A labour shortage? Please tell me more

Recently my local newspaper published a three part series highlighting the immediate and future labour shortages in our region. Our city, close to the city of Toronto has a very significant labour shortage, similar in many ways to the national labour shortage and it’s here to stay. 

The labour shortage is not only as a result of the pandemic. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke of future labour shortages as far back as 2010. In one speech he mentioned that Canada would have a shortage of one million workers by the year 2025, he was right. In fact we are already there.  The pandemic has of course made things worse but we have been on this journey for a long time. For many employers the answer has been to engage the Temporary Foreign Workers program. An effective but costly remedy, logistically challenging and not available to all sectors in all jurisdictions. 
The newspaper series missed the opportunity to highlight one of the most obvious and most viable solutions, the inclusion of Canada’s largest minority group, the disabled. 

When I worked with the late Jim Flaherty, arguably Canada’s best Finance Minister, he mentioned many times that the disabled had to be included In all employment opportunities, that the TFWP was a solution but the overarching solution must include the disabled. Working with Jim resulted in solutions, some of which changed the narrative, we miss his straightforward talk, we could use some of that today. 

According to StatsCan the majority of our disabled citizens are not working. Those stats however are under representative since those without marketplace attachment are not included in unemployment numbers. Today in Canada there are 550,000 graduates from the past five years with disabilities, 270,000 of whom have post secondary diplomas and degrees. Although some grads have found work, this cohort of 550,000 have not worked a single day and therefore have no marketplace attachment. It is estimated therefore that the real unemployment rate for the disabled could be as high as 70% yet counterintuitively we have massive unemployment of one demographic while experiencing a massive labour shortage. 

The disabled community are educated, skilled, motivated, innovative and ready to go. 

It is time for the media to make this clear. A three part series on our labour shortage without any mention of the ridiculously high unemployment rate of the disabled serves no one at all. 


Airlines and Wheelchairs, a Deadly Combination

The tragic loss of disability activist, actress and animal rights advocate Engracia Figueroa as a result of an Airlines disastrous handling of her damaged wheelchair is a stark reminder of the ongoing burden, hazards and risks that the disabled face when traveling by air. 

Engracia, returning from a speaking engagement to her home in Los Angeles, a speaking engagement where ironically, she protested the poor behaviour of airlines, died as a result of injuries after being forced to sit in a rental wheelchair for five hours. The airline meanwhile tried to repair the destroyed $30,000 electric wheelchair while arguing with Engracia and her friend. The injuries she received during those five hours never healed and she eventually had to enter ICU two months after the flight where she died. A completely avoidable death. 

It is not a well-known fact that 26-28 wheelchairs are damaged by American carriers every single day. The fallout from this is massive; the airlines don’t see the wheelchair as being a part of the user’s body. They view the wheelchair simply as luggage or cargo. Anyone who has flown regularly sees firsthand how cargo and luggage is treated by airport and airline workers. 

Breaking a wheelchair is exactly the same as breaking a passenger’s leg. The difference is a broken leg would elicit an instant reaction, rushed to hospital and treated immediately. Since the attitude towards a wheelchair is cavalier, there is no rush to deal with the issue. 

In my opinion this is directly related to a lack of representation. The managers tasked with ensuring wheelchairs are handled with the utmost care are not wheelchair users themselves. This is a very big problem. 

In 2018 Congress passed the Air Reauthorization Act which tasked airlines with treating disabled travelers better. Although it didn’t specify how, none of the airlines came up with their own strategy and today we see the exact same outcomes as 2018 despite much lower air traffic during the pandemic. 

Again, it is all tied to attitude. 

Although airlines deserve to be called out, so too do other aspects of air travel, notably the Transportation safety Authority, TSA. TSA has a history of bad behaviour around disabled flyers. Demeaning and humiliating behaviour. When called out on it they typically always support the employee whom the complaint is about, further humiliating the complainant.  As a deaf flyer I have been accused of taking illicit drugs by TSA because I didn’t respond to questioning and being sent to secondary inspection as a result of miscommunication.  Training is abysmal and again, no representation. When was the last time you met a disabled TSA agent?

Yes, many disabilities are invisible but I think you get my point. 

