A diverse workforce includes people with disabilities. The highest rates of people not in the labour force in B.C. are not people from different cultural backgrounds, but people with disabilities.
When talking about diversity in the workplace, people often think about cultural diversity, but the term encompasses other areas such as age diversity, gender diversity, and disability diversity, also referred to as “diverseability.” The highest rates of people not in the labour force in B.C. are not people from different cultural backgrounds, but people with disabilities. That’s a huge untapped pool of talent, so If employers are serious about addressing diversity in the workplace, disability has to be a part of the discussion.
There is no one kind or type of disability; the term covers a wide spectrum, from mild to moderate to severe. Some disabilities are visible, such as person with a physical disability, while others can be almost impossible to notice, such as a learning disability, an autism spectrum disorder, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or mental health issues.
Many people with a disability are very capable of working. In 2006 there were 228,750 working age British Columbians with a disability who were not working, even though their disability did not completely prevent them from working. In many cases it’s not the disability that gets in the way of the person being a productive and valuable employee, but the assumptions of non-disabled people who make hiring decisions.
A labour market study in 2009 found that B.C.’s disabled persons were more highly educated than the national average, with a higher post-secondary education completion rate. It also found that fewer than one in five persons with a disability required job redesign and most workplace accommodations that were required involved relatively little cost and did not require major changes to how the work is performed.
The fact is that there is no common skill set for all people with disabilities, as each person is unique. There is no specific type of job that is perfect for a person with a disability, but there are many people with disabilities who are very capable of filling a wide variety of jobs.
With 12.8 per cent of B.C.’s population (355,430 people) reporting to have a disability, it is a significant segment of our population. This segment is only going to increase as our population ages. People with disabilities and their families and support systems are consumers; they have real purchasing power and make significant purchasing decisions. People with disabilities are part of our community and should also be part of our workforce.
As someone who has been involved in helping people with disabilities become meaningfully involved in the labour force in B.C. for more than 18 years, I can attest to the real value of a more diverse workplace. Our agency and other agencies like ours have been involved in story after story of businesses that were hesitant about hiring a person with a disability at first, but after doing so could see the many benefits this diversity added to their workplace. The ripple effects will be seen within the other co-workers, the customers and the larger community when people with disabilities are included in the labour force. We have employers in the retail, hospitality, food service, grocery, automotive, lumber, warehouse, banking, human service, recreation, and furniture industries. Employers include large corporations as well as small independently owned family businesses.
Ask yourself, as a business person or someone involved in making hiring decisions, what you have done to ensure diversity in your workplace and in particular, to include disability diversity, or “diverseability” in your decisions.
There are many agencies, programs and services that can help you hire people with a disability and ensure your workplace reflects the communities it serves. Diversity, in all its forms, is good for business. Here are a couple of resources you might start with B.C. EmployNet Association, and Work BC Employment Service Centres Location Map.
Those interested in learning more about disabilities and workplace diversity can attend the “Embracing Ability: Redefining a Diverse Workforce” conference in Vancouver on March 12 and 13, 2013.
Chris Arnold is the clinical director for The Provincial Networking Group Inc. and author of “The Job Developer's Toolkit.”