Employers miss out on talent by overlooking workers living with disabilities

July 26, 2019

by Silvia Bonaccio, The Conversation

Economic benefits of workplace diversity has not yet demonstrably boosted opportunities for the 20 per cent of working-age Canadians who live with a disability. Credit: Shutterstock

Businesses increasingly see diversity in the workplace as positive for their operations, according to a Conference Board of Canada survey of Canadian organizations.

But according to the same report, while there is a recognition that diversity drives innovation and gives businesses an edge over competitors, people living with disabilities are the most underrepresented employment equity group in Canadian workplaces.

The economic benefits of workplace diversity hasn’t demonstrably boosted opportunities for the 20 percent of working-age Canadians who live with a disability. According to Statistics Canada, people living with disabilities report challenges finding work and accessing opportunities for career growth.

Researchers know that a main reason for lower employment participation rates of people with disabilities is that employers often have prohibitive concerns and pessimistic ideas about hiring people with disabilities —such as the view that it will be expensive or candidates with disabilities aren’t qualified.

But research I have conducted as part of the Canadian Disability Participation Project debunks such ideas. With Catherine E. Connelly (McMaster University), Ian R. Gellatly (University of Alberta), Arif Jetha (Institute for Work and Health) and Kathleen A. Martin Ginis (University of British Columbia) I found that many of the most common employer concerns about hiring people with disabilities are unfounded.

Low-cost accommodations

A main concern frequently voiced by employers is the belief that accommodations are necessarily expensive.

In reality, accommodations actually cost much less than managers expect.

For example, the Job Accommodation Network has tracked accommodation costs recommended to client organizations over the past 15 years. They find that the majority of accommodations are cost-free. When an accommodation costs anything, the typical one-time cost is under $500.

Although these figures are from the United States, they are relevant to the Canadian context. The most common accommodation requested by Canadian workers is modified hours. Flexibility in scheduling and the ways in which employees perform their jobs gives them the autonomy to thrive in their work. Such accommodations don’t require spending any extra money.

Flexible work arrangements have long been used to help employees balance work and personal needs. For example, people who train for competitive sports or parents of young children and often make use of flexible work schedules. The cost to implement flexible work doesn’t change depending on who requests it.

Indeed, research finds that whether accommodations assist employees living with or without disabilities, their reported costs and benefits are similar.

Employers should note that they offer work adjustments to a variety of employees. This change in mindset would go a long way in removing the stigma around accommodations.

Flexible work arrangements have long been used to help employees balance work and personal needs – for everyone from parents to high-performance athletes. Credit: Shutterstock

Talented employees

Employers may often also assume that job applicants with disabilities are unqualified. In part, this prejudice comes from the word “disability,” which many say stresses a lack of ability.

In an employment context, all workers are hired based on their skills and abilities to perform tasks required by the job. Data collected by Statistics Canada indicates that employers can be confident in the abilities and training of these job applicants. Yet it’s estimated that close to 645,000 Canadians living with disabilities are currently unemployed despite their potential to work.

Employers also worry that workers living with disabilities will be poor performers. Because of this concern, employers are missing out on talented employees.

For example, one study looked at the productivity of workers in distribution centers. Some of these workers lived with disabilities and some didn’t. In most centers, employees had similar levels of productivity and when there were differences, employees living with disabilities were often more productive.

Many employees also do well in jobs where the duties exceed what may typically be expected for someone with a particular disability. For example, one study shows that people living with spinal cord injury were performing jobs with considerable physical demands.

Invisible disabilities

Some employer concerns persist in part because employers do not realize how many of their current employees live with a disability.

Disabilities such as arthritis or mental illness are invisible. As a result, employers may be unaware that some of their best employees live with a disability.

Disclosing a disability at work is a personal decision. Many employees prefer to keep their disability private unless they need an accommodation. Sometimes, when the work climate is seen as unsupportive, employees might even avoid requesting accommodations.

Untapped talent

As the Canadian labour pool continues to shrink due to an ageing workforce, workplaces will need to search for talent. People living with disabilities represent a major underutilized source of talent.

Employers can ensure the full participation of people with disabilities by partnering with groups that support inclusive employment. This strategy has proven to be effective, especially with people who are newly entering the workforce.

Organizations seeking a competitive edge in their industry should consider engaging people living with disabilities. Businesses or workplaces that hire inclusively are more profitable. The bottom line is that hiring people with disabilities is good for business.

