Recent studies show that people with disabilities are more educated, more engaged, more productive and more loyal to their employers than the general workforce.
Small business owners are increasingly turning to this talented cohort in their hiring plans and Kamloops employers are among those at the forefront thanks to a number of local programs facilitating the employment of people with disabilities.
"The perception is changing," said Karen Adkin of Smart Options.
"We're really working hard to raise community awareness. My hope is that it becomes the norm as opposed to the exception that you go into a business and see people with disabilities working."
Adkin's organization currently has about 80 clients working in the community — people like 34-year-old Ryan Roshard, who is profoundly deaf and mildly developmentally delayed.
He's been working at Costco for five years.
"It's really good. I really enjoy it there. They say I do a great job," said Roshard.
Thanks to the job, Roshard was able to get off his disability pension, buy himself a brand new truck and a Sea Doo.
His mother Joyce Roshard, with whom Ryan lives, said he's experienced remarkable growth.
"It's just wonderful," she said. "He's very confident even just doing little things around here now. He put lights up on the roof. A few years ago he would've been shaken."
Another success story is 19-year-old David Simon, whose been working at McDonalds for a year and a half.
His main motivation for work was earning a salary, but he also enjoys interacting with the customers.
"I say hi to them, ask them how their day is going, ask them how their food is," he said.
He gets excellent feedback from his employer and co-workers — customers are especially impressed since his delayed physical development makes him appear about 13 years old, said mom Joanne Simon.
"They're just amazed that this young kid is working so diligently. They've actually given him tips," she said.
The future looks bright for David.
Through his employer, he received a scholarship to attend Thompson Rivers University's ESTR (Education Skills Training) program. That led him to fulfill a practicum at Sport Chek, where he will soon work permanently.
Despite the success stories, there still exist plenty of myths and misconceptions about hiring someone with a disability, said Bonnie Johnson, a job developer for Open Door Group in Kamloops.
A recent cross Canada Bank of Montreal survey showed that in 2013, only three in 10 small business owners hired someone with a disability — essentially unchanged from 2012.
"Often times when they hear disability, they think 'Wheelchair, no, not going to work,'" said Johnson. "So part of it is an educational process for us."
The good news is that local businesses are quite receptive.
"Kamloops employers are amazing," she said. "So many employers say 'Well, tell me a little bit more about this.'"
That bodes well for all involved — employees, employers and the economy.
A federal government panel tasked with studying employment of people with disabilities sees the demographic as an untapped source of much needed labour.
The Employment and Social Services Canada panel report made clear that as the population ages and disability rates increase, society cannot afford to exclude this group.
"One of the trade associations we spoke to cautioned, 'There is a tsunami off the coast and although we don't know when it will hit, we know that as the economy picks up and more people retire, there will be a shortage of talent,'" states the report entitled Rethinking DisAbility in the Private Sector.
There are currently 795,000 unemployed Canadians whose disability does not prevent them from working. Almost half of them have post-secondary education, however 70 per cent of people with disabilities are unemployed.
"We must find ways to engage with and employ these individuals so we can benefit from their education and skills," states the report.
Panel member Mark Wafer was in Kamloops in October to make a case for a new hiring approach.
Deaf since birth, his experience led him to hire people with disabilities at his first Tim Hortons franchise in Ontario in 1995.
Since then, he's hired an additional 82 people with disabilities and currently has 33 out of a workforce of 210 in my six locations.
He said studies show that employees with a disability work 97 per cent safer, have attendance records 86 per cent greater, stay on the job up to fives times longer, increase morale to the point that non-disabled staff stay longer and productivity is 20 per cent higher.
"Why? Because the job is precious, it took a long time to get that job," Wafer wrote in an open letter response to a Toronto Star article.
"And quite frankly a person in a wheelchair has to be innovative just to get through the day, imagine how that mindset helps a pod or team at a workplace."
The push to hire people with disabilities appears to be ramping up in Kamloops.
The Mayor's Advisory Committee For Persons With Disabilities recently announced a provincial goal to create 1,200 jobs by 2015, with 90 positions required in the Thompson-Nicola region by hosting forums for employers and businesses.
In October, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, Don McRae travelled to Kamloops to announce a $100,000 investment through Community Living B.C.'s jobs strategy.
It's being used to support a pilot project to improve employment services for adults with disabilities in the Thompson Cariboo region.
And the Kamloops Society for Community Living will be hosting a lunch on Jan. 15 at the Chamber of Commerce meeting room (615 Victoria Street) featuring "champion employers" who have benefited from hiring a person with a developmental disability.
For more information contact Minna Ikonen of KSCL at 250-374-3245.
On Feb. 4, a provincial consultation on issues facing people with disabilities comes to Kamloops.
A team representing the disability and business communities working alongside government will lead the consultation throughout B.C.
The resulting white paper will be shared at a provincial summit in June 2014 that will bring together a diverse group of leaders to develop strategies and actions for addressing the issues facing people with disabilities.