- BC Games
'Myths' standing in way of jobs for disabled
Standing in front of a breakfast crowd of politicians, business owners and community leaders, Mark Wafer talked about one of his best employees.
Business was brisk at his first Tim Hortons franchise, and Wafer needed more help. Clint Sparling walked in; Wafer hired him.
Sparling has Down syndrome, and before being hired was among the estimated 70 per cent of people with disabilities who are unemployed. But Sparling broke through the stigma surrounding workers with disabilities and within weeks became one of Wafer's best employees.
The self-titled "dining room manager" has now been with the company for 18 years.
"Five years ago Clint got married to his high school sweetheart, bought a condo and he's living a full life," said Wafer. "He's living the kind of life that we want for ourselves and we want for our children simply because he has a meaningful and competitively paying job."
Wafer was the guest speaker at an employer appreciation breakfast at Richmond Golf and Country Club Oct. 4. Hosted by Richmond Society for Community Living—which helps employers find people suited for available jobs—the event marked the start of Community Living Month in B.C.
Minister of Social Development Don McRae spoke after Mayor Malcolm Brodie officially proclaimed October as Community Living Month in Richmond.
Wafer knows firsthand the barriers that people with disabilities face when searching for a job. He was born with only 20 per cent of his hearing and couldn't keep a job as a young man.
Some employers, he said, perceive people with disabilities as slower, less safe or requiring extensive accommodations.
"These are all myths. The greatest barrier a person with a disability faces in order to get into the workforce is these myths and misperceptions," he said. "The reality of course is the exact opposite."
Sixty per cent of people with disabilities require no accommodation, said Wafer, adding that their absenteeism and turnover rates are much lower than the rest of the population.
Noting his Ontario Tim Hortons franchises—where he employs 50 people with disabilities—experience a turnover rate nearly half that of other locations, Wafer said his staff feel they're a part of something special.
"It changes the culture of the workplace," he said. "It makes them feel good."
Wafer also stressed that hiring people with disabilities shouldn't pose a financial burden for employers, and can help meet their needs in the midst of a looming labour shortage.
"By having an inclusive workforce, I'm making more money," he said. "Being an inclusive employer enhances your business big time."
Speaking after Wafer at the Friday morning event were three workers, all people with disabilities employed at local businesses. One was Katelyn McPhedrian, who has two jobs, one at Tim Hortons, the other at Thompson Community Centre where her job involves cleaning and assisting in programs.
"The little kids drive me crazy but I love them," she told the crowd. "I am proud to have a job and I do my best. Thank you for hiring me."