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Rethinking disability employment relationships

by Municipal World
October, 2017

Mark Wafer recently addressed the importance and benefits of an inclusive workplace at the Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association 2017 Fall Workshop

Fifteen percent of Canada’s population is disabled. This number may not sound too alarming to employers; however, 53 percent of the entire Canadian population are directly impacted by disability. That is a number that employers simply cannot afford to ignore when deciding on inclusivity in the workplace.

Disability rights advocate Mark Wafer spoke at the Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association’s 2017 Fall Workshop recently, addressing the importance and benefits of an inclusive workplace. Wafer presented the numerous businesses advantages to be gained by hiring those with a disability, as well as multiple success stories from his inclusive Tim Hortons franchises.

Economic Benefits

The fast food industry has an extremely high turnover rate: 125 percent annually, to be exact. Wafer noted that his cost of hiring a new employee is $4,000. This includes weeks of training, a new uniform, and slower production rates. The people with disabilities employed across his six locations have a zero percent turnover rate, Wafer said. Financially, it makes sense, potentially saving employers thousands of dollars on hiring new employees.

Disabled employees typically work more safely than the abled, as they have lived life differently than others. In 25 years of employing people with disabilities, Wafer said he has filed zero WSIB reports. In addition, because the disabled live differently, they bring a diversity of perspective and problem-solving skills to the workplace, contributing to greater innovation.

Within Canada’s disabled population, 500,000 have graduated from high school and 270,000 have graduated from post-secondary school. Hiring these graduates would greatly impact the Canadian economy; hiring just 5,000 disabled people, would result in a $78 million decrease in financial assistance costs. Those 5,000 people would be hard working, contributing citizens, with a high sense of purpose. Additionally, this would free up money to be used for other social programs, infrastructure, and more.

Success Stories

Twenty-five years ago, Wafer hired his first disabled employee. Clint was a young man right out of high school who had Down Syndrome, but was eager to get a job. An ambassador of the brand and what excellent service stands for, Clint quickly became a welcoming face to all those that enter the café and boosted employee morale. Clint has gone on to speak with families that have disabled children, the press, and even the government to advocate for those with a disability. Clint still works at Tim Hortons today.

A young man with autism was another one of Wafer’s hires, this employee was shy and minimally verbal, but was a hard worker and presented himself in uniform to military standard. He arrived every day with an ironed and pressed uniform, hair completely covered in a net, and name badge perfectly straight. This young man began to set the high standard of a polished and clean look for all other employees to adhere to. Soon after receiving praise, others began to follow suit, looking their finest at work.

Wafer went on to another success story of how a woman with a hearing disability heightened the baking productivity standards. After some time working the front counter putting orders together, she asked to work in the kitchen as a baker. The work of a baker required hearing a buzzer sound when the food was done in the oven; management believed that, since she could not hear, this was a problem. But, Bridgita focused instead on the visual clock and not the loud buzzer; and, after some time in her new position, she not only exceeded productivity, but set the new standard for bakers. Higher productivity rates also meant more money and efficiency for the restaurant, said Wafer.

Unfortunately, there are many widely-held misperceptions about those with disabilities. However, as Wafer’s stories illustrate, society and workplaces would greatly benefit from a shift in perspective. MW

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