As a visually impaired Credit Advisor at RBC, Mudassar Khan recognizes that his success at work helps pave the way for the next employee with a disability. He shares his story to show how easy it is to hire someone with a disability – and how valuable it can be for his team and the organization.

There are a lot of misconceptions about people with disabilities – and one of the biggest is that it’s hard to hire someone who is disabled. “Managers sometimes have a tough time hiring a person with a disability because they think they’ll have to coach or manage that person differently, and they don’t know how to do that,” explains Kelly Bimm, Manager, Initiatives & Delivery RBC Insurance and national co-chair for REACH Employee Resource Group (ERG). As a global ERG, REACH has a mission of eliminating the stereotypes and stigma associated with people with disabilities, and Kelly is also responsible for driving awareness and education through campaigns and events.

“We have been asked for resources on how to manage someone with a disability – and we always say: You manage them how you would manage anyone else on your team. They’re a person first and should be treated the same way as anyone else.”

Unfortunately, much of the language and imagery surrounding people with disabilities in the workforce is sometimes harmful, perpetuating myths that limit their opportunities. (Stella Young, a comedian and journalist who went about life in a wheelchair, talked about how people with disabilities face everything from hero worship to pity to dismissal about their abilities in her very funny and honest Ted Talk).

Changing the narrative

Mudassar Khan is a Credit Advisor at RBC, helping clients apply for credit products such as installment loans, mortgages, RBC Homeline Plans and overdraft protection. Since starting in April 2015, he has moved around and upwards through the organization.

Visually impaired, Mudassar uses JAWS to help him do his job. From the point of his recruitment, the HR Workplace Accommodation team has been supporting him, connecting Mudassar with the Adaptive Technologies team to ensure he has the software and hardware he needs to work. Neither his managers nor his team members have had to take on additional work to get him set up in his various roles – a fact that has surprised those not familiar with working with someone with a disability.

“Our Accommodation partners will do an assessment and create a whole plan and recommendation for an employee. The manager isn’t responsible for any of it, and it doesn’t come out of the team budget. If there is an equipment recommended the cost would be billed to a team’s furniture transit or the Adaptive Technology team would cover it” explains Kelly. “Getting an accommodation for an employee with a disability at RBC is very easy for both the employee and the manager and often doesn’t even involve equipment – it could be something that revolves around a flexible schedule.”

Whether at work or in life, there is a tendency for some to see the disability first – without seeing the person – which can lead to pre-conceived opinions. “A question I get a lot is: ‘You can’t see, so how can you be working?’ When I demonstrate how I work, many people are astounded at the speed I operate at,” says Mudassar. He doesn’t mind the questions though, and in fact enjoys talking about how he does his job, as it helps bust the myths around capability. He would prefer that someone asks about he works and what he might need to succeed, versus assuming what his abilities are.

In fact, Just Ask is a key message promoted by REACH within RBC. Acknowledging that many feel awkward around people with disabilities, Kelly says the messaging is to encourage people to start a conversation and not be afraid of saying the wrong thing. She has spoken with managers who have been hesitant to hire someone with a disability, worried they would do or say something wrong. But once they do make that hire, they’re never reluctant again.

It’s this kind of reaction that makes Mudassar feel hopeful and excited for both his future, and the future of other people with disabilities in the workplace. He recognizes that every job he does and every team he joins helps pave the way for the next person.

“I know I can make the path easier for the next person with a disability, by doing the job first,” he says.

It’s a sentiment echoed by his current manager, who admires how Mudassar has advocated for himself and proactively shared tips and experiences with his team to help break the ice. “Mudassar shared his story in a team meeting – we have a fantastic team dynamic where everyone supports each other,” explains Mudassar’s current manager Tirath Nina Mor, Team Manager, Credit Advisors.

“He shared that he can’t read images, for example, and that he might need to reach out if there is a visual he needs someone to explain. We are all learning, and I am learning every day from Mudassar.”

While he has a strong comfort level with his team, Mudassar recognizes that outside of work there is still a great deal of awkwardness, bias and misconception when it comes to interacting with people with disabilities. “People are surprised that I can go on vacations on my own, that I own a condo, or commute to work for over an hour. They’re astounded I can get around the office towers on my own, even though I have worked here for over three years.”

Indeed, with the stereotypes perpetuated about the ‘inabilities’ of people with disabilities, much of society still has some truth to learn. But with individuals like Mudassar advocating for himself and sharing his story – and groups like REACH holding events and seminars to help educate allies – the myths can be busted. “We always say we are helping to change the world one conversation at a time,” says Kelly.

Today, like many employees in Canada, Mudassar is working from home. He was able to transfer the set up he has at work to his home office and is enjoying the commuting time he’s got back in his day.

“I can now finish working and get out of the house right away,” he says. “My girlfriend and I love going for walks in the nice weather and I like to get to the cottage whenever I can.” Also like many employees in Canada, he loves finding new shows and old movies to stream when the workday is done.

Diane Amato is a Toronto-based freelance writer who loves to talk about finances, travel and technology.

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