Job Accommodation Network in Canada

As I sit here in my office staring at my computer screen, wondering how to communicate the benefits of JANCANA (Job Accommodation Network in Canada) to persons with disabilities, the irony of it all strikes me. I am comfortably seated in an ergonomically designed chair, my eyes are level with an efficiently designed screen, all switches are easily within reach, and a slight push of my foot and twist of the upper body results in my being quickly and conveniently seated at the desk behind me to answer the phone.

I am impressed with how well this physical arrangement is accommodated to my needs and requirements to do this job. Being able to manipulate my technical and structural work environment not only helps me to do the job well, but it gives me a sense of empowerment and confidence. I don’t have to fit into this place of work; it is designed to fit me.

Providing information and advice on how to design and adapt the workplace to maximize the employee’s or candidate’s capacity and ability to do the job well and efficiently is what JANCANA is all about. Disability service agencies have long been aware of the need to inform employers about the technical devices and strategies available to accommodate persons with a variety of disabilities. Besides attitudinal barriers, the major impediment to equitable employment of people with disabilities is a glaring lack of awareness among employers, current employees, union officials and civil servants about accommodating the worksite to individual requirements.

Employment and Immigration Canada has made the services of West Virginia’s Job Accommodation Network available in Canada — free! JANCANA makes it possible for any stakeholder in disability concerns to have convenient, efficient access to over 14,000 different technical devices, methods and strategies with which to make the workplace both a productive and human environment for people with disabilities.

Access to a computerized data base such as JANCANA is one thing; the expert advice and assistance of a professional consultant in applying that data is another. JANCANA provides both. And the only cost to the user is 30 minutes of his or her time to provide JANCANA with actual experiences in adapting the workplace for persons with disabilities. This information, including case histories, names of manufacturers or distributors, and names and brief descriptions of local service providers, are added to the data base. With this cycle of sharing, all the stakeholders in employment of people with disabilities benefit.

The stakeholder with the most to gain from shared information and advice offered by JANCANA is the person with the disability. These services help not only in getting a job (addressing appropriate interviewing techniques, affirmative action strategies and dealing with employer objections or concerns) but also in keeping a job (for those who develop disabilities while employed) or getting promoted.

Information is power. As has been the experience of women, visible minorities and Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities may have to arm themselves with double the information to get the same opportunities as others. JANCANA is an excellent resource for such information. Besides, self-initiated suggestions for changes that make for win/win situations are usually highly valued by employers. Informing oneself through the services of JANCANA can make one indispensable to the employer.

Persons with disabilities may also be the most valued of stakeholders in the use of JANCANA. Although users of JANCANA get free advice from a consultant, employers may not always take the time to provide JANCANA with their case histories and experiences in accommodating the workplace to persons with disabilities. That is why it is essential that persons with disabilities do so. Your experience may make all the difference in the chances for employment of another person with a disability in another part of the country.

JANCANA also provides advice on how to deal with other employees who may not be as enlightened as the employer using JANCANA services. The real live “human factor” consultants also have information on workshops dealing with attitudes towards people with disabilities, service organizations, support groups, government agencies and placement agencies.

People with disabilities are not asking for special allowances; they are simply asking for equality of opportunity. The fact is that in most instances of structural accommodation of the workplace for people with disabilities, it becomes a more human place of work for the rest of the employees. For people with disabilities, getting employment is one thing. Doing so with dignity is another. JANCANA can make both happen.

JANCANA’s services are available in both official languages, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m Eastern Time. For free and professional advice, the toll-free number for JANCANA is 1-800-JAN-CANA (526-2262).

(Len Sawatsky is president of Advoserv Consulting Inc. in Saskatoon, SK.)


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