Hiring employees with disabilities is good for business, Mark Wafer told a crowd gathered Wednesday at the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Access Employment Day luncheon.
The owner of six Tim Hortons locations in Toronto, Wafer has hired 85 people with disabilities in all positions, including management, over the past 18 years.
Wafer, who was born partially deaf, told a group gathered at the Brantford Golf and Country Club that Tim Hortons outlets in the GTA have an annual turnover rate of 75%. His operations have a rate of 35%.
In 2011, the 36 disabled people he employs didn’t miss a single day of work.
“I hear all the time when I talk to employers that they can’t hire people with disabilities because they take more time off, they work slower and are less safe. My operation proves these are all myths.”
David Onley, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, keynote speaker at Wednesday’s event, knows that firsthand. Having lived with polio and post-polio syndrome since the age of three, he said he has “experienced and overcome various disabilities obstacles.”
In his 22-year career with Citytv in Toronto, he was Canada’s first senior newscaster with a visible disability. When he got his vice-regal post in 2007, he became the nation’s most highly placed advocate for disability.
“More than 15% of the Ontario population consists of people with disabilities. It is the largest single minority group in our province. And anyone can join, through accident or aging.
“When you take into account the immediate family members of those with disabilities, 53% of the Ontario population is affected. The majority of your customers either have a disability themselves or have a family member who does.”
But fear, misunderstanding and lack of information keep many employers from tapping into the huge pool of well-educated, eager-to-work people with disabilities.
Lisa Hooper, owner of L. Tara Hooper and Associates, which helps people with disabilities find employment, organized the Access Employment Day as a way to promote the message that they are “capable, educated and skilled.”
About 120 people, including many local employers, attended the event.
“Our hope is that they will open up their hiring practices,” said Hooper.
Statistics show there are about 800,000 working-aged Canadians who are unemployed but whose disability doesn’t prevent them from working. Of this group, 340,000 people have a post-secondary education.
Born with cerebral palsy, Hooper said that early in her career she faced potential employers “who made assumptions based on the way I walk.
“There would be excitement when I first talked to them on the phone but, when I went in, there was excitement no more. I worked really hard and fought to be included.”
Over the past 15 years, Hooper has helped hundreds of people with disabilities find work and has provided assistance to employers with their hiring needs.
“There seems to be a fear of what (employers) don’t understand,” said Hooper. “But when they hire someone with a disability they are amazed at their work ethic. If you’ve really struggled to find a job you do whatever you need to keep it.”
Onley said many people with disabilities are forced to live on government assistance which provides them just over $10,000 a year and commits them to a life of poverty.
“It’s in the best interest of everyone to let them become lifelong taxpayers and consumers.”
While in the city, Onley also officially opened Mohawk Chapel’s new accessibility project, which includes an elevator. He commended the project for providing “fair and equal access to this lovely place — a beloved landmark of our province.”