Finding humour in disability - Sean's story

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How can you joke about disability? The idea seems offensive and definitely not something you’d do during a job interview. But that’s exactly what Sean did, and it worked.

Sean now has a new job as a Warehouse Receiver Associate at Frontier Plumbing and Heating Supply. Recently he took some time to discuss how he chose to disclose his disability, cerebral palsy (CP), to his new employers.

“Cerebral palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a group of conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. It is not a disease…CP can be as mild as just a weakness in one hand, ranging to an almost complete lack of movement. Sometimes the movements of people can be unpredictable, muscles can be stiff or tight, and in some cases people may have shaky movements or tremors.” Cerebral Palsy Association of Alberta.

In Sean’s case, CP affects the mobility on the left side of his body. On the job, he has some limitations when lifting heavy objects.

“When they asked me how much I could lift, I told them then and there.  I explained how I’d lived with CP all my life and how it only affects my left side,” said Sean. “I joked about it, and it made me feel more at ease with talking about it and I think it made them (Frontier) feel more at ease too,” he said.

Injecting humour into disclosure is a tactic which is explored and encouraged during the Champions Disclosure workshop. It's an unexpected slant on what can be a very serious and uncomfortable topic. Sean admitted that the idea did seem odd to him at first. According to Champion’s workshop facilitator Susann Grodsky, this is quite common for most persons with disabilities.

“Many of our job candidates can laugh at themselves, but have never used this angle for breaking the ice with a new or potential employer. We all need to laugh at ourselves sometimes, it helps with stress. It's also a good way to build relationships and facilitate more open and honest communication,” commented Susann.

In the past Sean had only disclosed his disability when a problem had emerged at work, but this time he found advantages to disclosing right from the beginning. Additionally, because of his willingness to disclose, Martin Lee his manager, was able to provide some education to his co-workers on how CP affects Sean, so that they are more comfortable with their new team member.

Sean has also been able to show his new employer how he self-accommodates, making up for the limitations of his left side, by lifting heavy objects onto his shoulders or using his right side to balance or give more support to his left.  Self-Accommodation is defined as the proactive strategies that you have developed and use to offset, eliminate, reduce or modify any functional limitations or barriers due to your disability. With Sean’s ability to self-accommodate, Frontier does not need to make any changes within his job description or in the warehouse and he is able to fulfill all the requirements of his new position.

An open relationship can lead to greater employee retention and is a solution to the high-turnover rate that Frontier had been experiencing in their warehouse. In Sean’s case, his disclosure has given his new employer and colleagues the information they need to help Sean to be productive, safe and successful in his new job and a valuable member of their team.


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