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The Changing Nature of Work

Editor's Note: John Rae is AEBC's 1st Vice President.

When my father became a pharmacist, it was assumed that would be his life's career. And it was!

When I got a "permanent" job as an Ontario civil servant, many thought I was set for life. While I never felt fully secure, I managed to survive until I had the opportunity to take early retirement in 2005. But over the past few years, government jobs have become less secure.

Today, the working world is very different from the time when our parents were employed, and these changes have profound implications for Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

It is now assumed that most, if not all, individuals will hold a number of different jobs, if not different careers, during their working life. Considering that it often takes longer for a person with a disability to find a job--any job--this poses yet another new barrier to our full participation in the world of work.

Summer projects and after-school part-time work can be the first step to ongoing employment for anyone. Today, there are many more "McJobs", which are unlikely to be attained by members of the blindness community. Where should we look to find summer and part-time jobs that provide that all-important experience and work references?

Technology has proven to be a double-edged sword. It can open some doors, yet close others. Some employers purchase new technology that isn't usable by all, and these unforeseen changes can make it difficult, if not impossible, for a previously productive worker to remain employed. That's one reason why organizations like the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians have called on employers to use their considerable purchasing power to only buy software and other equipment that is accessible to everyone--both current and potential workers.

Having to rotate through a variety of tasks, especially during the orientation and training period, may lead an employer to believe that a new worker may not be as flexible as desired. The candidate may be able to successfully perform most of the essential duties of the position, but many employers are now looking for individuals who can perform multiple tasks and be capable of switching among them at the drop of a hat. Are these employers discharging their legal duty to accommodate a worker with a disability?

Many businesses have moved part or all of their operations offshore to take advantage of lower wage rates and to avoid North American employment standards and regulations. When my computer was recently hit by numerous viruses, I was blown away by the fact that, through the internet, it was cleaned remotely by a gentleman in India. While this is only one example, what may be good for persons in third world countries has adversely affected the job market in developed nations.

The rising cost of fuel, however, is forcing some employers to reconsider this approach. When Tesla Motors, a pioneer in electric-powered cars, set out to make a luxury roadster for the American market, it planned to manufacture 1,000-pound battery packs in Thailand, ship them to Britain for installation, then bring the mostly assembled cars back to the United States. But when it began production this spring, the company decided to make the batteries and assemble the cars near its home base in California, cutting more than 5,000 miles from the shipping bill for each vehicle.

The compressed four-day workweek is not a new idea. Today, more employers are considering it as a way to reduce commutes and to conserve energy. Though this is an attractive idea to many, as it provides a three-day weekend, some workers have great difficulty putting in longer workdays to obtain that extra day off. Will they be accommodated?

In recent years, much discussion has taken place over the work-at-home or telework option. Some employers have embraced it; others are slow to introduce it; and a number shy away from it altogether. For an employee with a disability, this option has both pros and cons. If you can work independently, performing your job at home removes the time and stress spent travelling to and from your workplace. However, you will lack the chance to interact regularly with colleagues.

Frustration in securing employment and the changing nature of the workplace have convinced a growing number of persons with disabilities to try starting their own business, where they can set their own hours and working conditions. This is effective for some, but many do not have the needed entrepreneurial spirit or 24/7 commitment.

Attaining that desired job means having the required skills and credentials, casting your net far and wide and networking (many jobs are not advertised), and finding an organization where your talents are recognized and valued. Blind persons now work in a wider range of positions than when I was considering my life's work. Even so, we must continue to press employers to do more to hire, retain and promote competent workers with disabilities.

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