Shining a Light on Disabilities in the Workforce

By Emily McPhee, Special to Barry’s Bay This Week
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 3:13:59 EST PM

A recent presentation in Killaloe outlined the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities as Adam Lesco shared the knowledge and experience he has gained working at the Neil Squire Society in Pembroke.

The Neil Squire Society is a not-for-profit organization that empowers Canadians with disabilities. It offers Employ-Ability programs and workshops, as well as an Accessibility Outreach Program for businesses, which is aimed at raising awareness of accessibility issues and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workforce.

In his presentation at Killaloe Public School Jan. 16, Lesco, the society’s outreach co-ordinator, quizzed the group with a series of multiple-choice questions relating to this topic. The audience had to guess which of the statistics were correct – many of which were quite surprising.

Included in these statistics was the shocking fact that 1.5 million people in Ontario (15.5 per cent) are affected by some form of mental or physical disability, and one in seven Canadians are currently living with a disability – a number that is expected to rapidly increase due to the aging population.

Lesco also brought to the group’s attention the results of a 2012 Bank of Montreal study that discovered 56 per cent of small businesses have never hired an individual with a disability. Yet among the 44 per cent who have hired a person with a disability, 77 per cent of respondents indicated those workers met or exceeded their expectations.

In the second part of Lesco’s presentation he dispelled common myths and misconceptions regarding those with disabilities in the workforce. He said that the number one barrier is not the disability itself, but rather the “attitudinal barriers and misconceptions surrounding their disabilities.”

Employers often think that a person with a disability may not be able to keep pace with co-workers, but Lesco countered this saying, “Many studies have shown that persons with disabilities are reliable, loyal, hardworking and dedicated employees.”

He also said people erroneously believe individuals with disabilities are unable to perform physical tasks, but according to a 2006 Canadian Participation and Activity Limitation survey, only 11.5 per cent of disabilities are mobility-related.

The last part of Lesco’s presentation outlined the positive reasons why business owners should consider hiring an individual with a disability. Contrary to popular belief, he said that people with disabilities in Ontario actually have a higher percentage of people that have earned trades certificate (11 per cent) as opposed to the able-bodied population (9 per cent).

Lesco also pointed out that hiring someone with a disability can be cost efficient for a business. He said they are five times more likely to stay on the job, and that “longer-tenure leads to higher staff retention rates, which in turn leads to money saved from having to hire and train new employees.”

Lesco’s prime example was Mark Wafer who currently owns seven Tim Horton’s franchises in Ontario. As part of his business strategy, Wafer has employed 82 persons with both intellectual and physical disabilities over the past 16 years.

Since making this part of his business strategy, Wafer has found that his employee turnover rate has decreased to 35 per cent where the Tim Horton’s corporate average is 82 per cent. And overall Wafer reported lower absenteeism, higher staff morale, as well as an increase in productivity.

At the end of the presentation Lesco encouraged business owners to keep these benefits in mind and to consider hiring someone with a disability in the future.

It was Killaloe, Hagarty, Richards project and volunteer co-ordinator Maria Mayville who brought Lesco to the area. She says, “It is an important topic…and it has as much to do with how we look at the world than anything else.”

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