Recently, Heather Liederman, a blind flyer traveling with a service animal, a black Labrador named Coastie, was told to remove the dog’s collar for inspection. TSA regulations forbid the removal of a service animal’s collar, but the agent insisted. The dog knows it’s working if the collar is on and knows it’s a dog when the collars off. This created unnecessary anxiety for Heather and confusion for the service animal. 

When management were alerted the response was that the agent can do whatever he wants. 

And that’s why the majority of Americans who are wheelchair users avoid flying. 

Until airlines can safely park wheelchairs with the user in situ on an aircraft (and yes that is coming), it is incumbent on all airlines, airports and security screening to do a whole lot better. 

The “E” is for Equity

Many of us in the DEI space receive pushback from those who believe that working to achieve equity is actually a negative thing. 

The “E” in DEI is equity. It is not Equality.  This is usually where the problem begins.  

Straight, white, able-bodied males (the most privileged of us all) have a difficult time understanding the difference. For some of them, there is a belief that those from marginalized communities simply need equal opportunities. For them, the vastly different lived experience of those individuals are irrelevant. 

Recently I received an email from a white straight male accusing me of spreading hate and racism simply by working towards equity for those marginalized groups. This is not unusual and the writer is not an outlier. There is enough of such sentiment out there that it will take a big effort to overcome. 

Equality means that people are treated the exact same way regardless of that individuals needs. This favours the dominant domain for obvious reasons. For example a wheelchair user doesn’t have the same outcome if faced with a set of stairs. Equity on the other hand means that everyone is provided with what they need to succeed. In the case of the wheelchair user, a ramp. 

Those who argue against this usually hold the most privilege. They are scared, scared that more rights for others means less rights for them. 

It’s not a pie, it’s not a pizza. More rights for the marginalized does not mean less rights for you. 

Equality won’t get us anywhere. “We are an equal opportunity employer” is a sign often displayed with job postings. It is one of the reasons the unemployment rate for the disabled is 50-70%. If a deaf or blind person has “equal” rights, they basically have no chance at all. 

Bill C-7: Assisted Suicide Legislation

Over the past twelve months many Canadians have had to make significant, and in some cases, drastic changes to their lives and their families from a pandemic that has caused economic upheaval for so many: 

Our Governments stepped up early on, providing wage subsidies to businesses so that workers would remain in the job. Highly successful. As well, the Federal Government created the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) that provided $2,000 per month for those who were or are no longer working. Again, highly successful. 

In previous blog posts and on social media, I have written quite extensively about the fact the disabled were left behind. Unable to qualify for CERB, the disabled instead were forced to continue with meagre benefits, despite having increased costs during the pandemic. As mentioned, the attitude towards the disabled by Governments and, by extension, society itself did little to serve the ongoing Ableism faced by the disabled. It became clear, the disabled are considered a burden.

If not purposeful, but it certainly was and is the perception. 

The disabled have lost confidence in their elected officials. Activists and advocates are loud enough but one wonders if anyone is listening. It is disgraceful enough that the disabled require the use of a food bank but then can’t get there because of snow on sidewalks, inaccessible locations and little thought given to how they would carry the items back home. Instead they must pay for taxis and uber from an income already well below the poverty line. 

The depressed mindset of the disabled in Canada today could be characterized as “feeling hopeless”.  It didn’t need to be this way but sadly there’s worse news coming. Much worse. 

The Federal Government over the past while has been reviewing changes to the assisted suicide legislation. The final draft was presented a short time ago and to Disabled Canadians there was immediate shock and disgust as well as a level of fear and helplessness. 

To be clear, I support MAID. Anyone who has held the hand of a loved one through a terminal illness would typically understand if that individual wished to end their life on their terms. If death is foreseeable and pain unbearable, it makes sense if that individual wishes to avail themselves of professional end of life care. Where my support ends is when Eugenics gets a toehold in the legislation. Today this is exactly where we are. 

Here’s why. 

The new legislation allows for any Canadian who has a terminal illness, where death is foreseen, where life may have become intolerable to apply for MAID.  This is good, this is righteous. The controls are in place, the experts who help with the decision are professionals. The new legislation known as Bill C-7 however now has a carve out. A new section that reads, paraphrased, that Canadians with disabilities may apply for MAID who are not at deaths door, where death isn’t even foreseeable. Instead the criteria is ONLY that they are disabled. 

