Inclusion BC’s Karla Verschoor makes the case for embracing Disability Employment Month

The New Westminster-based organization says the stats and stories speak for themselves

It’s almost been a decade since the B.C. government first proclaimed September Disability Employment Month.

Karla Verschoor has been with Inclusion BC, a non-profit that advocates for the full inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the province, for longer than that and has seen the perception of what her organization does shift fundamentally.

Verschoor started with Inclusion BC in 2006 and was named executive director in 2018. “I’ve found that in the years since I started, we’ve shifted that balance to where we’re not talking about Inclusion BC as the voice for people,” says Verschoor. “Inclusion BC works for and with people who have an inherent right to their own voice that represents choice and control.”

In short, Verschoor and Inclusion BC think that the results speak for themselves. In a May 2023 BC Chamber of Commerce survey, 68 percent of respondents said the most important factor for the success of their business is the ability to recruit and retain talent. To that end, Job Ability Canada notes staff retention rates are 72 percent higher among people who have a disability.

And at a recent Greater Vancouver Board of Trade EDI forum, accessibility consultant Yat Li said that 90 percent of people with disabilities performed better or equal to their peers.

“That’s the catalyst and the origin of Disability Employment Month, demonstrating how much there is to celebrate and challenging some of those biases, unconscious or not, about what it means to hire people with intellectual disabilities and the benefits that has to your company,” says Verschoor.

Among the biases that Verschoor hears from employers are concerns around costs and safety. “It’s just simply untrue that people with intellectual disabilities make worksites unsafe—they have above average safety outcomes in workforces,” she says. “And 75 percent of job accommodations cost nothing…there’s a whole network of both natural and paid support to help people to successfully transition into the workforce in a way that’s safe for both employer and employee.”

But for Verschoor and her team of just under 20, the actual, on-the-ground stories—from local employers like Thrifty Foods—are more telling than the hard stats: “We’ve seen so many, be it at a community centre, pool, grocery store, tire shop, on a farm. Just these amazing stories of successful employment of people with disabilities that have emerged. It demonstrates that with support and local leadership how good this can be for business.”