Disability Inclusion in the Workplace: 8 Tips to Access a Talent Pool High on Engagement


In this age of low unemployment rates and high demand for qualified employees, transformational change leader Mark Wafer suggests organizations cast wider diversity and inclusion nets.

“Not only is hiring people with disabilities the right thing to do,” says Wafer. “It can have a dramatic effect on a business’s bottom line. In bringing them into the workplace you’re getting a more loyal employee, you’re getting a person that will stay with you longer, you’re getting a person who is more innovative, more productive…” And more engaged.

According to a 2017 Sodexo report, for the 57 million Americans living with disabilities, the largest barrier to quality of life is finding employment. There are 30 million Americans with disabilities of working age but only 20% of them participate in the workforce. Conversely, the unemployment rate for people without a disability was 4.6% in 2016 and 4.1% at the close of 2017.

Owner/operator of six Tim Hortons restaurants in the greater Toronto area, Wafer was an inclusive employer from day one. Over 22 years of operation he hired people with all types of disabilities including deaf, blind, physical, mental health, learning, intellectual, and episodic. Some 200 people with disabilities filled meaningful and competitively paid positions in all areas of the business, from entry-level to logistics, production and management

“As we grew we realized workers with disabilities were never late or sick, required no supervision, worked in a safer manner and never quit. Their turnover was basically zero.  I was beginning to see that there was a business case for employing people with disabilities, they were more productive, more innovative.”

Wafer also found his non-disabled employees defied industry average turnover rates by 45%. Given that more than half of the Canadian population either have or know someone close to them with a disability, Wafer believes there’s an engaging appreciation that comes with being part of an inclusive environment.

People like Stephen Hawking and Temple Grandin, though exemplary to the extreme, depict the capabilities of people with disabilities. Add in tax credits, government incentives, loads of other funding avenues and the impact this kind of inclusiveness has on employee engagement, there’s every reason to join disability-friendly companies the likes of Microsoft, Deloitte, Delta Airlines and Neilsen.

Kyle Rawn, a Senior Consultant with Accessibility Professionals of Ontario says when people with disabilities show up for a job interview companies see dollar signs. As a person who is blind, he knows of what he speaks. “People don’t know what’s required to address barriers. How is the individual going to see the computer screen? Access the info they need to do the job? Is the organization going to need to buy a special computer? Special software?

“I use a regular computer with assistive technology. JAWS (job access with speech) has a one-time fee, but if you go through proper channels, there’s no cost.”

Accessibility and disability inclusion in the workplace is more than ramps and elevators, beeping crosswalks and assistive technology that reads stuff on computer screens out loud. It’s about welcoming people with disabilities into the workforce and reaping a level of employee engagement second to none. Rawn offers these eight tips to help your organization tap into a talent market ripe for picking.

Hard Copy Recruiting

  1. Have you experienced a situation where dim mood lighting, small print, or the fact you simply forgot your glasses in the car make it hard or impossible to read? Or, you attempt to book an online reservation only to discover the page is convoluted and difficult to navigate? These are things that can affect everyone, not just people with disabilities. Toss in a visual or cognitive disability though, and the challenge increases big-time.
  2. Accessible material is easy to produce and doesn’t have to sacrifice aesthetics. When creating material, see if you can read all the information in dim light. If you wear glasses normally, take them off and try.
  3. Increase font size slightly and enhance the contrast between the print and background.
  4. Stick to a clear typeface.

Online Recruiting

  1. Potential recruits almost always scope out a place online before applying. It helps them decide where to focus their job search efforts, and understand what to expect when they decide to express interest in your organization.
  2. There are a set of global criteria which have been designed to make digital content available to computer users of all abilities. Whoever is responsible for creating and maintaining your operation’s website should definitely be aware of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
    • Talk to your IT team.
    • Make sure this knowledge is part of your acquisition process when hiring any web developer or digital content producer.
    • A lot of web designers don’t know about those standards or try to address them after the site has been built; accessibility is an afterthought instead of being a part of the design phase.
    • The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and information related to accessible digital content can be found at w3c.org
    • The basics are that it needs to be text-based, use proper headings and clearly state all information.
    • Sites like LinkedIn can be cumbersome. A lot of drop down tabs, moving parts and sliders can be tricky to use.
    • Job boards are typically fairly good with accessibility because everything is text-based, it’s workable for people who have limited keyboard capabilities
    • A simple text-based HTML alternative is much more user-friendly. You can have a tab at the top of the page that says click here for basic HTML version. It’s something companies don’t think of often and is very inexpensive to do.

Onsite Interviews & Service Animals

  1. The service animal landscape is changing. Miniature horses are becoming more and more popular in North America as guides for the blind; monkeys can perform many tasks for a person with a mobility disability and some find snakes to be very soothing and calming when dealing with a mood or anxiety disorder.
    • When a candidate arrives for an interview don’t be afraid to ask (if it’s not readily apparent) if the animal is a working animal.
    • Organizations are within their right to deny permission to an animal if the handler can’t produce the proper documentation, or if the animal is displaying inappropriate behavior while on the premises.

Agency Assistance

  1. Broaden your talent pool by reaching out to agencies representing people with disabilities.
    • Both general and specialized groups are prepared to introduce you to qualified candidates, capable, keen and ready to work.
    • These same organizations can also point you in the direction of funding avenues for workplace and technology accessibility upgrades.

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