Joe Dale

BELLEVILLE – There is an untapped workforce in Ontario that may be overlooked by employers.

Joe Dale is on a mission to change that.

Dale is founder of the Rotary at Work initiative. A partnership with Community Living Ontario started five years ago, the program strives to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities. 

Dale, who lives in Whitby, works as a consultant and also acts as executive director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network. Thanks to an Ontario Trillium Grant, he spends two days a week working from the Community Living Belleville and Area office.

“It’s essentially an education program,” said Dale. “We educate businesses about the values and benefits of hiring people with disabilities.” There are basically two elements to the program – making a strong business case hiring people with disabilities is good for the bottom line and using those businesses already in the practice as champions for the cause.

“There is no charity in this approach,” said Dale.  Employers interested in hiring people with disabilities are connected with employment agencies and organizations for help locating potential candidates. Dale explained the benefits of hiring those with disabilities are broad and do affect a company’s bottom line.

Significantly lower turnover rates, greater loyalty and dedication, fewer accidents and lower absenteeism are some of the areas documented in studies. Chris Rutt, general manager at LKQ Keystone Automotive in Trenton, said his company had great success with deaf employees before it’s bumper re-manufacturing facility moved out of province.

Prior to the Rotary program, Keystone reached out to the Ontario Hearing Society and worked with the organization to bring deaf employees on board. Not only were the deaf employees dedicated, but material supply costs were reduced and return rates fell. Rutt said over a four-year period the company’s turnover rate for employees was reduced by about 20 per cent. For every five hearing employees that left, only one hearing-impaired would leave.

“Everybody cares but our hearing-impaired staff were especially particular about their jobs and work.” They were also always open to suggestions and readily offered and received feedback, he said. Rutt said given the opportunity to hire he would “definitely move in that direction again having had such a positive experience.” Rutt spoke to the Rotary club in Trenton last spring about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. He said he told others in the business community “if you want to improve your bottom line this is something you need to look at.”

Dale said studies show consumers also prefer to do business with companies who employ the disabled and 53 per cent of the marketplace is comprised of those with disabilities, their family members and close relations. “It’s a huge marketplace issue,” said Dale. About 16 per cent of the population in Canada is disabled, a number Dale said is projected to grow to 20 per cent by 2020. “The range of disabilities and range of skills and abilities are as broad as the general population,” he said. Hearing and vision impaired, physical, developmental, genetic and mental health disorders are examples of disabilities.

Statistics Canada reports 49 per cent of people with disabilities are unemployed. Dale said if those who have never been able to access the labour market and those who have given up were included that number would be closer to 75 per cent.

In Belleville alone Dale estimates there are almost 8,000 working-age people who have a disability.

He said the myths and misconceptions exist not just in the business world but community-wide.

Including disabled people in the workforce could also ultimately result in savings for taxpayers. In Ontario $4 billion is spent annually in income support payments and that is growing at a rate of 8 per cent per year. A large number of people with disabilities receiving these payments are still living in poverty.

More than 300 people with disabilities have been hired through the Rotary Works initiative “that we know of”, said Dale. With awareness being spread there could be others who Rotary has not been made aware of.