Employment of Persons with Disabilities in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises


Executive Summary

At the request of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), The Return on Disability Group (RoDG) was engaged to assess how Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can best integrate and maximize the contributions of People with Disabilities (PWD).  This report outlines the findings by RoDG’s team of experts, who conducted a focus group with PWD employed at Canadian SMEs, interviewed business leaders at Canadian SMEs with a reputation for inclusive hiring and an engaged workforce, and conducted an environmental scan of accessibility at Canadian SMEs.

The goal of this report is to identify leading practices in hiring, retaining and maximizing the contributions of PWD in the Canadian SME context. This is not simply an exercise in inclusive hiring. Rather, this report is intended to enable Canadian SME executives to maximize the contributions of a population group they are already employing – often without realizing it. It is also intended to push back on some of the misconceptions and suboptimal practices that prevent businesses from maximizing the productivity of their existing talent pool, and missing out on top talent available in the marketplace.

During the course of this research, RoDG identified several best practices and insights that can be leveraged to both increase the hiring and retention of top PWD, and to translate this human capital to increased financial returns. We include 32insights that highlight the current knowledge on employing PWD in the SME context, and the results of our focus group of PWD and interviews with SME leaders.

These insights can be incorporated into hiring and employee engagement practices, and downloaded to individual management teams. Of primary importance is a proactive stance on accommodations, emphasizing what team members need to be most effective, and abandoning the assumption that PWD will disclose their disabilities. One advantage that SMEs have compared to large organizations is greater communication between executives and team members. This should be leveraged to create an environment in which productivity adjustments can be easily offered, requested, and provided.

In addition to strategies for SME leaders, RoDG’s research highlighted several areas in which the federal government can serve as an effective “gap filler” – providing resources that individual SMEs, especially small businesses, would be unlikely or unable to muster on their own. One of the most important resources here is information, especially surrounding accommodation costs, as well as providing simple and transparent financial incentives for major changes to built or digital environments.  

RoDG has included two sets of recommendations, one for SME leadership, and one for the Government of Canada. The intent of each is to create policies and processes that enable SMEs to attract and maximize the abilities of Canada’s PWD population, thus creating value. As with all talent pools, processes must maximize engagement and productivity to be sustainable.

Please click “Download” to read the entire report.

Note: This report was posted at the explicit request of ESDC. The report was crafted with the intent to be in the public domain.