Employers engage people with disabilities

More employers in British Columbia are recognizing the benefits of inclusive hiring practices. Find out how three B.C. organizations have experienced success through including people with disabilities in their workforces.

Quick Facts

  • There are approximately 334,000 British Columbians age 15 to 64 who self-identify as having a disability.
  • According to the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, approximately half of working-age people with disabilities are employed. With a forecast of 903,000 job openings in B.C. between 2018 and 2028, British Columbians with disabilities are an important, and largely untapped, talent pool.
  • Most workplace accommodations for a person with a disability cost $500 or less, with many accommodations having no cost.
Inclusive hiring by employers in B.C. supports Accessibility 2024, government’s vision of becoming the most accessible province in Canada for people with disabilities—including having the highest labour participation rate.

Kamloops Law Firm

Cates Ford Oien Epp needed a hard-working office assistant interested in a long-term commitment. After turning to their local WorkBC Centre, the Kamloops law firm applied for an employee training grant program and was matched with potential job candidates.
Marilyn Turnbull at Cates Ford Oien Epp
Photo: Marilyn Turnbull
Photo Credit: Tiffany Christianson
When it turned out the top applicant, Marilyn Turnbull, would not be able to answer phones due to significant hearing loss, the firm was undeterred. “We hired Marilyn because she was the strongest candidate,” said the firm’s administrator, Daphane Nelson. “Above all we needed someone diligent, focused and capable, and she was that person.” They redistributed responsibilities among staff, including transferring reception duties to another employee and haven’t looked back.
Daphane described the only “accommodation” the firm makes for Marilyn—and it’s free: “We have face-to-face conversations or we put things in writing, but those are quite standard so I wouldn’t consider them accommodations.”
Daphane had no apprehension about hiring an employee with a disability. “Everyone has an innate ability to do what they can,” she said. “I don’t see barriers. I just look at people and ask, ‘Can you do it? Great!’ We make accommodations and move on from there.”
Marilyn described her positive experience working for Cates Ford Oien Epp: “They are a very busy firm and have amazing partners and staff to work with. It is really a great atmosphere and a pleasure to work here. I was hired to help the firm go more paperless and along the way I have had the opportunity to take on more responsibilities, learn advanced skills and help the legal assistants with files. I look forward as time goes on to learning many more new things within the firm.”
Daphane described the added value Marilyn has brought to the firm and its clients, above and beyond her strengths as an employee: “When you interact with people who have different challenges, it makes you more empathetic to others—and that’s a key component of humanity.” Advising how other employers should move forward with inclusive hiring, she added, “Look outside the box. I feel very strongly that all people—given an opportunity—are highly capable. Look at the wider range of the employee pool, talk about what the organization needs and then move on it. It’s a next-level thing.”
  • Cates Ford Oien Epp is a law firm serving residents in Kamloops and surrounding areas, practicing personal injury, family, wills and estates, criminal defence, civil litigation, real estate and business law. 
  • There are 103 WorkBC Centres throughout the province delivering WorkBC Employment Services, including a range of supports and services to help people with disabilities find employment. More than 27,800 British Columbians with disabilities have found a job through the WorkBC Centres.
  • The WorkBC Centre in Kamloops is operated by the Open Door Social Services Society, a non-profit organization and registered charity that also provides employment services to people with disabilities.
Cates Ford Oien Epp is open to receiving calls from employers about hiring people with disabilities. Contact:
Daphane Nelson, Administrator
Cates Ford Oien Epp, Barristers & Solicitors
(250) 372-8811
Toll free - 1 (800) 949-3362 (BC only)

Vancouver Airport Authority

When Craig Richmond, president and CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR), approached his Human Resources team about increasing diversity in YVR’s workforce, they were immediately onboard. The only problem was finding vacancies in an organization with such low employee turnover.

The solution was YVR’s co-operative education program.

