Congratulations to 2015 Advocacy Award Nominee, Strathroy District Chamber of Commerce. The Advocacy Award recognizes a business/organization of under 10 employees OR an individual who has continuously and tirelessly promoted the concept of ability first, supported people in their efforts to obtain meaningful employment, and who has brought new and innovative perspectives to the workplace.
The annual Ability First Coalition Champion Awards celebrate and honour businesses, companies, individuals and organizations that have hired and retained people with disabilities in London, Ontario and surrounding area.
Nominee: Strathroy District Chamber of Commerce
Representative: Shannon Churchill, General Manager
Can you tell us a little about your business?
The Strathroy & District Chamber of Commerce is a membership based business organization dedicated to being the voice of business in our community. We offer networking events, discounted programs and resources to Chamber Members. We currently have over 240 Chamber Members.
How long have you been in business?
The Chamber was introduced in Strathroy in 1940, but was re-established in 1998.
How many employees do you have?
General Manager, Shannon Churchill works 35 hours a week, part time Communications Coordinator, Chris Bregman works 20 hours a week.
The Ability First Coalition as a general rule does not disclose the names of employees hired. In this particular situation, the employee gave consent to her employer to be included in the write up in order to help educate and motivate other employers. Thank you to Chris Bregman for taking part in the write up.
Did you have any prior experience working with people with disabilities?
I did not have any experience working with people with disabilities in this position, but have worked with others in previous jobs.
How has your experience helped to shape your outlook?
When you work with someone with a disability you quickly learn what their strengths are. Focus on their strengths and assist them on their weaknesses.
What were your initial feelings on hiring someone with a disability?
We advertised for the position of Communications Coordinator and I knew Chris was the best person for the job but during the interview but her vocal disability was very noticeable. She was very upfront about it, and explained her limitations. In the past, the prior Communications Coordinator handled all phone calls coming into our small office which was a huge asset; she could answer many questions before the calls came to me. Now, phone work is an issue for Chris, but we have worked it all out. I now answer phones.
Why did you decide to hire someone with a disability?
Christine was the best fit for the position. When we were nominated, I really couldn’t figure out why? Until our nominator pointed out to me that we hired Chris and she does have a vocal disability. I don’t see Chris with a disability as her abilities far outshine her disability. It is not an issue.
How did you go about finding the right person for the job?
We did not set out specifically looking for someone with a disability to hire for the position of Communications Coordinator. Chris has the best skill set and we knew we could work around her limitations. She has difficultly on the phone, and sometimes in a board room setting, but I know this and am not afraid to speak up when she is trying to say something and make sure she gets her thoughts and contributions added to the conversations.
Can you describe one of the positions filled?
The position filled was for Communications Coordinator; Chris is responsible for social media marketing, email communications, graphic design work, event registration, event set up, and keeping the database updated, as well as many other “duties as assigned”.
How has this employee worked out for you?
Chris has been a terrific fit in the position, with the board of directors and our general membership. We work very well together and make a fabulous team!
Were there any preconceptions you had about employing someone with a disability?
I did not really have any preconceptions about employing someone with a disability, I just knew we would have to work together and compromise on some duties.
I understand the limitations that Chris has but am very proud of the work she continues to do for the Chamber and I am not afraid to ask if she is comfortable doing certain tasks. Open and honest communication is key so no one feels uncomfortable.
After talking with Chris about this some more, as an employee applying for a position, it is interesting when persons with disabilities decide to disclose their disability. Chris was very upfront and it gave the hiring committee time to review the job description.
What are some of the most common misconceptions you hear other employers talk about when they learn you’ve hired people with disabilities?
I have not heard many misconceptions from other employers but I do know that many people are more curious about disabilities and I think people still feel it is taboo to ask about the disability. If we could get rid of that taboo, more people would understand the strengths and abilities of those with a disability.
If anyone asks, I tell people that Chris has a vocal disability, and that is it!
What is your advice for other employers?
Hire for the best person for the position, no matter what the disability may be!
Please finish this sentence, “I hire for Ability First because…”
You must look at the person and not the disability and let the abilities shine through!
What does being nominated for the Champion Awards mean to your business?
This means a great deal to the staff and the board of directors of the Strathroy & District Chamber of Commerce and we hope we have changed some of the misconceptions out there.