Lip Service

Filed in MUNICIPALITY by on January 3, 2018

    Inspired after hearing a talk by Tim Horton’s owner, Mark Wafer, I decided it would be a great idea to write about Canadian municipalities that hire people with disabilities. I assumed it would be pretty easy to find a short story from each province that I could highlight. Unbelievably, I wasn’t able to find any!  Almost EVERY municipal web site I checked had a LIP SERVICE statement similar to the following:

Our municipality is committed to fostering diversity within our community, and to an inclusive, barrier-free environment. We welcome those who would contribute to the further diversification of our staff, including, but not limited to, women, visible minorities, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, and persons of any sexual orientation or gender identity. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply.  Accommodation can be provided in all steps of the hiring process.

A Google search on the subject turned up ONLY ONE municipality that had really even considered hiring people with disabilities … and that was Sarnia Ontario, led by Mayor Mike Bradley. In 2010, Mayor Mike issued a challenge to all Ontario mayors to “Do the Right Thing” and hire people with disabilities.

I contacted Mayor Bradley and posed this question: “Do you know of any municipalities that actually hire people with disabilities, or do most of them just pay “lip service” to the idea?

Here is his answer: “Thanks for the question. Sarnia has been successful in summer employment for students with disabilities. Not with permanent employment. I would say it’s the same with most towns and cities in Canada. Mayors love to raise flags and issue proclamations, and communities love to say they are inclusive and supporting of disability employment, but the reality is, it is ‘lip service.’ If communities say they have disabled employees it’s because the disability happened after they became employed by the city or town. People who become disabled are accommodated (a word I hate, since, in reality, everyone is accommodated in their employment) in the municipal work place but that is different than trying to target those with disabilities for employment.”

Mayor Bradley is very familiar with Mark Wafer and his story. “We have worked together since being introduced by former Lt. Governor David Onley in 2010. We have a Champions Group that is always swimming against the current with success. We have fought to have sheltered workshops closed, against wage subsidies, and what I call the “Jerry Lewis” charity approach to hiring the disabled and intellectually challenged.”

Next, I contacted Mark Wafer to get his comments. I found him “on the road” in sunny Carmel, California, on his way to a conference in San Diego.

Mark told me that the reality is, with few exceptions (Sarnia, Ontario being the most notable), municipalities are not leaders in inclusion, in spite of the fact that they have the capacity to lead the way. Mark pointed out the obvious … municipalities are often the largest employer in town!

Here’s more of what Mark had to say on the subject: “To change the way things have always been done, there are key requirements that need to be in place. Real change has to begin at the top. The mayor, or at the very least the CAO, has to drive change. In towns where there is a Chamber of Commerce, it is important that they work together.

“The value of inclusion is obvious for the individual being hired: they get to live a full life. The value to the organization, however, must also be understood in order to make any meaningful change.

“I recently spoke with the management team from the town of Shelburne. Like many municipalities, Shelburne has a labour shortage – in Parks and Rec’s snow clearing, and more. And they are all jobs that individuals with disabilities could do, as long as the fit is correct. Yet, such individuals are not getting the chances! Why? It’s a one-word answer: leadership! If leadership would “get it”, and recognize the value – that the municipality could reduce worker turnover, enjoy a safer workplace, lower absenteeism rates, increase overall employee morale (even in a union environment), and increase productivity. All of these benefits combined lowers costs to the taxpayers, and the best way for a mayor incumbent to win re-election is to be as appealing to voters as Mayor Mike Bradley is, and has been for nearly 30 years! It’s a win/win! You can read all about Mike here:  Mike Bradley

“From a recruiter’s point of view, it’s time to become direct. Daring and bold. Current recruitment strategies rarely work for or speak to the disabled community. The word “disability” has to be used in order to encourage those potential workers to apply.


“It’s important to note that an individual with a disability will not apply for any job where they cannot complete every single item in the job description. They have been turned down so many times that they won’t set themselves up for failure. However most, if not all job descriptions are inflated or embellished when simplification would make a lot of sense!

“To see how using the word “disability” works well, check the recruitment strategies of RBC. Direct, daring and Bold. (I wrote them LOL). [Check the RBC Hiring Policy here.]

“In my community (Collingwood) we have a negative unemployment rate. Business can’t find workers and we have a zero rental availability rate therefore people can’t move to Collingwood to take jobs that are starting at $19 hour instead of minimum wage. I have encouraged the municipality and the mayor to take a leadership role and not only hire within but encourage the business community to do so also. Mayor Mike spoke with our Mayor and nothing came of it. This is typical.

“There are 3,000 people in Collingwood with disabilities. 1,500 are not working, and of those, we know that 750 can work and are eager to work. Businesses would rather close early and make less money than take the risk of hiring a person with a disability, but with real leadership a lot would change.”

Like Mark Wafer, Mayor Mike Bradley, has been recognized for his advocacy for the hiring of persons with disabilities. Recently Mike, has “relaunched” the “Mayor’s Challenge to Hire Persons with a Disability,” but with something of a twist.

Instead of “Doing the Right Thing,” Bradley is now asking his colleagues to “Do the Smart Thing.”

How does your municipality measure up?

Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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