Working with the Disability Resource Centres at various post-secondary partner institutions, YVR started a pilot pathfinding project that explicitly encouraged co-op applicants with disabilities to apply and voluntarily self-declare in their cover letters.
Steven Woo and his assistance dog, Horatio
Photo: Steven Woo
and his assistance dog, Horatio
Steven Woo, an individual living with a visual impairment, was one of the successful applicants for a co-op opportunity with the Airport Authority’s Communications Department. Along with his assistance dog, Horatio, Steven spent four summer months as a community ambassador on the YVR Flight Crew, attending 47 summer festival days between the beginning of May and the end of August and promoting YVR through its “Get Packing” contest.

To ensure Steven was well-supported, YVR connected him with the Neil Squire Society. Among many services, they deliver WorkBC Assistive Technology Services, a government-funded program that provides assistive technology to British Columbians for employment or volunteer activities. After assessing Steven’s work environment, the Neil Squire Society provided him with a 34-inch monitor, a video magnifier and several other innovative solutions. 
Upon graduation from Langara College, Steven joined the Airport Authority as a permanent, full-time communications assistant. He now leads YVR’s Explorer Tour program in addition to being involved in a number of research projects.

Describing how hiring Steven has enhanced her team and brought value to the organization, his manager, Jenny Duncan, said, “Steven is a key member of our community relations team and brings his own experience and insight that helps us to grow our programs to ensure we meet the needs of our broader community. He has helped us evaluate our own internal systems and processes which help our organization grow its mandate to be accessible—we are all learning together.”

Steven returned the praise: “The organization is very open to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. It has made me feel comfortable being here and speaking openly about the accommodations I need to do my job.” Steven pointed out that other employers may be inclined to hire people with disabilities, but are intimidated by the accommodation process: “I recognize that I am very fortunate to be in this environment. Vancouver Airport Authority has done an excellent job.”

YVR’s advice to employers looking to expand their inclusive hiring practices is to seek counsel from employers who have gone through those processes and outreach groups supporting persons with disabilities, such as WorkBC Assistive Technology Services through the Neil Squire Society and WorkBC Centre, Open Door Group.
  • Vancouver Airport Authority’s workforce reflects the vibrant communities it serves with more than 450 individuals included in its diverse and inclusive workforce.
  • The provincial government provides $3 million annually for WorkBC Assistive Technology Services, operated by the Neil Squire Society, to provide assistive technologies that support employment goals. Assistive technology includes mobility supports, assistive devices such as alternative keyboards and voice input equipment and workplace modifications. 


Kristin Bower from Vancity is leading the financial co-operative’s bold initiatives to build an inclusive workplace and employee team more reflective of the people of B.C.
Patrick Gallagher and Maridel Deguzman, learning team employees, People Solutions, Vancity
Photo: Patrick Gallagher and Maridel Deguzman,
learning team employees, People Solutions, Vancity

As Vancity’s diversity and inclusion consultant, Kristin has spent the past few years actively raising the bar when it comes to hiring people with disabilities. She and her colleagues are currently focused on four pilot projects to expand Vancity’s horizons as an inclusive employer.

These include a secondment project—still under development—in which Vancity would assign a senior employee to work for an organization that provides services to people with disabilities. The Vancity employee would contribute their subject-matter expertise to the organization while learning about disability services, knowledge that can be brought back and applied at Vancity. Second is a partnership with the Vancouver School Board to provide high school students with special needs with work experience—a project they want to broaden to other regions.

The third is a partnership with Focus Professional Services (FPS), a unique IT service company in Vancouver where most employees have an autism spectrum disorder. FPS counts their employee diversity as a top strength. In December of 2015, Vancity hired eight FPS employees for a one-year contract to support infrastructure upgrades in their IT department. It’s going so well, they have extended the contract with all eight recruits for another full year of work. “The new hires have been strong,” explained Kristin, “so strong that we were able to free up two existing full-time employees for other work.”

The fourth and biggest Vancity diversity initiative has been their Workplace Inclusion (WIN) project, launched in 2016. The nine-month project ran at 22 Vancity branches in Metro Vancouver and Victoria and was based on job carving, a process by which an employer “carves out” a portion of existing responsibilities from other positions to create a new one. In this case, each of the participating Vancity branches created a part-time administrative position intended for an individual with special needs from the community.

