Take quick action to allow the disabled to work and thrive
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Employers say that disabled workers improve their bottom line through lower absenteeism and job retention.
Feb 10 2014. Editorial
Mark Wafer travels the world giving corporate leaders his business case for hiring disabled workers — and he’s attracting a receptive audience. Increasingly, business sees the value they bring to the workplace.
But here in Ontario, home to Wafer’s seven Tim Hortons franchises, government policies still actively hinder the economic and emotional growth of disabled residents. It doesn’t have to be this way.
While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government still needs to develop an overarching strategy for the long-term housing and care of the disabled in a province where many people have varying degrees of disability, there’s no reason why some employment barriers at least can’t be quickly stripped away.
Consider Wafer, a man who understands disabilities. He’s deaf. With a small empire of Tims restaurants in Scarborough, he’s been hiring the disabled for years. Some are intellectually challenged, with Downs syndrome. Others have severe autism, or Tourette’s syndrome. Some just need a wheelchair.
As he says of his employees, “We tend to put limits on people with intellectual disabilities but we really don’t know what their limits are until we get them into the workplace.” What he discovered, over the years, is both inspiring and maddening. Some of those intellectually challenged workers turn out to be his best employees.
Individually, they blossom, taking on responsibilities their families had never imagined. Collectively, they’ve enabled Wafer to achieve an increase in productivity, a drop in absenteeism and a relatively low turnover rate of 40 percent, half of Ontario’s fast food average of 75 to 90 per cent. Since it costs some $4,000 to advertise for, hire and train each new staff member, the savings are notable. As Wafer says, that’s good business.
But perversely, some Ontario government policies serve to block people with disabilities from entering the workforce. That’s wrong. And the Wynne government has something to learn by listening to advocates like Wafer, or Joe Dale of the Ontario Disabilities Employment Network, who have ideas for getting people off social assistance and helping them join the workforce.
For example, parents often don’t want their working-age child to give up the security of a rare and coveted spot in a daytime enrichment program for a job that may or may not pan out. That might force their child back to the bottom of a long waiting list for programs and services. As Dale says, the province should allow for a “rapid reinstatement” of services. Mitigating the risk of taking a job would encourage more people to try working. If Wafer’s experience rings true many will succeed, freeing up space in day programs for others.
Some need the expensive drug coverage they only receive under the Ontario Disability Support Program, for those on social assistance. There should be some provision to provide essential coverage for the disabled who are working.
There’s more that can be done. As Progressive Conservative deputy leader Christine Elliott notes, tweaking the education system could bring rewards. Creating disability-friendly training programs in community colleges, for example, could open doors to jobs.
“Many families liken the end of high school to ‘falling off a cliff’ because their children have no supports, either vocational or recreational, to turn to after age 21. They end up watching TV in their parents’ home,” Elliott says.
Moreover success in the workplace needn’t require big spending. It can be as simple as training that is tailored to a person’s disability. Or giving workers with poor eyesight larger computer screens. Nobody is advocating big provincial subsidies to spur hiring.
As Wafer says, “This is not charity. Of the 92 people I’ve hired with a disability, every single one of those was meaningful with competitive pay.”
That’s just the point. Whether a physically disabled worker is earning a hefty paycheque in say, the technology industry, or an intellectually challenged worker is making basic wages in a restaurant, they’ve built their own success.
This is one area where the Wynne government shouldn’t have to strike yet another panel for discussion and debate. Some of the solutions seem obvious. What’s needed are a few basic changes to help people to thrive.
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