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Christine Ha: MasterChef contestant with a disability but much ability!

christine ha master chef


The Fox reality TV show MasterChef sees amateur chefs compete for a grand prize of $250,000 and publication of their own cookbook. I love to cook, so this is a show I can relate to. But something really impresses me in this season: MasterChef Contestant Christine Ha’s performance.

Ha is legally blind. She navigates the kitchen with the help of a cane and a support person. According to the judges, the dishes she prepares for each challenge (mystery ingredients, time clock, etc.) are amazing and she is a great cook.

It goes to show, despite her disability Ha is able to compete with contestants with no disabilities, and perform the challenges with above average results.

Unfortunately, the denial of opportunities like the one Ha is lucky to have, along with negative attitudes, are the main reasons why persons with disabilities are disproportionally absent from such competitions, including the competition for jobs and advancement.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes in Article 27 the rights of persons with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others. It stresses the right of persons with disabilities to earn a living from freely chosen work, and to work in an environment that is accessible and accepting, among other things.

This principle is behind the accessibility standard for employment under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, similar to upcoming standards in Manitoba and legislation around the word.

However, persons with disabilities are a major source of human capital that is largely being overlooked.

According to the United Nations’ portal for accessibility and disabilities, UN Enable:

Employers often resist employing a person with disabilities believing they will be unable to perform their roles and/or that it would be too expensive. This attitude is rooted in fear and stereotyping, focusing more on the disability than on the abilities of the individual.

Empirical evidence, however, shows that persons with disabilities have high performance ratings and retention rates, as well as better attendance records than their colleagues without disabilities. In addition, the cost of accommodating workers with disabilities can be minimal, with most requiring no special accommodation at all. Studies have shown that there are other benefits to employers of persons with disabilities, such as improved workforce morale and increased customer goodwill.

Ha’s performance on MasterChef confirms the second part of the above statement.

In 1990, DuPont conducted an internal survey (PDF), discovering that its employees with disabilities “were equivalent to employees without disabilities for performance of job duties.” The DuPont survey showed that 86 percent of employees with disabilities had an average or better rate of work attendance. Further, 97 percent of workers with disabilities had an average or better safety rating.

Looking at the requirement to accommodate a person with disability in employment, human rights legislation and any accessibility standard requires an employer to determine whether existing positions can be adjusted, adapted or modified for the employee, or whether there are other positions in the workplace that might be suitable for the employee with a disability.

Accessibility standards push the duty to accommodate to another level, requiring organizations to identify and remove barriers willingly instead of waiting to answer individual accommodation requests or complaints. Organizations that provide goods and services and employ Ontarians must take proactive steps to eliminate or reduce the need for accommodation requests and remove any barriers, meaning anything that prevents a person with a disability from fully participating in all aspects of society in the same way as a person that is not disabled. These steps include eliminating or reducing physical, architectural, information and communications, attitudinal, technological barriers, as well as modifying or implementing policies or practices.

Accessibility standards require organizations to think about and take various steps to accommodate individuals during the job application process and throughout the employment relationship. This includes the provision of certain employment documentation in accessible formats and with communication supports upon request, along with additional requirements relating to the provision of workplace emergency response and other safety information.

Briefly stated, Ontario’s accessibility requirements in employment state:

  • In the recruitment process, employers must notify their employees and the public about the availability of accommodation for job applicants with disabilities. Further, during the recruitment process, employers must notify job applicants when they are individually selected in the assessment or selection process that accommodations are available upon request. If an applicant requests accommodation, an employer must consult with the applicant and arrange for a suitable accommodation that takes into account the applicant’s accessibility needs. When making an offer of employment, an employer must notify the successful applicant of its policies for accommodating employees with disabilities.
  • Employers must inform employees about their policies relating to the support of employees with disabilities. Policies on job accommodations must take into account an employee’s accessibility needs due to disability. This information must be provided to employees as soon as practicable after they begin their employment, and updated information must be provided whenever there is a change to existing policies on the provision of accommodation.
  • Large organizations must have a written process in place for the development and documentation of individual accommodation plans for employees with disabilities. The written process must include a number of detailed prescribed elements. Employers must also develop and use individual accommodation plans that, among other things, identify any information regarding accessible formats and communication supports provided and any other accommodation that is to be provided.
  • Large organizations must develop and have in place return-to-work processes for employees who have been absent from work due to a disability and require disability-related accommodation in order to return to work. Such processes must be documented and must outline the steps the employer will take to facilitate the return to work and include an individual accommodation plan.
  • Employers who provide performance management, career development, advancement or redeployment to their employees must do so in a manner that takes into account the accessibility needs of employees with disabilities as well as individual accommodation plans.
  • Upon request by an employee with a disability, and following consultation with the employee, employers must provide or arrange for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports for information that is needed in order for the employee to perform his or her job and for information that is generally available to employees in the workplace.
  • Employers must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability, if the disability is such that the information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for such accommodation. If an employee who receives individualized workplace emergency response information requires assistance and the employee consents, the employer shall provide the workplace emergency response information to a person designated to provide assistance to the employee. Required information must be provided as soon as practicable after the employer becomes aware of the need for accommodation and must be reviewed if the employee moves to a different location, his or her accommodation needs are reviewed, or the employer reviews its general emergency response policies.

The implementation of these employment accessibility requirements will help to prevent attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities to promote respect and dignity, and help people with disabilities to fully take part in the workforce.

Organizations need to ensure that those involved in recruiting, selecting, interviewing potential candidates, managing and supervising employees are trained in disabilities issues and the requirements under human rights legislation and accessibility standards.

Yosie Saint-Cyr
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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