The Business Case for Inclusive Workplaces for Persons with Disabilities   Written by: Marcus Jamieson of TEAM Work Cooperative 


“We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”   Stevie Wonder


Marcus Jamieson, Client Service Coordinator and Career Practitioner at TEAM Work Cooperative.

More than ever, companies and organizations are focused on developing inclusive and diverse workforces to ensure growth. Unfortunately, persons with disabilities are often forgotten. This may be a surprise to some but according to the United Nations, there are over one billion people in the world living with a disability. Persons with a disability are also the one under-represented population within our workforce, crossing all cultures and groups, that we all can become a part of at any moment.


Even with these staggering facts, persons with disabilities participation in the workforce is not favorably reflected in our province’s employment statistics.  Unemployment rates in Nova Scotia for persons with disabilities are twice the number of those without disabilities – 16% vs 8.8%Also, the more severe the disability, the higher the unemployment rate.


But here’s the thing…


Hiring persons with disabilities is not just good for business, it’s great for business. Innovation and creativity are higher at workplaces that ensure diversity and inclusion.  Research also shows that inclusive workplaces lead to better morale, resulting in happier employees, which ultimately produces better business outcomes.


The cost to accommodate persons with disability is also quite minimal for employers. The Job Accommodation Network, in partnership with West Virginia University School of Social Work, conducted a US study of more than 2,300 employers between 2004 and 2017. The results of this study indicated that most employers report little to no cost for accommodating employees with disabilities. Of those accommodations that cost, employers reported the typical one-time expenditure was $500. When compared to what they would have paid for an employee without a disability in the same job position, the employers average one-time expenditure was $300.


Many businesses in Canada and right here in Nova Scotia can attest to the value of inclusive hiring for persons with disabilities. Businesses that have made it standard practice to hire persons with disabilities have seen firsthand the incredible benefits and the examples of this are plentiful.


Randy Lewis, former Walgreens executive, believed that people with disabilities could do more. He went on to pioneer a disability employment model in the Walgreens’ distribution centers that resulted in ten percent of its workforce, over 1000 in total, consisting of people with disabilities. The distribution centres that participated in this initiative quickly became the most efficient and profitable in all of the US.


In Canada, Mark Wafer, a Tim Hortons franchise owner who is also deaf and a vocal advocate for more inclusive employment in Canada, has hired over 90 persons with disabilities in his stores. Wafer states, “Myths and misconceptions about employing people with disabilities remain the greatest barrier to more inclusive workplaces”.


Walgreens and a large Tim Hortons franchisee have also claimed that hiring persons with disabilities has significantly reduced turnover. This is backed by statistics from a 2001 Statistics Canada survey (Deloitte) which shows staff retention was 72% higher among persons with disabilities.


For a more local example, Paul Keinick, the Manager of Cole Harbour Sobeys has made it a focus to hire persons with disabilities and because of the incredible success, other stores in Halifax are doing the same.


If persons with disabilities is one of the largest under-represented groups in the world, then it can be assumed they also account for a considerable chunk of businesses’ consumer population. Therefore, would it not be reasonable to expect employers’ staff to better reflect their customer base? Our population is becoming more diverse and companies’ workforces should mirror this if they want to better serve and understand their customers’ needs. This will also externally demonstrate that an organization values and embraces diversity.


In a study by the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (Deloitte), results indicated that more than 62% of Canadian CEOs say that a talent shortage is impacting business growth. As one of the largest untapped labour markets, persons with disabilities can play an important role in addressing Nova Scotia’s labour shortage and help businesses stay competitive.


So, if employers are in need of talent and persons with disabilities are eager for employment, then we must act now.  As Mark Wafer will tell you, “Enough talk, just do it!” This may seem blunt and a little simplistic but it’s true.  Now is the time to act and make a more inclusive future  today.