BY RICHARD SEVEN
MARK WAFER wasted no time when
Goodwill closed ;; stores and ;; donation
centres in Ontario nearly two years ago.
The Costco member took to social media
and invited displaced workers to apply for
jobs at his six Tim Hortons restaurants.
He did it because he knew many of
them had disabilities and would have
steeper challenges finding new work.
Before ;nding success, Wafer, who is deaf,
had lived the frustration, too. “That was
probably the catalyst to begin hiring work-
ers who have disabilities when we opened
our ;rst restaurant in Toronto,” the fran-
chise owner tells The Connection. “The
;rst person we hired with a disability still
works with us today, ;; years later. He is an
Wafer currently employs about ;;;
workers, ;; with a disability. Over the past
two decades, his business has employed
more than ;;; workers with disabilities in
every aspect of the business. Some of his
employees are developmentally chal-
lenged. Some are deaf or blind. Some
weather multiple sclerosis. The list goes on.
“The key to our success has been recognizing that being fully inclusive actually
has many tangible business benefits.
There is a clear economic case for includ-
ing people with disabilities in meaningful
and competitively paid jobs,” he says.
Still, the inclusive employment picture across Canada (and the U.S.) isn’t
pretty. According to government statistics,
the employment rate of working-age
Canadians with disabilities is about ;; per
cent. Only ;; per cent of those with intellectual disabilities or on the autism spectrum are employed.
“The No. ; barrier to employment for
people with an intellectual disability or
autism spectrum disorder is attitude,” says
Don Gallant, national director of Ready,
Willing and Able (R WA; readywillingable.
ca), a national partnership initiative of the
Canadian Association for Community
Living ( cacl.ca) and the Canadian Autism
Spectrum Disorders Alliance ( casda.ca).
A key role of RWA is to dispel misconceptions of the abilities of individuals with
an intellectual disability or autism and
raise awareness about the business benefits of participating in inclusive hiring.
RWA defines employment as “real work
for real pay,” with clients becoming part of
the general workforce and paid indus-try-standard wages.
While the majority of hires are by local
businesses, RWA has also established
national partnerships with several
employers who hire R WA’s clients at loca-
tions across the country. That includes all
Costco locations across Canada.
Finding the right ;t
Gallant, Wafer and other advocates
across the country emphasize that hiring a
more diverse workforce is not just good
business, it is better business. They cite
evidence that workers with disabilities
often have a low rate of absenteeism and a
high will to perform. Companies can get
more e;cient, occasionally recon;guring
work;ow so better-paid and more highly
trained workers can skip the simpler
tasks. Morale blossoms within the sta;, as
does goodwill from customers.
“It’s incredible to see how many emails
and phone calls we get daily asking if we are
the Tim Hortons who hire people with disabilities,” Wafer says. “Customers want to
shop at retailers who hire from the fabric of
their community. As a result, I am seeing
sales increases and transaction increases
far above the average for my region.”
People with disabilities also can thrive
in the white-collar world. The Ontario law
firm Cohen Highley began its inclusive
employment experiment almost ;; years
ago by contacting a community agency that
audited various tasks within the litigation
o;ce with a supported worker in mind.
Companies, and workers, bene;t from inclusive employment