The right thing for business!

Hiring people with disabilities isn’t “doing the right thing.”  It’s “doing the right thing for business.”  The true value for organizations doesn’t come from ticking the right boxes, but from accessing the benefits of an inclusive environment.

There are real, proven advantages to employing people with disabilities. Your business can benefit from:

  • Increasing the size of its skilled labour pool
  • Reduced costs associated with turnover, training and safety
  • Improving the engagement of all your employees
  • Harnessing the value of innovative processes and new perspectives
  • Attracting an underserved consumer market worth $55 billion per year in Canada

The business opportunity for hiring people with disabilities

The business opportunity is irrefutable. Employing people with disabilities means better performance.

There is not one industry in which people with disabilities are unable to work. There are as many opportunities as there are businesses, and you can access work-ready individuals who are prepared to positively contribute to their communities, often without extra costs on accommodations. You can broaden your pool of skilled candidates across all industries by including people with disabilities. Technology. Healthcare. Banking Manufacturing. Retail. Food and Hospitality, Professional services. Transportation. Real Estate. Construction. You won’t have to lower the bar – just open your door a little bit wider.

Anyone can acquire a disability. At any time. That’s worth considering. In most cases, the cost to accommodate and achieve these benefits is negligible:

  • Inclusive businesses are three times as likely to be high-performing
  • Reduced absenteeism, turnover and safety costs
  • Market opportunities
  • An innovation advantage

Why hire people with disabilities?

People with disabilities are the largest of all minority groups–22% of the population, or 6.2 M Canadians self-identify as having a disability and they cross all demographics. They represent an untapped talent pool. 

The benefits of becoming “disability confident” include cost reductions associated with turnover, absenteeism and safety, and improvements in productivity and problem-solving. Companies hiring people with disabilities often discover that they not only have access to talent eager to work, but they can also improve their products and services and expand into new markets.

By the way, the cost of accommodation is low–or nothing at all. In a U.S. study of almost 2000 employers conducted by the Job Accommodation Network between 2004 and 2012, researchers learned that most employers report no or low cost for accommodating employees with disabilities. Statistics Canada reports that about 1 in 3 employees with a disability will require at least one workplace accommodation. The most common accommodation according to the 2017 CSD was flexible work schedules (think modified hours or reduced work hours). Accommodations usually cost little or nothing to provide and can add value in the workplace.  The 2016 study, ROI of Hiring Disabled Workers (Lindstrom) reported that for every dollar invested in making an accommodation a company can earn an average rate of return of $28.

The Return on Disability Group review of equity indices, summarized in The Return on Disability Rating Report, demonstrates that companies with a strong record of hiring people with disabilities perform better. In the early 90s, a Harvard study demonstrated that organizations leveraging diversity (“adaptive cultures”) dramatically outperformed non-adaptive ones across many indicators, with 90% posting increased market valuation compared to 74%. Findings from 2012 McKinsey were consistent: for companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, ROEs were 53 percent higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile.

Reduced absenteeism, turnover and safety costs and improved productivity – employer experiences

  • Absenteeism: In 2011, absenteeism among the 35 employees with disabilities at Tim Hortons franchisee Megleen (17% of the company’s workforce) was zero.
  • Turnover: Significantly reduced turnover has been substantiated by this and other organizations including Walgreens and Marriott.
  • Safety: Among its employees with disabilities, Walgreens cited a 40% lower safety incident rate, 63% lower employee time away from work due to accidents, and 78% lower overall costs associated with accidents.
  • Productivity: Walgreens’ management analyzed a total of 31 distinct locations in three distribution centers where 40% of employees have disabilities. In 18 locations, the difference in productivity rates was statistically insignificant; in three locations, employees without a disability were more productive; and in 10 locations, employees with a disability were more productive.

Market opportunities

Today, 53% of Canadians either have a disability or have a close connection to someone who does. They are employees, customers, suppliers and vendors, and they represent a $55 billion consumer market in Canada – $1 trillion globally per year.  A U.S. National Survey of consumer attitudes towards companies that hire people with disabilities found that 92% of the American public viewed these companies more favourably. Eighty-seven percent said they would prefer to give their business to companies hiring people with disabilities.

An innovation advantage

Employees with disabilities can offer a unique perspective and insight into products and services that may lead to product innovations and competitive advantage. They can play a key role in identifying elements of accessibility that may not be recognized by product developers who do not have disabilities. They can also help find ways to reach out to new markets that include people with disabilities. As an added benefit, innovations built into products to improve accessibility often lead to enhanced usability for all consumers, not just those with disabilities.

Real Companies, Real Numbers:

  • In ten of thirteen Walgreens distribution locations where a productivity difference was identified, employees with a disability were more productive than those without.
  • In six Tim Hortons stores employing staff with disabilities, turnover was 35% compared to the 75% industry average.
  • In 2011, absenteeism of the employees with disabilities in these Tim Hortons locations was zero.
  • A three-year study at Washington Mutual found a turnover rate of 8% among persons with developmental disabilities, compared to an overall rate of 45%.
  • Marriott reported a 6% turnover rate among persons with disabilities versus 52% overall.

Canadian Business SenseAbility


  1. DuPont/Australian Public Service Commission [APSC] “Ability at work: Tapping the talent of people with disability,” Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2007
  2. Don’t Lower the Bar, Mark Wafer (April, 2014)
  3. People with disabilities: A new model of productive labor (Advances in Hospitality and Tourism Marketing and Management conference, 2012)