The President's Group | BCBusiness

The President's Group | BCBusiness
From left to right: Social Development and Social Innovation Minister Don McRae, Vancity president & CEO Tamara Vrooman, and Rick Hansen.

People with disabilities face an employment rate 18 per cent lower than the B.C. average. The government wants to change that

The provincial government has a message for B.C.'s businesses: barriers to employees and customers with disabilities will cost you money. That was the theme Monday at the first-ever annual general meeting of the President's Group, a private sector taskforce chaired by Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman, tasked by the B.C. government to tackle the challenges that consumers and jobseekers with disabilities all too often encounter. 

"Creating accessible and inclusive workplaces is not only the right things to do, it also makes good business sense," said Vrooman, speaking at the event. 

People with disabilities in Canada face a rate of employment almost 18 per cent lower than their counterparts without a disability. B.C. is home to more than 330,000 people of working age with a disability, but only half of them are employed, estimates the Ministry of Social Development.

While the average cost to accommodate an employee with a disability is $500, the benefits can be substantial: employees with disabilities are five times more likely to stay on the job than their counterparts without a disability. That translates into less money and time spent hiring employees, argues the ministry. 

Now the provincial government, which budgets $5 billion a year on programs and services for people with disabilities, is calling out the province's business community to do more. Monday's event, which brought together Rick Hansen and the President's Group, which includes Vrooman, London Drugs CEO and president Wynne Powell, Save On Meats founder Mark Brand and executives from Pacific Northern Gas Ltd. and EY, will eventually lead to a series of recommendations that will increase accessibility in B.C.'s workplaces.

The province has made a big push to highlight its efforts to encourage businesses to hire employees with disabilities who often face both physical barriers and, more significantly, discrimination and prejudice, putting them at a disadvantage in the hiring process. Part of that push has been to involve the Rick Hansen Foundation.

In an announcement prior to Monday's meeting, the Rick Hansen Foundation was endowed with $125,000 to employ workers with disabilities to help build a database of disability-friendly businesses and workplaces.

While a paltry sum considering the size of the problem, the funds will help the foundation assess private sector accessibility and relay that information back to consumers and job-seekers through the foundation's web platform, Planat. To date, the app has compiled 30,000 ratings that help users—with mobility, vision and hearing challenges—find accomodating places to eat, shop, work and play.

with a file from Alix Drabek