By: Melinda Maldonado, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – Hiring people with disabilities often doesn’t require adding accommodation measures and can boost the bottom line of a business, says a Toronto disability advocate and Tim Hortons franchise owner.
Mark Wafer, president of Megleen Inc., which operates as a Tim Hortons, was appointed Monday to a federal panel looking to get more people with disabilities into the workforce.
Wafer has hired 82 people with disabilities over the last 17 years, including 33 out of his current workforce of 210 spread over his six locations.
One of the biggest misconceptions about hiring people with disabilities is that a workplace will need to be revamped with accommodation measures, said Wafer, who has limited hearing.
“Most companies do not have to make any accommodation in order to fit somebody in,” said Wafer, who added that if a company is making a very expensive accommodation, “they probably got somebody who is the wrong fit for the position.”
It all started when Wafer hired a young man named Clint Sparling 17 years ago.
Sparling, who has Down syndrome, was in his last year of high school when a teacher saw a posting in the window and recommended that Wafer hire the young man.
“I didn’t have a lot of experience being around people with intellectual disabilities at the time, but I decided to go ahead and hire Clint,” Wafer said.
Wafer was putting in long hours getting his business off the ground and realized he would need some outside help to train Sparling.
“I’m an expert at making coffee, but I’m not an expert at disabilities,” he said.
Faced with a new situation, Wafer enlisted the help of community partners to identify potential employees and eventually help with training.
“I had to teach Clint how to take a bus, and that took a couple days, and I didn’t have that time,” he said. “One of these organizations sent in job coaches and helped to train Clint.”
Sparling is still working for the company 17 years later.
“He actually became one of my best employees,” said Wafer, adding that Sparling married his high school sweetheart six years ago, and now owns his own condo.
Wafer’s annual employee turnover rate is 35 per cent, compared with the Tim Hortons average of 75 per cent. “That’s not because I’m a better operator, it’s simply because we hire people with disabilities,” he said.
“The average tenure for one of my employees is a year and three months but for my employees with a disability it’s seven years.”
Wafer stresses that hiring people with disabilities changes workplace culture for all of his employees.
“They’re now working for a company that’s inclusive, a company that obviously ‘get’s it’, and they want to be part of that,” he said.
Wafer notes that in 2011 the absenteeism rate among his 33 employees with disabilities was zero.
“The job is very, very precious to them,” said Wafer. One employee with a disability job-hunted for 11 years before joining his team.
Wafer is now using his experience to share best practices on engaging people with disabilities in the workforce with other business owners, and works with Joe Dale, executive director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network, in the Rotary at Work program.
He estimates they have given 150 presentations over the last three years, which resulted in 145 hires of people with disabilities across Ontario. Presentations to Tim Hortons representatives resulted in over 200 stores across Ontario hiring at least one person with a disability.
Workers with disabilities are dramatically under-represented in private-sector companies governed by the Employment Equity Act, the most recent annual government report on disability issues shows. However, they are over-represented in the public service.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced Monday the members of The Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.
The panel will take a look at businesses from the private sector that have had success hiring people with disabilities to determine best practices and some of the barriers faced, and will prepare a report for December.
According to 2006 data, about 14.3 per cent of Canada’s population, or 4.4 million people, reported having a disability of some kind.
Among the working age population, eight per cent of those aged 25 to 44 had a disability, while 18.3 per cent of those in the 45-to-64 bracket reported being disabled.
The 2010 report says that about one million people with disabilities are not in the workforce at all.