The Business Case for Hiring People with Physical Disabilities

As BC’s tourism and hospitality industry continues to grow – and as current labour shortages continue to impact a variety of businesses across the province – it’s important to consider tapping into non-traditional labour markets to help ensure the ongoing growth and success of the local tourism and hospitality industry. One skilled, educated and untapped labour market offering great opportunity and potential includes those with physical disabilities.

According to “Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector” and other studies cited within this report, there is already a strong business case for hiring people with physical disabilities:

  • Higher education – Of the nearly 800,000 working-aged Canadians who are not working, but whose disability does not prevent them from doing so, almost half have some kind of post-secondary education.
  • Job performance – Studies have shown that 90 per cent of people with disabilities rated average or better on job performance compared with other team members.
  • Attendance – People with disabilities often have better attendance records than their peers, resulting in overall increased productivity.
  • Retention – This group demonstrates great loyalty and commitment, helping to decrease turnover, lower recruitment and training costs, and improve corporate knowledge.
  • Skills – By opening up their hiring processes, employers can benefit from hiring top talent as well as those with specialized skills and training.

Many local organizations offer information and support to help employers take advantage of this under-utilized labour pool. In some instances, employers may need to make modifications to better accommodate people with disabilities. However, according to “Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector,” the average cost of making modifications amounts to $500 while, in some cases, no modifications may be needed at all.

The return on investment? “Immeasurable,” said Dr. Gary Birch, executive director of the Neil Squire Society, an organization that develops programs, services and assistive technology for people with physical disabilities.

“Any modifications that an employer might have to make are really a case-by-case basis,” Birch said. “At the end of the day, though, it’s really minimal considering what you’re getting: capable, committed and loyal employees who can help boost your productivity and improve your company’s bottom line.”

Modifications could be as simple as obtaining a larger screen, a different kind of mouse or shifting the work station so it’s a bit more accommodating. Many of these modifications are not nearly as expensive as one would think.

The Technology@Work program is another initiative that helps to remove disability barriers by providing assistive technology equipment, products and services to help support those with physical disabilities in the workforce.

“The Technology@Work program works to demystify the process of hiring and accommodating people with physical disabilities for employers by helping them assess and identify any modifications that may be needed, including alternative software, a larger monitor, a certain type of chair or any other barriers,” said Katrina Tilley, Occupational Therapist at the Neil Squire Society. “And by making a few modifications, employers can gain skilled employees who are dedicated and hardworking team members.”

Based on findings from previous research conducted by go2HR, when it comes to hiring people with physical disabilities, it is common for employers to focus more on what potential candidates can’t do rather than what they can do. Ultimately, persons with disabilities offer an untapped labour market rife with capable, educated, skilled and experienced people who bring value to employers in areas such as administration, marketing, information technology, management and various support positions.

One employer who has benefitted from hiring from this group is The Bench Market, an artisanal food market and restaurant in Penticton. In January 2014, The Bench Market welcomed Alex, who has some cognitive and physical challenges, to its diverse team.

“Alex started in the kitchen making many different items,” said Heather Glynes, business manager and owner at The Bench Market. “After a couple of months – at the suggestion of his support person – Alex’s role narrowed to a few main tasks that he could master, such as cookie dough portioning and preparing eggwiches – cutting buns, frying eggs, etc. – as well as bussing tables and washing dishes.”

Alex first started his stint at The Bench Market in his senior year of high school during a volunteer practicum. Through this program, he gained some significant work experience and skills – and made important connections – that would serve him well in the near future.

Nearly six months after graduation, and through the help of Alex’s support person, he landed a job at The Bench Market where he quickly became an important contributor to the restaurant’s bottom line and ongoing success. “We’ve found that the quality level and execution of Alex’s tasks are the same as any other staff member,” Glynes added. “Though he takes on fewer jobs during his shorter shifts.”

To take advantage of this labour market, focus on jobs that suit people with disabilities while, at the same time, being open to modifying, customizing or shifting certain responsibilities among various team members. The Bench Market has already put this suggestion into practice. Over time, Alex’s role has shifted to specific tasks in which he could be the most productive.

“We pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive workplace – and Alex is an important member of our team,” Glynes said. “We find that the team functions best when we have a good mix of staff with varying ages, backgrounds skills and interests. Our customers also appreciate the positive environment that a diverse team creates.”

For more information on tapping into this diverse and skilled group or details on the Technology@Work program, contact the Neil Squire Society at 604-473-9363, toll-free at 1-877-673-4636 or visit Neil Squire Society.