WEDNESDAY, JUNE 8: Job seekers with disabilities have been turned away from a government-run recruitment office according to the head of the health department’s National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged (NOSPC).

John Payne, acting manager for the NOSPC, said that people with disabilities regularly enter his office seeking assistance after being sent there by the Department of Labour and Training-run recruitment service.

The problem appears to stem from a lack of clarity about which office is best equipped to help the disabled find work.

In response to the claim, Labour and Training, under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said that there were no discriminatory policies in and that it “values the contribution of each and every resident to Bermuda’s workforce”.

Mark Richardson, a qualified IT network technician who has difficulties walking and talking, alleged that a recruitment office worker there recently told him “we don’t deal with people like you”.

The Ministry pointed out that it is also part of the NOSPC’s mandate to “provide vocational and placement services for clients with disabilities”. Mr Payne stresses that the disabled should be treated the same as anyone else, whichever government agency they deal with: “We see this [problem] all the time. Our task is to convince the government and political masters that this [referring disabled people to another office] is inappropriate for a placement office.

Contradictory

“Why should people with disabilities be treated any differently especially as the government has accepted a policy of inclusion for all? You can’t have that if you have different agencies within government excluding persons with disabilities — it is contradictory.”

A spokes person for the ministry responded: “The ministry is of the view that seniors and the disabled are an important segment of our community, and we respect their rights and support their endeavors to find gainful employment in the labour force. It is critical to point out that the Department of Labour and Training prides itself on being an equal opportunity department. From a standard policy standpoint, our Intake Form does not request information regarding one’s physical ability…

“In essence, there are no specific statistics that would show how many disabled individuals we have placed as that demographic is not captured in our questionnaire.

“It is also important to note that individuals who are unemployed register with the Department of Labour and Training. Employers seeking employees register with the Department and have access to our database. Hence it is at the employers’ discretion as to who they seek fill their vacant posts.”

Mr Payne is spearheading a new, cross-ministry strategy designed to integrate more people with disabilities, physical and mental or otherwise, into the workforce (see separate story).

The 2000 Census Report showed there were 3,593 people with disabilities in Bermuda. There are no definitive statistics on how many are in employment.

While it appears the Labour and Training office has turned away some people with disabilities, it is not policy to do so — that would contravene the Human Rights Act, which states: “A person shall be deemed to discriminate against another person if he treats him less favorably than he treats or would treat persons generally…”.

It can be perceived as invasive and irrelevant for employees or recruitment offices to ask candidates to specify whether or not they have a disability. However, the lack of information makes it difficult to determine whether they are being fairly represented.

 

Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson, a qualified computer network technician, has speech difficulties and can only walk with the aid of a cane.

He first visited the recruitment office at Labour and Training in 2009 when, along with many others, he was made redundant from KeyTech/BTC. He worked with the firm as a computer network technician for nearly nine years. He told the Bermuda Sun that when he inquired about employment he was told by a female employee: “We don’t deal with people like you”.

I had no reaction because I was really not surprised by a comment like that in Bermuda,” Mr Richardson said.

“I have always felt that persons with disabilities in Bermuda are not given any real opportunity. An ‘out of sight, out of mind’ feeling comes to mind. I just hope they were her personal feelings. I was told to go and see the National Office of Seniors and Physically Challenged.”

Mr Richardson said that after he visited the office he decided he was getting nowhere and so wrote a letter to the minister at the time. He was contacted by the minister’s office and told to go back and register at Labour and Training which he did.

He also applied for several jobs at the government employment office which lead to one interview but nothing came of it.

“I would love a job relating to computers but I am willing to do anything I am capable of doing. I have been unemployed since March 2009. I often tell my wife every time I hear of redundancies or job loss, ‘my chance of finding work just became that much harder’.

“I am still looking, but my fever to seek employment has diminished somewhat.

 “I believe something needs to be done to assist persons with disabilities to secure employment. I personally feel that some kind of financial incentive or tax break for hiring persons might work.”

 

Jason Fostine DeSilva was left physically handicapped after a serious bike accident in 1986. His injuries were severe — he had contusions to his cerebellum which left him unable even to crawl. Despite doctors’ estimates, Mr DeSilva, although partially paralyzed, is now able to walk and talk and is often seen riding around Bermuda’s roads on his bicycle. 

Jason Fostine DeSilva

Mr Fostine DeSilva attended college but did not graduate. He has done reading and computing classes and considers himself able to do a variety of jobs.

The Labour and Training recruitment office found him a job cleaning at the Aquarium.

“I didn’t mind doing it but what I was concerned about was the pay. The type of work I was doing — it was like the hustle truck — but in glorified surroundings. They found me work but why put me in a job like that where I am the only physically handicapped? I went along with it. It’s better to work.”

“Handicapped people here they don’t have a chance. I was cleaning up and I was the only physically handicapped person on the programme. I thought it was absurd me cleaning up after everyone.”

 


Shirlyn Burgess is deaf but otherwise physically well. She has worked as a maid at the Elbow Beach Hotel for ten years but wants a second job to help pay the bills.Shirlyn Burgess

Ms Burgess holds a certificate in computing from the Berkeley Institute. She is keen to do any work including office filing, computer entry work and maid work. She would also like to attend Bermuda College to gain a GED and nursing qualification. She went to the recruitment office at Labour and Training four months ago to seek assistance. She was given a form to fill out and then sent to the National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged.

She says she never heard back from Labour and Training. “They never phoned back. Not one word. I think they feel that my hearing impairment is not helping.”