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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Overcoming disabilities to work in health care

By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun

Earlier this month (Dec. 3) was the International Day of Disabled Persons -- a time to reflect on the challenges that people with disabilities face today.

According to Statistics Canada, an estimated 3.4 million people in Canada over age 15 reported some level of physical, psychological or health disability in 2001.

And yet 67% of those Canadians with disabilities who are physically able to work are unemployed. How do you overcome this?
"There are always ways to get around any obstacle and they should be investigated," says Mahadeo Sukhai, who didn't let his weak vision prevent him from working in cancer research at the Princess Margaret Hospital.

Two visually impaired people working in health care told us their strategies ...

Mahadeo Sukhai, PhD student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto and cancer researcher at the Princess Margaret Hospital:

"I have low vision. For me to be able to read something, it has to be six inches away from me, and fine hand-eye co-ordination is difficult.

It affected my career as a student at first because I couldn't see the blackboard so I would have to borrow professors' lecture notes or ask people to take notes for me.

"As far as I know, I'm the only person in Canada who has low vision and does cancer research. I do cell culture work, dealing with animal testing, test tube work.

"My advice is, don't feel limited by your disability. Make sure that you project a confidence in yourself so that any potential employer will not see you for your disabilities but will see you for your abilities.

"My mother's favourite piece of advice is, There is no such thing as 'can't'. There are always ways around any obstacle and they should be investigated."

Ruth Vallis, physiotherapist with 19 years' experience, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (Hillcrest Hospital):

"I'm totally blind and have been since the age of three. I always wanted to work in health care.

When I realized I wasn't going to be a doctor, I investigated physiotherapy.

"At the time there was a school in England training blind people to be physiotherapists.

Now it has closed and today everyone who wants to get into the field is integrated.

"Once I graduated, I landed a job ... but on my first day at work, the woman who owned the clinic decided that I couldn't work there. Legally, I could have fought it, but I didn't want to look bitter ... I thought I'd find another job elsewhere."

When I went for my job interview at Hillcrest 18 years ago, I asked the woman

if she had any questions about my being blind. She said 'If you're good enough to be qualified as a physiotherapist, you're good enough to work as one.' I got the job.

"I stayed there and I really like it. The one thing that my employers have

done for me is set me up with a voice-synthesized computer. The IT people have been wonderful and my colleagues will read me handwritten documents when I need help.

"I believe you have to look at every obstacle as a stepping stone ... so follow your dreams. Only you can make your dreams come true."


Resources for job hunters with disabilities

NOWS: Launched in October this year by the National Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), the NEADS Online Work System (NOWS) allows recent graduates or post-secondary students to post their resumes and search for employment and internship opportunities.

STARR: Science & Technology Abilities Recruitment and Retention is a partnership among eight science-based departments and agencies to recruit and retain people with disabilities into scientific and technical positions within the federal public service.

SES: Funded by the Ontario Disability Support Program, Strategic Employment Solutions (SES) provides one-stop placement services for job seekers.

WORKink: The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work's virtual employment resource centre is at:

CNIB: The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and have formed a partnership to help visually impaired people find work.

(Reach freelancer Susan Poizner at (

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