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Milton Chamber Event Focuses on AODA Legislation

Milton Canadian Champion
By Julie Slack

People with disabilities shouldnt be overlooked in the workforce; in fact, theyre often top performers on the job.

Just ask Sean Callaghan, general manager at Sodexo, a food services company in Brampton.

He hired Sean, who lives on the autism spectrum, and discovered the contribution he made to the workforce is immeasurable.

Callaghan shared his companys success in hiring people with disabilities at a Milton Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting, held, at the Milton Education Village Innovation Centre, offered an opportunity to discuss the provinces Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

The legislation sets out a process for developing and enforcing accessibility standards.

Ontario is the first Canadian province to pass a law to improve accessibility in the areas that impact the daily lives of people with disabilities.

The deadline for small, private-sector employers to comply with the AODA is January 1, 2017. Failure to comply can result in orders, fines or penalties.

The act affects such things as: transportation, design of public spaces, customer service, information and communications and employment.

It was the latter that speakers noted can have a huge impact in Ontario, where they figure that an unemployed person with a disability is living in poverty on $12,000 annually.

Louie DiPalma, of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said employers are having difficulty attracting the talent they need.

He hears them say that they could have more contracts and increase productivity, but theyre reluctant to because theyre not sure theyll find the people to make it grow.

No one is getting any younger and as we age, we get out of the workforce, he told a group of about 20. In effect, the net new labour force coming to Ontario is through immigration.

To counter that, he suggested businesses find the talent and the skills theyre looking for in that 15 to 16 per cent of the population who have disabilities.

As a business person, we cant not tap into this labour pool, he said, adding theres many reasons inclusivity is important, and thats just one of them.

People with disabilities are everywhere, seen and unseen.

In colleges and universities, theres 50,000 students who have self-declared disabilities.

Are they being employed at the rate they should be? This is a whole talent pool were not tapping into, he said.

DiPalma said there are myths and misconceptions out there about hiring a person with a disability. He wiped out all of them.

Productivity increases and the average one-time cost of prepping a workplace to accommodate a person with disabilities is only $500, and sometimes theres no cost, he said.

Theres a myth that theyre a burden to other employeesits totally the opposite, DiPalma said. The research and stats show the total opposite: they elevate the standards in those organizations.

Sick time is lower or the same as any other employee, he added.

Callaghan reiterated that, noting that since hes been hiring people with disabilities, hes discovered they come in to work really early and they never call in sick.

Hes hired people who are blind, who have various different spectrum disorders and people who are deaf.

All the things youve heard today about myths, I could show you firsthand (at Sodexo), he said. The contribution they make is immeasurable. Its like dropping a little bit of liquid soap into a hot tub it just spreads.

We need to get the word out and change peoples attitude.

Joe Dale, executive director at the Ontario Disability Employment Networks Centre for Excellence in Employment Services for People with a Disability shared the example of Walgreens in the United States. They made a point of hiring people with disabilities, making up 40 per cent of its workforce when they opened a new distribution centre in South Carolina in 2006.

Going forward they did the same and ended up with 47 per cent of its next new distribution centre in Connecticut.

The result? They had 40 per cent reduction in accidents, 67 per cent less in medical costs, 63 per cent less absenteeism and 78 per cent lower employee costs.

What business wouldnt want that? he said.

Dale shared a story closer to home in nearby London, where a law firm hired Kelly, who has Down syndrome. Shes been working there for 23 years.

She does the work of two and a half legal secretaries, he said.

And, added Dale, she hasnt missed a single day of work and the law firm had to force her to take vacation because she loves her job so much.

By hiring someone with a disability, youre giving your business a competitive advantage, and meeting your needs.

Additionally, the law firm ended up getting into disability as a result a bonus.

Julie Slack is a reporter with the Milton Canadian Champion. She can be reached at .

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