Canada’s largest minority group is people who have a disability. The disability community makes up over 15% of Canada’s population or looking at it from a different point of view, the entire population of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta combined. Few Canadians are aware of this, most believe the disability community to be much smaller.

According to StatsCan, 54% of those with disabilities are not working. That number, however, is somewhat conservative. Today there are more than 500,000 graduates from the past five years with disabilities who have not worked a single day. Of those, more than 270,000 have a post-secondary education. Without any marketplace attachment, these young Canadians aren’t counted in unemployment statistics, therefore, the real unemployment rate for Canadians with disabilities is closer to 70%.

Imagine if you will the tragedy of the Great Depression. Canada’s unemployment rate was at its peak, over 24%. Today though those with disabilities live a perpetual depression with an unemployment rate three times higher.

There are a number of reasons why we have such a high unemployment rate and a very low participation rate. The leading cause is attitude, the attitude of employers, hiring managers, HR professionals, corporate executives and owners or small business and yes, franchise owners too. The prevalent belief is that workers with disabilities will be less productive, require expensive accommodations, work in a less safe manner, be sick more often, be less innovative or require extra supervision. All of these are stereotypes, myths and misperceptions.

The truth is the exact opposite. Attitude is, in fact, the greatest barrier a person with a disability faces in their fight to gain work.

My wife Valarie and I owned six Tim Hortons franchises in Toronto for 25 years. During that time we employed over 200 workers with disabilities in all areas of the business including senior management. We employed people with every type of disability and all were paid a competitive wage. All jobs, therefore, were real and meaningful, we did not create charity positions, we did not look at legislative compliance as a reason for doing so.

We sold our business at the end of 2017. At that time 17% of our workforce was made up of workers with disabilities. Some had been there for years including one man with Down Syndrome who was with us for the entire journey. Clint was simply one of my best employees.

Labour in a franchise business is problematic. In a retail outlet such as a QSR (Quick Service Restaurants) sector restaurant labour is vital but so too is the need to keep labour costs as low as possible. Early on in our career as restaurant owners, we noticed a trend with our workers with disabilities. They stayed on the job longer, an average of seven times longer, they had much less absenteeism (85%), worked in a far more safer manner (lowering WSIB costs), increased innovation, increased overall employee morale but there’s more, much more.

We discovered:
  1. Our annual employee turnover averaged 40% every year in a sector where the normal employee turnover is 100%
  2. With 200+ workers with disabilities over 25 years and an average of 46 workers with a disability at any given time, we never filled out a workplace injury form for a worker with a disability.
  3. 60% of workers with disabilities required no accommodation at all with 35% requiring a minor accommodation that cost less than $500. This is less than the cost of accommodating a non-disabled employee who wants to take a week off unexpectedly.
  4. Our sales and transaction increase year over year were always higher than the average for restaurants in our area.

Retail customers want to shop in outlets that hire from the fabric of our communities. They will go out of their way to shop at a store that hires workers with disabilities. There are reasons for this beyond the simple human factor which I will outline in my closing comment below.

Franchising is complex and being made more so each year as growth slows down and competition explodes. Of the sectors in Canada where inclusion has not been embraced, retail is number one. With Canada now well into a permanent labour shortage, Franchise owners have to be innovative in finding workers and at the same time controlling labour costs. Taping into the massive disability labour pool is the obvious answer. Retail however and the QSR sector, in particular, has been slow to respond. Whichever franchise takes this on first will reap the benefits of a massive competitive advantage. Simply put, if a franchised brand said today, “we intend to be the leaders in inclusion with our brand”, the outcomes would be immediate and significant. A competitive advantage that would take other brands in the same sector a long time to catch up to.

Still, there are many in business who will look at that 15% and quietly say to themselves that they can afford to ignore the disability community. Unconscious bias alone tells them that the effort is too great and not worth considering. Others see the community as too small, niche perhaps.

Those business owners would be very wrong indeed. Let’s take that 15% of Canadians who have a disability and add in their immediate family members, we are now at 53% of the Canadian population. That means half of my 14,000 daily customers at my six Tim Hortons locations were directly affected by disability. They either have one or they have a loved one at home with a disability.

Now you know why my sales and transactions increases always beat targets. It’s simple, being fully inclusive is simply good for business.



Mark Wafer, Former Tim Hortons Franchisee

Mark is a disability rights activist. Until recently he was the owner of six highly successful Tim Hortons locations in Toronto. During his 25 years in the business Mark employed over 200 workers with disabilities in all areas of the operation including senior management.  At any given time approximately 17% of his workforce identified as having a disability. 

Mark is an internationally recognized expert on the economics of inclusion. He is an advisor to governments around the world and is responsible for Canada’s national disability employment strategy. 

Mark has received many awards and recognition for his work most notably from her majesty,  Queen Elizabeth II.  He was inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame in 2014.

Mark is also a Motorsports enthusiast, former race car driver and 2008 Canadian historic sports car champion.

Thank you for sharing this Mark,

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