Missed opportunity: small businesses failing to hire disabled workers

Missed opportunity: small businesses failing to hire disabled workers

Missed opportunity: small businesses failing to hire disabled workers

Skills gap, talent shortage, aging workforce – the future of recruiting doesn’t look so bright. But it seems Canada has a big untapped talent pool.

Less than half of small business owners have ever hired someone with a disability, according to a new BMO survey, and that part of the population could be key to helping Canada overcome the talent shortages.

The advantages of hiring disabled workers go far beyond filling skills gaps, Disability Awareness Consultants president Lauri Sue Robertson said. Her Toronto-based organization works with companies to coach them in working with people with disabilities. All her trainers have disabilities, including physical, vision, speech and learning.

“I think the biggest issue is fear,” Robertson said. “People are afraid something embarrassing might happen, that they might say or do the wrong thing. They feel that we might make unreasonable demands and that the accommodations we need will be awkward, expensive and difficult to maintain.”

See also: Disability employment: community, business and government must work together

Getting more people into employment will also help reduce the burden on taxpayers that will increase as the baby boomers retire. Getting more people into the workplace and off government assistance means they are helping fund the province and country, rather than just receiving.

While stereotypes persist of people on disability benefits being lazy or unmotivated, the fact is that the majority would like to work if they could but the stigma, ignorance and prejudices they face daily holds them back, Robertson said.

The BMO survey showed that three-quarters (77%) of small business owners who have hired people with a disability said these employees either met (62%) or exceeded (15%) their expectations. Other studies have shown disabled workers to be more loyal and productive.

See also: Opinion: “Employers are afraid to recruit people with disabilities”

“Many of Canada’s most successful and fastest-growing companies are innovation-focused and depend on the diversity of their employees’ skills and knowledge to both develop new products and services and improve their productivity,” BMO SVP of commercial banking Steve Murphy said. “People with disabilities are a vastly untapped pool of talent and can be a tremendous resource for those companies who are serious about innovation and growth.”

Robertson suggests asking disabled applicants first what accommodations they require for an interview, and don’t assume they’re in a wheelchair – there are all kinds of disabilities. Sometimes applicants will need accommodations for an interview that they wouldn’t require full time, such as an interpreter for deaf applicants.

A study from 2005 showed that the average accommodation cost to a Canadian employer was a one-off $500 spend. What’s more, some organizations and government agencies offer grants for this kind of work.


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