The Economic Case for the Inclusion of Workers

It's a business model that's helping put to rest a longstanding corporate stigma. The notion that hiring someone with a disability is more of a burden than an opportunity. That thinking is one of the biggest obstacles to the more than 800,000 disabled Canadians looking for work. 

These are some of the trailblazing companies and captains of industry fighting those stereotypes and seeing a huge return to their bottom line. 

Rich Donovan a Canadian businessman worked for a trader for Merrill Lynch for 10 years after he graduated from Columbia University.  He said at every job interview they would ask, "Can you physically do this job?" His answer was always the same: "I don't know, but we're going to find out." Donovan was offered every job he went for and says there was "never a time that I hit a barrier, largely because I was 10 steps ahead of what I needed to be". It is this attitude that has led him to identify a market worth $8 trillion and brimming with untapped talent: the disability market.

After he left the trading floor, Donovan set up the Return on Disability Group (ROD). The firm helps companies improve their products, customer experience and recruitment for disabled clients, as well as alerting investors to companies that target that market. Its mission is to "translate different into value".

Turning disability into profit?

Mark Wafer owns 7 Tim Hortons Franchises in the Greater Toronto area. Deaf from birth, Mark is more than just an advocate for people with disabilities. He understands the business advantages that his more than 40 employees bring to the bottom line. He puts his advocacy in his hiring policies.

When he first opened his first store, he noticed his existing staff could not keep up with the dishes, the tables, and the dining room. So he had a need. He put an ad on the door saying: Dining room attendant needed.  And in walked a young man with down syndrome.  After two weeks on the job, Mark realized that he was his best employee. 

Myths and Misconceptions of hiring someone with a disability

Myth #1: The person will take more time off.

In 2011, none of Mark's employees with disabilities missed a single day of work. Workers with disabilities also tend to stay longer on the job. A US Chamber of Commerce study revealed that workers with disabilities had an 80 per cent lower turnover rate.

Myth #2: Productivity will be low. 

A Louis Harris and Associates survey of 920 American employers revealed that employees with disabilities have about the same productivity levels as employees without disabilities. Some 90% were rated as average or above average in performance of job duties. Nearly 80% of the managers also said that their employees with a disability work as hard as or harder than their employees without a disability. An Australian study found similar results.

Myth #3: People with disabilities are more likely to have accidents.

A study by DuPont found that people with disabilities actually have a lower risk of injury at work. The US Department of Labor also found through four national studies that people with disabilities experience fewer disabling injuries than the average employee exposed to the same hazards. More than 40% of the employees in Walgreens’ Connecticut and South Carolina distribution centres have disabilities, but these two centres have 40% fewer safety incidents than their other locations. Despite employing more than 80 people with disabilities over 18 years, Tim Hortons franchisee Megleen Inc. is yet to file an insurance claim for a work-related injury for one of its employees who have a disability. Source: Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector

Myth #4: What if it does not work out? I can't fire them?

Employing a person with a disability is the same as any other worker. You must establish clear performance expectations from the start. If they are unable or unwilling to do the job, you can discipline or terminate their employment. There are no special laws that prevent you from disciplining or terminating an employee who is unable or unwilling to do their job. 

Myth #5: They will always need help. 

People with disabilities are more independent than you might think. They have learned to live their lives and complete a myriad of daily tasks despite any challenges they may have. Have a frank discussion with your current or potential employee about the job requirements and if they would like or need any assistance to complete them.

Myth #6: People with disabilities don’t have the skills or education that I need

The majority of people with disabilities have a high school diploma. In fact over half have some post-secondary education, and more than one in three have a post-secondary diploma

Myth #7: Accommodating workers with disabilities costs too much. In reality and with proper planning and knowledge, most job accommodations are simple and inexpensive. According to the Job Accommodation Network Canada, 80% of accommodations cost less than $500. In addition, the 1991 Health and Activity Limitations Survey (HALS) found that fewer than 30,000, or 4% of the 890,000 working Canadians with disabilities required accessible washrooms, ramps or other building modifications. There are government programs which can defer some or all of the cost of the accommodation. 

It is about shifting from this is the "Right" thing to do to this makes business sense. Hiring people with disability is simply good for everyone!