Hold up a second!!!! The only demographic of Canadians who can apply for MAID who are not currently dying are the disabled who make up 24% of Canadians. Not Canadians with Blonde hair, or Canadians over 6 feet or Canadians with poor taste in hockey teams but only Canadians who are disabled. 

The very demographic we have already deemed 2nd or 3rd class citizens in our country. 

This is Eugenics plain and simple and cannot be allowed to stand. Bill C-7 cannot be allowed to pass as it is. 

Over the past year a number of Ontarian’s with disabilities looked at the options they had in terms of income, quality of life and determined the best option was death. Imagine such a decision in a country as rich as Canada but alas, this has happened and has been confirmed. 

Thankfully the professionals who control the decisions over who can and cannot access MAID would today, deny a claim if the only reason the claim was made was economic distress that led to depression and hopelessness. That however isn’t good enough. Positions change; governments change; those who make those decisions down the road may not have the same mindset as those who are there today. That’s why legislation must always be looked at from the point of view that the officials enforcing it are at the lowest possible common denominator. 

The Senate generally approves of the changes to MAID. This is ridiculous considering we have a few disability advocates sitting in the Senate along with Canada’s most decorated Olympic champion Chantel Petitclerc. The voices as I said are loud but who is listening?

Bill C -7 as it stands is a slippery slope that puts the rights of the disabled firmly back in the 1990’s. Many of us remember the farmer who killed his teenage daughter back then to relieve her from pain and suffering but how many of us remember the groundswell of support that farmer received. What if that attitude seeped into the oversight and control of MAID. 

International media has condemned Canada for Bill C-7 in its current form. It’s time for PM Justin Trudeau, his cabinet and his party to fix what could easily become a deadly disaster for Canadians with disabilities.

Some content on this page was disabled on June 9, 2021 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Michael Russell. You can learn more about the DMCA here: https://en.support.wordpress.com/copyright-and-the-dmca/

Forgotten During the Pandemic, the Disabled

“We are all in this together,” says Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Sounds good if it were true, but it is not. Although Canadian’s within all demographics have received support during the pandemic, including a $300 stipend to seniors, there is one very large demographic who have been ignored, the disabled. 

After significant intervention by disability activists, the Federal Government finally agreed to pay the disabled a one-time benefit of $600. This received Royal assent in June, yet no disabled individual has received anything yet. The Government promises to send out the checks on October 31st, however only about 25-30% of Canadians with disabilities will receive this money. 

We have always understood that the disabled live far more difficult lives than the rest of society; from accessibility issues, to ableism, to lack of jobs, lack of health care and education, lack of transportation and much lower incomes than the average. Yet the pandemic has torn a lid off the reality of the situation. The level of poverty that the disabled live in is far worse than what we understood and far more dire than the public might have known. In fact, after considerable reflection, some disabled Canadians have signed up with MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying), assisted suicide, as they believe that suicide is the best option for them. How tragic in a country as wealthy as ours. They will be rejected by MAID as they won’t qualify for assisted suicide, but that’s not the point. 

The policies around disability benefits pre-date all current Canadian governments. In fact, they pre-date the previous governments and the ones before that too. Some policies date back to the 1970’s, when the attitude towards the disabled were very different than today. For example, some policies in one Province were actually created with the caveat that the disabled had “better be grateful” for any financial help. It is for these reasons that I joined Federal Finance critic Pierre Poilievre in 2018 to launch Bill C-395, the opportunities act, to change some of the more draconian provincial policies that punished the employed disabled. The Bill failed for partisan reasons and those policies remain today. 

Although the current governments didn’t write the policies or create the current negative cultures throughout the benefit environments, they do however have a responsibility to fix it. Here in Ontario we have the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) that handles the majority of cases. There are others such as Ontario Works. For this blog post I want to focus on where we need to be in the future. 

ODSP is not working. It is not serving the interest of disabled Ontarian’s who cannot work or who are not working because employers won’t hire them. It is operated by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. ODSP has a massive budget of over $4B and grows at a rate of 7-8% per year, outstripping the combined increase in the year over year cost of living index as well as inflation. 

