“If I don’t try, I won’t know what’s possible…”
That’s what Me-An Vera-Fudge recalls thinking when she first considered the idea of interviewing Fauzia, a deaf woman, for a room attendant position at Hilton Toronto. Course instructor Margaret Readings was impressed by Fauzia’s skills and exceptional attitude during the two-week intensive training program she did with the Hospitality Workers Training Centre. Margaret immediately thought Hilton Toronto and Me-An would be an ideal employer.
Me-An, Executive Housekeeper at Hilton Toronto didn’t think of limitations when she heard of Fauzia’s disability, she only thought of possibilities around how to make accommodations work.
If your mind jumps to the many questions about hiring a deaf room attendant, you are not alone. There are many details to consider; How will guests know when she’s entering the room? What about her safety in the case of a fire alarm? How to conduct team meetings?
These are legitimate questions, but they didn’t get in Me-An’s, or Fauzia’s way. This is important because Fauzia is like many Canadians with disabilities. She says:
“For so many years, I tried to figure out what I would need to do to be employed, like everybody else. I just wanted to support and feel good about myself.”
As André Picard put it in a recent Globe and Mail article on the subject:
“What the two million Canadians living with disabilities – physical, psychiatric or developmental – want is to live up to their potential, to be full citizens like other Canadians.”
Picard sites the report Rethinking DisAbility and summarizes its key finding that the principal reason for more than 50 percent unemployment among disabled Canadians is employers’ “prejudicial assumptions about ability to work and the cost of accommodation.”
To overcome some of these assumptions, we had Me-An explain how Hilton Toronto established accommodations for Fauzia and how it’s impacted the hotel’s guests, team members and overall productivity in the hotel.
1. A Positive Shift for Guests:
When Fauzia begins her shift, she places a letter under the door of each room she’ll be cleaning. The letter clearly explains that she’s deaf and that she’ll knock to let guests know when she’ll be entering. So far, the process has been seamless. And, rather than experiencing any push back from guests, Me-An received a wonderful letter of praise from one guest who was delighted that the Hilton Toronto had a culture of inclusion.
This experience in consistent with findings in the 2012 report Rethinking DisAbility in the Private Sector which indicates that customers react positively to accommodations in the private sector because they “appreciate a work force that reflects their community.” That was proven to be true in this case.
2. A Lift for Team Dynamics
Me-An was concerned that Fauzia’s deafness could create difficult social dynamics. She wanted to ensure that, if hired, Fauzia wouldn’t feel any sense of isolation from the team or from the hotel more broadly. The first clue around how Me-An’s team perceived Fauzia was that prior to being hired, Fauzia undertook unpaid training shifts at Hilton Toronto (something all HWTC trainees do.) As soon as they met her, other workers at the hotel began to ask Me-An: “When are you going to hire Fauzia?” They were visiting her office in considerable numbers to ask the same question, repeatedly.
Providing the right accommodations creates the context for success. As the Rethinking DisAbility report shows, 61% of employers interviewed stated that “providing employee accommodation” had the benefit of increasing “overall company morale.”
Me-An highlights how Fauzia’s presence has provided a lift for the Housekeeping team at Hilton Toronto. The fact that the team uses Blackberry technology to communicate with one another made it easier for Fauzia to transition to being part of the team. Texting provided a simple way for Fauzia to share and receive information.
Me-An Vera-Fudge, Executive Housekeeper, Hilton Toronto
In fact, Me-An admits, even though there have been challenges along the way, accommodating Fauzia has enhanced team cohesion. It’s become everyone’s responsibility to make sure communications are working, not just for Fauzia, but for the Hilton Toronto team overall. Fauzia’s presence has enhanced team wide communications.
3. Producing Productivity
When asked about Fauzia’s work ethic, Me-An simply beams:
“Fauzia wants to be here, she pushed herself to make it work. That’s what we want in a team member.”
The dedication it takes to work through existing barriers demonstrates an individual’s character. Similarly seeing an employer’s step up to provide accommodation helps solidify the workplace relationship. As the DisAbility report finds, hiring people with disabilities “results in higher productivity, less turnover (which leads to lower training costs).”
Hilton Toronto has built a truly inclusive work environment, and it’s paying off for Fauzia, hotel guest, team members and overall productivity. More importantly, as Picard emphasizes, it promotes “systemic change” by demonstrating how to “fully integrate people with disabilities into the workplace.”