Employees with disabilities are expert learners: Ryerson study

    RBC employees with disabilities advise Ryerson University researchers on
    informal learning approaches to corporate success

    TORONTO, Oct. 4 /CNW/ - Employees with disabilities are skilled
practitioners of learning at work, say researchers in a report released by
Ryerson University's School of Disability Studies.
    "Until now, social science researchers have known very little about
people with disabilities as learners in mainstream workplaces, particularly in
corporate environments," says Associate Professor Kathryn Church, lead
researcher of the three-year study funded by the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada. "With RBC as an active partner, we
studied the learning strategies that RBC employees with disabilities developed
in the workplace. What did they need to know in order to be successful in this
professional and competitive industry?"
    Church and her co-authors Catherine Frazee, Melanie Panitch, Teresa
Luciani and Victoria Bowman of Ryerson University interviewed 75 participants
working at call centres and human resource departments and information
technology departments in Toronto, Vancouver and Moncton. The researchers
hosted focus groups with employees who identified themselves as disabled, as
well as the co-workers and managers of disabled employees.
    "What we've uncovered here is what I could call 'disability savvy'," adds
Catherine Frazee, one of the co-researchers of the study and co-director of
Ryerson RBC Foundation Institute for Disability Studies Research and
Education. "Our data confirms that employees with disabilities are persistent
and ingenious in balancing the complex demands of working in the corporation."
    The report, Doing Disability at the Bank, challenges other corporations
and organizations to consider varied learning strategies that disabled
employees use at work. It brings to light the telling, hiding, keeping up,
waiting, teaching, networking and light-hearted negotiating that disabled
employees do every day.

    Key findings include:

    Working from strength

    RBC employees told the researchers they are proud of their work and enjoy
working at the bank. They are also supportive of the organization's actions
towards more inclusive environments for employees with disabilities.

    Daily Informal Teaching

    Researchers found that, in addition to learning, employees with
disabilities are continuously teaching their colleagues how to relate to them
- and about broader disability issues. This work is done informally and is
embedded in daily encounters between individuals.

    Keeping It Light

    Employees with disabilities view humour as a workplace resource. Study
participants told the research team they often make jokes, even at their own
expense, in order to ease other people's discomfort about disability. "Keeping
it light" helps them communicate their needs without being confrontational.

    "The future of workplace accommodations is in the almost unexplored
terrain of social interaction," concludes Church. "As a result, managers need
to take a strong role in facilitating an open work environment. Their
interpersonal skills are vital to the professional success for employees with
    In response to the study, RBC is working on an action plan to implement
some of the findings. "This kind of research is invaluable in helping
organizations better understand how to support employees with disabilities.
And most importantly - to take action," says Jim Westlake, RBC Group Head,
Canadian Banking. "Individuals with disabilities have developed creative
solutions to address challenges, leverage their abilities and contribute to
organizational goals.
    "At RBC, we have strengthened our workplace accommodation processes and
practices; increased opportunities for networking and informal knowledge
exchanges amongst employees; and enhanced the recruitment processes with
individuals with disabilities."
    The study, Doing Disability at the Bank: Discovering the
Learning/Teaching Strategies Used By Disabled Bank Employees, is one of 12
studies associated with the university-based research network, The Changing
Nature of Work and Lifelong Learning in the New Economy.
    Copies of the public report can be downloaded from the Ryerson School of
Disability Studies website at www.ryerson.ca/ds.

    The School of Disabilities at Ryerson University is the first program in
Canada to provide a degree in disabilities studies from a socio-political
perspective. Offered through distance learning for part-time students from
across the province, the program prepares individuals for leadership roles in
community support, management, community development, policy, planning and
education in various job sectors. The School also houses the Ryerson-RBC
Foundation for Disability Studies Research and Education, which was
established in 2001 to develop cutting-edge research and innovative
educational programming.

    Ryerson University is Canada's leader in career-focused education,
offering more than 95 PhD, master's, and undergraduate programs in the Faculty
of Arts; the Faculty of Communication & Design; the Faculty of Community
Services; the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Science; and the Ted
Rogers School of Management. Ryerson University has graduate and undergraduate
enrolment of 24,000 students. With more than 64,000 registrations annually,
The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is Canada's leading
provider of university-based adult education.

For further information:

For further information: Suelan Toye, Public Affairs, Ryerson
University, Office: (416) 979-5000 x 7161, stoye@ryerson.ca

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