Hiring people with disabilities a win-win (Guest commentary)

It’s not just the right thing to do – it’s also good for business

Many Canadians who have a disability also have abilities and skills needed in the workplace. But they are struggling to find jobs.

According to a 2001 Statistics Canada survey, only 45 per cent of the two million Canadians who have a disability were in the workforce. There’s been some improvement in recent years — a 2006 annual report published by Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) states the number of people who have a disability employed by federally regulated companies and crown corporations climbed from 2.3 per cent in 2001 to 2.7 per cent in 2005.

Still, when compared with the labour statistics of their non-disabled counterparts, people who have a disability remain one of the most under-represented groups in the workforce along with Aboriginal people, women and visible minorities.

In a progressive and socially conscious society, many people might agree that enabling marginalized groups to work, and therefore enhancing their quality of life, is the right thing to do. But for employers, hiring people who have a disability is about more than “doing the right thing.” It can also be a necessary ingredient for a company’s viability and success in a competitive marketplace.

Workforce declining

Baby boomer retirements and a shortage of skilled workers are two major challenges facing the Canadian workforce. A recent Conference Board of Canada report identified Ontario as an example of how these challenges are at play. Ontario’s workforce is changing as a result of “a population that is, simultaneously, growing more slowly and aging,” the report stated. “Its aging workforce and the ongoing realignment of its labour needs across many sectors of the economy may present significant obstacles to ensuring future economic growth in the province.”

As these pressures continue to build, the report predicts alarming workforce shortages for Ontario in future years — from a shortage of 190,000 workers by the year 2020 to 364,000 by 2025 to as many as 564,000 by 2030.

According to the 2006 annual report by HRSDC, the prognosis isn’t great for the rest of Canada either: “As the baby boom generation begins to retire, the Canadian workforce will decline unless there are new labour market entrants to replace the numbers of those retiring… Increasing numbers of employers are reporting shortages in certain skilled and unskilled occupations.”

Hope amidst the ‘doom and gloom’

Dismal worker shortage projections may sound alarming, but at this point they are just that — projections. Canadian employers can improve the present and future labour climate by building more inclusive and accommodating workplaces that use the skills and talents of a diverse population.

The benefits to employers of hiring someone who has a disability include:

access to an untapped talent pool with a full range of abilities;

the enhanced ability of staff to serve a diverse customer base;

compliance with the federal Employment Equity Act;

the implementation of diversity in hiring practices;

an enhanced community image; and

a workplace that reflects society.

Some employers may think hiring someone who has a disability will present huge physical and organizational challenges or they simply don’t have the capacity to train and accommodate employees who have a disability.

But there are resources available to help. There are employment service agencies and supported employment programs that specialize in job matches between people who have a disability and employers.

Some services and employer-supports offered by these agencies include:

career planning and pre-employment training for people with disabilities;

on-the-job training — teaching the individual the duties and responsibilities of the job (individuals often work one-on-one with a job coach or specialist);

conducting sensitization and awareness presentations for colleagues and supervisors;

providing information and education about workplace modifications;

troubleshooting and ongoing support as needed; and

retraining employees when job changes occur.

Hiring people who have a disability is about more than doing the right thing — it’s also good for business. The talent pool is there. Resources and support programs for employers are available. The time do it is now and employers have much to gain.

Joseph Dale is a director of membership services for Community Living Ontario in Toronto. For more information about Community Living and supported employment programs, visit www.communitylivingontario.ca or e-mail [email protected].

Success story

Disability barely noticed by colleagues

Kelly Taylor is employed at Cohen Highley, a law firm in London, Ont. She has worked in an administrative support role with the firm for 14 years. She also has Down syndrome — but colleagues barely notice her disability.

According to Joe Hoffer, a partner with the firm, what they’ve come to appreciate most about Taylor over the years is her consistently positive attitude, her willingness to learn and take initiative and her strong work ethic.

“Kelly knows she’s not just here for window-dressing,” Hoffer said. “She is doing productive work and she knows it’s appreciated.”

Taylor was hired by the firm through an employment service program operated by Community Living London, a community agency that provides supports and services to people who have an intellectual disability. Hoffer credits the agency for providing the support his company needed not only when they decided to hire Taylor years ago, but through the years as her role and responsibilities evolved.

“They took care of any anxiety and uncertainties we had,” Hoffer said. “It’s definitely been a collaborative effort between us, Kelly and the Community Living agency.”

Hoffer also said Taylor’s visible presence in the firm has had a positive impact on the firm’s relationships with clients.

“When clients come in, they are greeted by Kelly,” he said. “They comment on her attitude and feel a vicarious sense of pride to be associated with a business that employs people who have a disability. They know they are contributing to that.”

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