional resources on TAP Network’s EDIB Resource Hub HERE.

“You won’t make progress in employing people with disabilities without listening to people with disabilities.”

- Trish Kelly, Managing Director, Untapped Accessibility