Recipients of ODSP receive, at most, $1169 per month if they even qualify for that much. The bottom line is it isn’t enough to live on, and keeps a disabled person in abject poverty with all of its ramifications, such as unsafe housing, health deterioration, dependency on food banks and in almost all cases suffer from mental health, especially depression caused by their lot in life. None of this is their own fault. They were either born disabled or joined the demographic due to an accident or illness. In fact, disability is the only demographic any of us can join at any time. 

At the beginning of the Pandemic the Federal Government created the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) and set the amount at $2,000 per month. This was not an arbitrary amount. There was no whimsy in the formula, it was carefully chosen by Government economists who knew that $2,000 was the Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) required to actually live in Canada. Everyone who needed it got it…except the disabled. Instead they had to remain on a maximum of $1169 per month. 

The writings on the wall as to what is required going forward. We are a country of considerable means; we are a country that does not look out for disabled Canadians. But as a country with considerable means it is well past time to get this right. Therefore, the following needs to happen. 

First, I propose a small working committee to study reform within ODSP. When working with Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid in 2016, we asked a director of ODSP about the best way to leave the program believing she would say “Paid work”, instead she said, “to die”. She wasn’t wrong as we discovered only 0.4% of 1% of ODSP recipients ever find meaningful work. That has to change and I believe reform is the way to go. Clearly, with that comment By the ODSP director, the culture within ODSP is not conducive to better outcomes.

But it doesn’t stop there. The following needs to happen: 

  • We need a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income (GLBI) for those on ODSP of $2,000 per month as per the decision of our Federal Governments Economic advisors. 
  • There must be a much greater effort to ensure those on benefits who can work and want to work are provided the services they need to find real work for real pay. There are excellent agencies already doing this work but we need greater success. If 5,000 individuals on ODSP find a combination of full time, part time and seasonal work we save the taxpayer $78,000,000. This ensures no further taxpayer money would be required to raise the benefit amount to $2,000 for those who, through no fault of their own, cannot work. Having said that, in all cases where possible, work must be the expectation.
  • Unlike other GBI’s, a new GLBI for ODSP recipients cannot replace current supports. Those extra benefits such as health and prescription must remain in place otherwise the recipient could actually be worse off. 
  • Clawbacks, which currently punish an ODSP recipient, must be fair. There should be a reasonable threshold in which benefits end and employment income becomes the de facto sole income of the individual. 
  • All current benefit policies that punish those who live together or marry when both individuals are on ODSP have to be ended right away. This is a human rights violation. 
  • In cases where a job or career does not work out, benefits need to be automatically reinstated. There cannot be any wait times as this too is seen as further punishment for finding a job. 
  • Provinces must reform income tax laws for disabled benefit recipients who find work but stay on Government health benefits. Since these become taxable income, the amount of income tax paid by a worker who has a disability can be significantly higher than a non-disabled worker doing the same job for the same wage. This was the main reason for launching Bill C-395. 

Simplified, we must look after societies most vulnerable far better than we are today. Work for those who can, proper benefits for those who can’t, and an end to systemic poverty. 

Once that’s achieved we will truly be all in this together 

Systemic Racism – Are you the ally you want to be?

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A few short weeks ago, it would have seemed unimaginable that any world news could bump COVID19 to second place for top news. The protests and civil rights of black citizens of America and beyond are now the focal point of our thoughts and discussions; a test of our collective moral compass. As it should be.  400 years of racial and economic inequality have exploded in anger.

Despite the pandemic, it is the right time. Change is now inevitable.

Systemic racism is institutionalized racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It leads to discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing , healthcare, political power and education. It is prevalent in all hierarchy’s of organized institutions.

A simple bottle of syrup has for, 130 years, been imprinted with an image truly comfortable to the non-black community. We don’t generally think about how that image affects black citizens. Our privilege is so deep we miss the obvious. Micro-aggressions abound, a purposeful part of our vocabulary, as well as entirely unintended.

Much of what we see, hear and speak of is not always purposely meant to hurt or discriminate. Some of our micro-aggressions are due to our unconscious bias. Good people often don’t realize that systemic racism exists but the sting of it is still felt every day by our black brothers and sisters. I have often written about how micro-aggressions affect the disability community, but to be clear, discrimination against any form of “different” has historically been the norm. Having said that, those who truly believe systemic racism doesn’t exist, as a few of our leaders did last week, are themselves deeply privileged.