Concrete paths promote independence at Heartland Forest

Niagara Falls nature haven unveils new fully accessible areas

NEWS Jul 26, 2019 by Paul Forsyth  Niagara This Week


At the opening of the new accessible pathways at Heartland Forest on Thursday were, in front: receptionist Renata Gawel and Anastasia Krowchuk. Back from left: Heartland board chair Doug Kane, city Coun. Mike Strange, MPP Wayne Gates, Heartland board member Steven Murphy, Canadian Tire Montrose Road store owner Paul Medeiros, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities regional manager Harry Bell, Janet Krowchuk, Heartland founder Dan Bouwman, Jumpstart specialist Maggie Aziz, regional Coun. Barbara Greenwood and Heartland executive director Elisabeth Graham. – Paul Forsyth , Torstar


Anastasia Krowchuk and her mom Janet of Chippawa are shown at Heartland Forest on Thursday, when new accessible concrete pathways were unveiled. Anastasia, who was paralyzed at age seven from a virus, has enjoyed the nature haven for years. – Paul Forsyth , Torstar


Heartland Forest executive director Elisabeth Graham and founder Dan Bouwman applaud at the opening of the new accessible pathways at Heartland Forest on Thursday. – Paul Forsyth , Torstar


At the opening of the new accessible pathways at Heartland Forest on Thursday were, in front: Anastasia Krowchuk, receptionist Renata Gawel and Heartland executive director Elisabeth Graham. Back from left: Heartland founder Dan Bouwman, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities regional manager Harry Bell, Janet Krowchuk, regional Coun. Barbara Greenwood, Heartland board chair Doug Kane, Jumpstart specialist Maggie Aziz. – Paul Forsyth , Torstar

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Brianna DiDomenico stands on newly poured concrete has made the paths at Heartland Forest more accessible. In addition to the concrete, the playground was re-built with mulch that is easier to push a wheelchair over making the playground more accessible as well. There is still a small part of the playground that needs to be added to increase the accessibilty but that will be done soon. Photo taken on Friday. – Julie Jocsak , Torstar


New concrete has made paths at Heartland Forest more accessible. In addition to the concrete, the playground was re-built with mulch that is easier to push a wheelchair over making the playground more accessible as well. – Julie Jocsak , Torstar

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Heartland Forest has given so much to Anastasia Krowchuk that she thought it was important to give back.

She has to admit, though, that she had a vested interest in penning a letter, along with her mom Janet, in support of a grant submission from Heartland to Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities.

Anastasia, who was left paralyzed at age seven by a virus, needs a wheelchair to get around, and the pathways connecting various site pavilions throughout the outdoor centre at Heartland had pebbles that required someone to push her to get around.

With the personal story from Anastasia and her mom, Heartland was successful in landing a $48,000 grant from Jumpstart Charities to have new concrete pathways connecting the pavilions installed.

For Anastasia, now 18, it’s about feeling empowered.

“It helps me to get around,” she said. “I can do it on my own. I can have independence.”

Anastasia and her mom, whose Chippawa family also supports Heartland Forest financially, joined dignitaries and Heartland founder Dan Bouwman at the accessible nature haven on Thursday to give community recognition to the Jumpstart donation’s impact.

In announcing the successful bid by Heartland in May, Jumpstart Charities president Scott Fraser said his organization was sold by Bouwman’s philosophy of making nature accessible to all, regardless of their mobility.

“We are proud to support Heartland Forest’s pursuit of making their recreation programming even more accessible to kids of all abilities,” he said.

Janet Krowchuk said Heartland has played a central role in the life of her daughter since she became paralyzed. Anastasia spends weeks at camp there every year, enjoys accessible swings and merry-go-round, and striking up friendships. She also likes the Wednesday water fights with wet sponges.

“She can go through the forest and see the animals,” said Janet. “There’s not many places where we can walk through a forest.”

Heartland executive director Elisabeth Graham told Anastasia she epitomizes what Heartland is all about.

“You are our motivation for everything that happens here,” she said.

Heartland receptionist Renata Gawel, who also uses a wheelchair, said it’s a pleasure to come to work and see the impact the haven has on people like Anastasia. “She just lights up,” she said.

Bouwman said it’s the army of volunteers, donors and sponsors who make Heartland possible. “It’s all about making a difference and caring for others,” he said.

Now kids in wheelchairs will be able to get around between the pavilions on their own, said Bouwman.

“To see the look on their faces,” he said. “They’re part of the group: they’re part of the other kids.

“It’s such a difference in their lives now that they can get out without struggling.”

Harry Bell, Jumpstart regional manager, said in an interview that Heartland has a positive impact on so many young people, including those with disabilities.

“They’re still evolving and growing,” he said. “For us to be part of that process is great. It’s very important.”

Heartland Forest has interactive programs such as environmental education and inclusive adventure camps; adaptable fitness and sports activities for children, adults and seniors; brain injury rehabilitation; and more. It services tens of thousands of people a year.

Jumpstart accessibility grants help with the costs of construction and renovations to improve physical accessibility to — and inclusivity in — recreation facilities.

by Paul Forsyth

Paul Forsyth is a veteran of more than 30 years of community journalism who covers a wide range of issues in Niagara Falls and other parts of south Niagara, as well as topics of regional significance in Niagara.

Email: pforsyth@niagarathisweek.comFacebookTwitter