The untapped power of hiring workers with disabilities

Companies often overlook persons with disabilities when hiring, but evidence shows that could be a mistake. Not only do workers with disabilities have a proven record of success and loyalty, they have money to spend.

One study showed that workers who have disabilities were five times more likely to stay on the job

Twelve members of the Disability Advisory Committee, appointed in 2017 to provide Canada Revenue Agency with advice, recommended changes to Canada Disability Tax Credit. (Shutterstock)

Companies want to hire candidates that will excel in their jobs and stay with the organization for the long term. But there is one group of individuals, with a proven record of success and loyalty, which are often overlooked by hiring managers.

Rich Donovan is a former Wall Street trader living with cerebral palsy. He doesn't like terms like "token hire," "charity effort," and "compliance initiative."

"You are talking about 24.5 per cent of the population having a disability," said Donavan. "And in today's market, when we are always hungry for growth, by ignoring that market you are ignoring a huge opportunity to grow."

Disabled population controls $55.4B in disposable income

Donovan is the founder and CEO of the Return on Disability Group. They manage a tool that helps measure the impact of the disabled workforce.

He has spent his life dedicated to promoting a workforce that employs more employees with disabilities and attracts more customers with disabilities . Not because they should, but because it makes companies money.

Rich Donovan is CEO of the Return on Disability Group and is an expert on disability and corporate profitability. (Rich Donovan/LinkedIn)

"We tell our clients, 'You want to do this to benefit your shareholders,'" said Donovan.

In his book, Unleash Different: Achieving Business Success Through Disability, Donovan writes that there are more than six million Canadians who identify as having a disability. He says that group controls $55.4 billion in disposable income. And globally, he says the population of persons with a disability is 1.3 billion. A community the same size as China.

He calls it the world's largest emerging market, with billions of dollars of untapped potential.

"We want businesses to understand how including people with disabilities can be beneficial to the company's bottom line or their top line. That it would help enhance their profitability, rather than looking at this as an act of charity."

Attitudes are changing

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Throughout the month, the federal government is encouraging employers to think about how they can make their business practices more inclusive and accessible for Canadians with all abilities.

Joe Dale is the executive director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network, which works with businesses to educate them about the disability demographics and what that looks like in the marketplace. He also works to connect skilled workers with disabilities with firms looking to hire.

Joe Dale is the executive director of Ontario Disability Employment Network a professional body of employment service providers united to increase employment opportunities for people who have a disability. (Joe Dale/LinkedIn)

Still, he cautions against putting all  persons with a disability on a pedestal. He says, like any other group, not everyone is perfect. But he admits there is data that proves workers with disabilities have lower rates of absenteeism and are more loyal.

"The Pizza Hut/Taco Bell study showed that workers who have disabilities were five times more likely to stay on the job than their non-disabled cohort," said Dale. "And we've seen that play out in a number of industries where we've worked with businesses, whether it's in manufacturing or retail or all types of industries."

Donovan says attitudes are changing and he now hears companies talk about how workers with disabilities improve customer satisfaction, increase market share and drive value.

Major companies, like Google, PepsiCo, TD Bank and Nordstrom, are already setting the trend. And the success of these companies is further proof that hiring a person with a disability makes good business sense.


Rubina Ahmed-Haq

Business columnist

Rubina is a business columnist who has been covering money matters for more than 10 years. Her career began 20 years ago as a news reporter. After a decade on the news beat she realized her passion was discussing personal finance issues. Now, she weighs in on money and workplace matters on CBC Radio, CBC TV and CBC News Network. Her goal is to get Canadians to take control of their personal finances on their own. Follow her on Twitter @RubinaAhmedHaq


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