What can we do? First, and most importantly, acknowledge that systemic racism exists even if you don’t see it yourself. Assume that it is all around you…because it is. Learn, read books about the experience of black peoples, follow black organizations and leaders on social media.

My favourites are :

  • Brittany Packnett Cunningham – American activist and co-founder of project zero


  • Ana Duvarney – Filmmaker, Director. Her movie “when they see us” about the Central Park five is a must see.


  • Alicia Garza – Civil Rights activist, founder of blacks futures labs


  • Ibram X. Kendi – American author and historian


  • Wes Moore – Author, social entrepreneur


Act at work. Diversify and expand your networks. Demand diverse slates of candidates for hiring and promotion. Seek out untapped talent and provide opportunities. Notice what people are experiencing and ask how their experience differs from yours. Look at your board of directors. Does it reflect the society you live in?

We already know that the disabled are underrepresented on boards so what about people of colour? Is your company’s leadership or c-suite similar?

Get Active – join boards and organizations that support the black community. Contribute your time or money towards justice system reform.

In addition to learning, be an ally. Pay attention to how people are treated. When you see injustice speak up. Be prepared to understand and empathize around the challenges that exist for black people. Finally, since racism is learned, speak openly with your children and grandchildren. Encourage children to actively engage and lead discussions.

It isn’t enough to be non-racist. We have to be against racism – Angela Davis

Be Direct. Be Daring. Be Bold

with thanks to our friends at Korn Ferry

Operation Varsity Blues – The Disability Angle

As most of you know by now, fifty individuals have been indicted with numerous criminal charges in what has become known as Operation Varsity Blues. Twenty three of those indicted are wealthy and/or famous. The most well known being actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. The other less well known individuals are coaches, instructors and various  grifters and conmen. Most of the charges are for Fraud, wire fraud, counselling to commit fraud and other similar crimes.
For some readers this may all seem like a ridiculous grade school pantomime. Sort of a keystone cops episode, rich, entitled, elitists, arrogant parents who couldn’t pull off a simple scam when all they really needed to do was make a donation to a school and voila, unappreciative son or daughter are automatically enrolled. For many this embarrassing failure is entertainment.
The problem however is that there are real victims of these crimes, American youth with disabilities. As the news unfolded and I learned more details about how the scam operated it became known that many of these individuals had claimed that their abled children had various types of disabilities. Learning disabilities to be exact. In US college entrance exams, accommodations and adjustments are made for students with disabilities. This is as it should be. Canadian universities have the same policy. These accommodations are tricky to obtain. In Canada one needs a letter from a doctor and a meeting with the dean or leadership responsible for the exams. More often than not a student with a disability has to argue their case unless the disability is clearly evident.
Even with these measures in place a student can still be denied access to an exam room at the whim of a person responsible on the day of the exam.  A case in point recently in Ontario.   A brilliant young man was denied access to his Bar exam despite having letters from doctors and the Law dean at a Local university. This young man cannot write due to a disability and must instead use a laptop. This was cleared as a accommodation yet he was denied.
This example shows just how difficult it is to gain a vital accommodation to write an entrance exam for college. As it is already an outrageous burden on the disabled it doesn’t take too much imagination to recognize what will happen next in US schools as a result of the disgusting behaviour of Huffman, Loughlin and the rest of these charlatans. US schools will now make it far more difficult to get an accommodation, resulting in lower acceptance rates to US colleges for American youth with disabilities.
Loughlin faces 5 years in jail. She had no concern or thought on how her despicable actions would harm the most marginalized in our society. She and the other culprits simply didn’t care. Their only thought was themselves and their underachieving offspring.
As US colleges investigate, clear out the rot and put in place more stringent policies and procedures they must take into account that accommodations are a right and not a privilege. They must train their entrance exam staff on the best way to make adjustments and accommodate applicants and they must ensure that these accommodations are granted. In order to get this right they need to include graduates with disabilities to help.
After all, with over 20% of Americans having a disability it’s clear that the cohorts of disabled applicants to US colleges is growing. In Ontario it is growing at 15-17% per year.
And to think at one time I liked Aunt Becky.


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How diverse is your company? I mean, really?

