Inclusive workplaces are the way forward

There is a need for workplaces to be more inclusive for people with disabilities.

This message was delivered loud and clear at a breakfast meeting held at the Abilities Centre in partnership with the Whitby Chamber of Commerce Feb. 7.

The audience of about 80 included Whitby Deputy Mayor Derrick Gleed, Whitby-Oshawa MPP Lorne Coe, representatives from Durham College as well as other community groups and parents.

“The biggest barrier a person with a disability faces is attitude, the attitude of employers and the attitude of society,” said guest speaker, Mark Wafer, president of Megleen Treadstone and owner of seven Tim Hortons franchises in Scarborough.

Wafer said 15 per cent of Whitby residents have a disability, that’s more than 18,000 people.  He said according to Statistics Canada, more than 50 percent of those are not working. But, he said the actual number was probably closer to 70 per cent as the government data did not consider the half-million recent Canadian graduates with a disability who have not yet worked, and therefore do not appear on any unemployment numbers.

Wafer said employers, managers and HR departments have a misconception of people with disabilities. That is, they stereotype them as being slow, less productive, less safe and need expensive accommodations.

“When we talk to employers and show them how inclusion enhances the bottom line, it makes a big difference.”

Wafer, who is deaf, said he has employed 150 people with disabilities in his businesses over the last 22 years in every department, including management.  He said currently 46 out of the 250 employees who work for him have a disability.

Wafer said the absenteeism rate among his staff with disabilities is 85 per cent lower than the 200 others without a disability.

“Those of you in business will understand there is a dollar value attached to that,” he said.  The businessman went on to present the case for hiring employees with disabilities.

He has a higher safety rating, and has never filled out a Workers’ Compensation form.  He has higher productivity and less employee turnover.

“Replacing employees is very expensive,” said Wafer. “For me to replace an entry-level position is $4,000.”

He said his employee turnover rate in the last 10-years is less than 40 per cent.  He compared this to the turnover of the Tim Hortons across the street from one of his stores, whose turnover is 100 per cent.

“Who’s making more money? I am,” he said.

Wafer went on to present the economic case for inclusion by illustrating how he continually outperforms his franchisees.  But he said what he wants to do is change the way society looks at disabled people.

“What we are trying to do is look at people with disabilities as contributors to business, contributors to society,” said Wafer.  “It changes their lives.”

Joining Wafer on the stage was keynote speaker, John Draper who is a Durham College graduate from the journalism program.  Draper is founder of ‘Together We Rock!’ an organization with a mission to inspire learning and leadership to create accessible and inclusive communities.

Presenting from his wheelchair, with the help of a pre-recorded PowerPoint, Draper described his path to achievement by overcoming the challenges, and dispelling the myths of his cerebral palsy condition to those around him at school and in the workplace.

“Everyday we have the extraordinary opportunity to create inclusive workplaces that contribute to the success of our business, workplaces and corporations,” said Draper.

Catie Bruner is a supervisor for Employment Works Canada, an organization which runs programs for adults with autism.

“It’s reinforced everything I agree with,” said Bruner. “I truly believe it is an overlooked population that deserves a chance.  I think it’s really important to keep having things like this, because the more people that come, not only will it change their minds, but they will go out and try and change someone else’s mind, and that’s how you’re going to make social change.”

Another interested audience member, Mary Neilans, works for Accessible Advantage.

“I got a lot more resources and research information,” said Neilans.

“A lot is to do with bias or attitude, or just lack of awareness about what it means to reach out to people with disabilities, to employ people with disabilities, or work with people with disabilities. I think a big part of that is just being an advocate to communicate.”

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