Committed to creating a meaningful inclusive hiring process, Vancity shifted from the standard course of requesting written applications and instead had the branches reach out to local community partners for a list of recommended candidates.

The partners also worked with Vancity to develop less conventional job interviews. These included an informal meet-and-greet between the candidate, community partner and branch manager, plus a one-hour working “interview” for the candidate to literally demonstrate their skills on the job. These modified interviews allowed Vancity to more effectively assess candidates’ strengths and company fit, and gave the candidates a better chance to shine—both opportunities that may have been lost within a more traditional behavioural-style interview.

Kristin emphasized that candidates had to work hard to earn the positions. “None of these individuals wants charity. They want to obtain a real job on their own merit. Having a real competition shows respect for these individuals and it’s also best for our company. These are real jobs and we have business needs to be met.”
The results of WIN speak for themselves: 21 of the 22 individuals have been hired on as permanent, part-time employees (the 22nd left to return to school). Each position is also now permanent so that if someone leaves, Vancity will hire another individual with special needs to replace them. Since WIN employees work a maximum of 12 hours per week and don’t qualify for the benefits package offered to standard part-time or full-time employees, Vancity has also created a modified benefits package so they have access to health and other supports.

What drives Vancity’s inclusivity mission? Kristin explained, “Inclusion is for all; it’s not just for some. We believe in building healthier, stronger communities and that includes tapping into this workforce.

Talking about the impact of these inclusive hires on work environment, Kristin said, “This has shifted everyone’s idea of what a disability is. We don’t use the ‘d’ word anymore. We just focus on abilities.”
  • Vancity is a values-based financial co-operative serving the needs of its more than 523,000 member-owners and their communities in the Coast Salish and Kwakwaka'wakw territories, with 59 branches in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Victoria, Squamish and Alert Bay.
  • With $25.6 billion in assets plus assets under administration, Vancity is Canada’s largest community credit union. Vancity uses its assets to help improve the financial well-being of its members, while at the same time helping to develop healthy communities that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.
  • Tamara Vrooman, Vancity President and CEO, co-chairs the Presidents Group, an advisory committee to government comprised of prominent and influential business leaders in B.C. to champion advice, learnings, employment and consumer opportunities and improved outcomes for people with disabilities.
  • Focus Professional Services (FPS) is an IT service provider in Vancouver. The majority of its employees are individuals on the autism spectrum. FPS trains their employees to work in fast-paced, project-based environments. FPS advocates for neurodiversity in the workplace, offering employees social and IT skills training and educating clients about autism in the workplace.
VanCity is open to receiving queries from employers interested in expanding their own inclusive hiring practices. Contact:
Kristin Bower
Consultant, Diversity and Inclusion

Learn More About Inclusive Hiring

Learn how WorkBC Assistive Technology Services supports people who have a work-related barrier due to a disability or a functional limitation. Assistive technology can help with mobility supports, alternative keyboards, voice input equipment, workplace modifications and other services.

Read more about B.C. employers' experiences with starting accessibility initiatives, their successes, challenges and lessons learned: http://www.accessibleemployers.ca/case-studies/#

Why should you consider hiring people with disabilities? Read the compelling business case: http://www.accessibleemployers.ca/business-case/​

Find WorkBC resources and information about hiring people with disabilities: www.workbc.ca/EmployDiversity

B.C.'s 10-Year Accessibility Action Plan and progress updates: www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/accessibility

For additional resources, see the Government of Canada's Hiring persons with disabilities website. You'll find facts on the benefits of inclusive hiring, tools to make your workplace inclusive, and sources of financial support.

Are you an employer with a success story to share? Please email us at wbcinfo@gov.bc.ca.

Are you someone with a disability? Find relevant career resources on Workbc.ca/accessibility, including WorkBC’s CareerTrek videos. You can also access more information through one of B.C.’s 84 WorkBC Employment Centres.