It’s 2019. There is unlikely to be any Canadian Corporation in the top 100 where Diversity isn’t clearly on the radar. Millions are spent on diversity initiatives, companies employ D&I experts, corporations regularly market their diversity. In fact most corporations believe they have solved the issue of diversity. Most companies believe they are following the cutting edge of diversity and inclusion best practices, perhaps even creating these best practices themselves

If you truly believe your company is diverse I would like you to consider this: Only 4% of corporations around the world are diverse. The rest are diversish. A new term for companies who play the game well but fail miserably. For example, check your companies website. Does it indicate that your company is an equal opportunity employer? If so, your company is unlikely to be diverse as Canadians with disabilities typically won’t apply.

As an activist with a significant reach into Corporate Canada I see too often the glossy brochures, the fawning over “world class” diversity initiatives, the complete lack of understanding that diversity, when ingrained in a Corporations culture, pays massive dividends, creates competitive advantages while at the same time placing such companies as leaders in their sector.

96% of companies fall into the Diversish category unless they are one of the few companies who have done nothing at all and yes, it’s difficult to believe but there are a handful of Canadian Multi-nationals who have done nothing beyond the basics of legislative compliance. They know only too well who they are. They will be irrelevant soon enough.

The easy piece of the diversity platform is to ensure women are employed in senior management roles. Most corporations have done so but wage parity is still an issue, women as governors on private sector corporate boards are still a minority with about 15-18% of board seats held by women. As we move along the spectrum of diversity the numbers shrink. People of different cultures, religion and LGBT in recent years have being Included more often but still lack reasonable numbers. For many companies, inclusion of these workers is about box ticking, tokenism perhaps.

Moving further along the spectrum of diversity and the numbers fall off the chart. People with disabilities and workers from First Nations communities. StatsCan recently published updated data showing that 22-24% of Canadians have a a disability. This is astonishing.  Only a few years ago we were discussing a figure of 15-16%. We knew well that the number was growing but to go from one on seven to one in four in only ten years is indeed astonishing. The disability community is clearly Canada’s largest minority group, more than double the size of the next largest minority group.

Sadly but expectedly the Labour market participation of Canadians with disabilities remains stubbornly low. Statistics indicate 50-54% of Canadians with disabilities are not working however those stats don’t include anyone with no marketplace attachment. Therefore the more accurate figure is 70%. The exact same number I used when I first spoke publicly about inclusion in 2007.

We can no longer rely only on the benefits of inclusion to companies. The benefits are obvious to any CEO who takes the time to look at this vast untapped Labour force but they usually ignore this as a result of fear, fear of something they know little about. As well, awareness campaigns are losing favor, it’s not working. As well as continuing to discuss how Canadian corporations can and will benefit in so many ways by including skilled, educated, ready and willing workers with disabilities in real jobs for competitive salaries we have to ensure companies understand what a culture of inclusion looks like. We must continue to explain why corporate culture without inclusion is an automatic acceptance into the club known as being Divershish

Don’t be Divershish.

Please click on this short video. This is an amusing take on the Diversish world. Keep in mind though that the responses from those acting as senior business leaders are the exact responses I receive from the majority of real business leaders. Enjoy.

Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is Disability Employment Awareness Month #DEAM. In the U.S the month of October has been highlighted as a time to reflect on improvements to the lives of North Americas largest minority group, to celebrate some success and to advocate for change, much more change.
Here in Canada we celebrate the disability community on one day only, December 3rd. This is the United Nations day of the disabled. None of our governments across the country have seen the need to follow our friends to the south however outside of Government, stakeholder groups, advocates and activists are taking ownership of #DEAM. This is a good thing, the disability community is becoming stronger, louder and inevitably, more successful.
As we enter October I will be tweeting daily with quotes, tips, data and much more about real inclusion. What works? What approaches to business are successful? Why are employers still buying into age old myths, stereotypes and misperceptions? What is the value of real inclusion both to the worker and the employer?
You can follow these tweets @markwafer
To begin the month of October I believe it’s important to review the data as we stand today as a society that still for the most part shuns workers with disabilities, largely out of ignorance. A society that still misunderstands the sheer scope of the demographic of disability. Is still largely misinformed and unaware of the massive untapped Labour force and unaware of the education and skill levels of those unemployed workers.
It’s important to understand the landscape as it is today. Yes we have come a long way but looking at this in terms of a football game, we started on the 10 yard line ten years ago and with Herculean effort we are at the 20 yard line. It’s first downs but we are a long way away from even a simple field goal. We need new strategies and a bigger effort, we need to enhance the business case and sadly, still create more awareness if we want to get within striking distance of a touchdown.
To kick off #DEAM here are some numbers to review. Here is where we are today:-
18% of Canadians have a disability. That’s the entire population of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba
New Brunswick has the highest percentage of citizens with disabilities.
The disposable income of Canadians with disabilities is $50B+
There are 1B people world wide with a disability. That’s one in seven and moving closer to one in five
500,000 Canadian graduates with disabilities (last five years) have never worked a single day. Of those 270,000 have a post secondary education.
Number of Americans with disabilities, 56 million
Participation rates for workers with disabilities in both countries, less than 20%
Percentage of North Americans who will experience a disability lasting more than one year during their professional lives, 20%
StatsCan data shows 54% of Canadians with disabilities not working. This does not include anyone with no marketplace attachment such as the 500,000 grads therefore the real number is closer to 70%
During the great depression the unemployment rate at its peak was 24% and considered a national tragedy. Therefore at 70%,  Canadians with disabilities live a perpetual depression.
Employers still largely look at the disability community as a niche market. This stifles innovation, market research for new products and growth yet…….research shows that 90% of retail customers prefer to shop at outlets who employ workers with disabilities.
Follow me this month for all the top news, data, tips, quotes and more. @markwafer
Be direct, be daring, be bold.

Retail Inclusion, A Lost Opportunity


Now that Ontario’s Bill 148, the Employment Standards Act, has entered its 9th month we are starting to see an increase in the number of workers with disabilities finding jobs. As reported previously on the Inclusion Revolution blog, many workers with disabilities lost their jobs when the minimum wage went to $14 per hour.

The loss of jobs hit the retail sector the hardest. It is estimated that 65-70% of workers with intellectual disabilities who work regularly are employed in the retail sector with the largest number working in the QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) sector. Not only were jobs lost, workers who remained had their shifts and hours cut. As well, the next cohort of workers who were ready to start work, were held back from January-April of this year. The cost to the economy of the intellectually challenged community was high.

The good news is that this is changing. However this change, which is benefiting new sectors, has not bounced back for the retail sector. Why? Because there is a lack of leadership in all retail areas.

More people with disabilities are finding work today than ever before. Some agencies such as ODEN (Ontario Disability Employment Network) are reporting that they simply cannot keep up with demand. This is wonderful news indeed. In fact, many of these jobs are in manufacturing, especially food manufacturing where wages are high and benefits are the norm. Compared to the QSR sector, entry-level jobs typically pay minimum wage and benefits are rare.

The list of companies who are building capacity with workers who have a disability is impressive. The work of advocates and activists is clearly paying off. Some of this, of course, is born of necessity as our shrinking labour force means employers have to reach out to normally shunned demographics. The disability community of course being the largest one.

According to Joe Dale, executive director of ODEN, these companies take about 8-10 months from initial contact to the individual’s first working shift. The good news however is that the company then employs 10-12 workers at a time, building capacity right away.

Where does this leave the retail sector?

A lack of inclusion reduces profits. It’s that simple. It reduces innovation, it increases turnover and it increases absenteeism relative to those companies that do have inclusive practices. It reduces sales and it reduces transactions.

Currently there is no leadership in the retail sector. Not only are brands not participating in inclusive practices, associations supporting retail brands lack leadership as well. A quick view of any of their websites will show this to be a fact. Of course they all indicate that they are inclusive and accessible but overall this is lip service.

This means there is a massive opportunity out there for a brand to capitalize on a clear competitive advantage. McDonalds at one time (1993) was going to be the countries star employer for youth with disabilities. The program died before launch when George Cohen, then CEO, left the company.

Who wants this? Would A&W like to add 15% to its bottom line and be the leader in inclusion for the retail sector? What about the GAP? Would they like to capitalize on a sure thing? Enjoy low turnover?

What about Wendy’s? Would they like to see increased traffic, transactions, sales? Or would they rather leave that to Subway and lose precious market share?

What about the Bay, Home Depot, Walmart?

This is a massive opportunity to be Canada’s leader of inclusion in the retail sector

Who wants it?