People with disabilities a labour solution

Association challenges firms to ignore myths, increase hiring of untapped resource

To survive and thrive in a time of skilled labour shortages, employers need to tap into all available pools of talent, including people with disabilities, according to the vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) Ontario.

“We’re going through a time when there’s a lot of shortages in certain skill sets and there will be a huge exodus from the workforce over the next 10 years,” said Ian Howcroft. “We’re going to have to look to non-traditional sources of workers, including persons with disabilities, internationally trained workers, Aboriginal persons to meet the needs of future employers and businesses.”

People with disabilities are a largely untapped source of labour, especially in the manufacturing sector where they only made up 1.7 per cent of the full-time workforce in federally regulated jobs from 2001 to 2005, despite making up about 10 per cent of the working-age population, according to Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

Last March, Howcroft issued a challenge for all Ontario employers that 10 per cent of new hires be people with disabilities by the year 2020.

To help Ontario employers meet that goal, the CME, a trade and industry association with offices in Ottawa and Mississauga, Ont., launched the Employers Take Action initiative. As part of the initiative, a new website ( will serve as a bridge between employers looking to hire people with disabilities and the agencies that work with them.

“What we’re trying to do is create more linkages, to create more communications between the employer community and the associations and organizations that are dealing with and assisting persons with disabilities,” said Howcroft.

In addition to a job board, the website also provides employers with information on accommodation and accessibility supports and checklists.

Employers that join the initiative will be able to share best practices, join mentorship programs and take part in events and networking opportunities.

“What we want to do is try and bring organizations together to share information, to share what they’re doing and hopefully create some synergy that hasn’t otherwise existed,” said Howcroft. “And, ultimately, involve more people with disabilities entering the world of work.”

Maureen Shaw, president of the Mississauga-based Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) and member of the initiative’s steering committee, agrees more needs to be done to get organizations to hire people with disabilities — even in her own organization.

“We don’t have a lot of people with obvious physical disabilities. We have not deliberately gone out and sought the opportunity to provide internship opportunities or to hire people with disabilities,” she said. “It is an area that we will be really striving to walk the talk on.”

As a partner in the Business Takes Action initiative, IAPA has many resources and tools at its disposal to help employers develop health and safety programs that take into account the special needs of employees with disabilities.

“Employing people with disabilities is much more than ensuring you have a ramp and accessible washrooms,” she said.

Accommodation by the numbers

Putting a price tag on accommodation at work

One barrier to employment faced by people with disabilities is the myth that accommodation is expensive. From Disabilities to Possibilities. A Guide to Hiring, Training and Retaining Persons with Disabilities from Link-up Employment Services, a Toronto-based ¬national employment agency for people with disabilities, shows ¬otherwise.

•56 per cent of accommodations cost $500 or less;

•28 per cent of accommodations cost $501 to $1,000;

•16 per cent of accommodations cost $1,001 to $4,999; and

•0.2 per cent of accommodations cost more than $5,000.

(Percentages add up to more than 100 because of rounding.)

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