Ross Chilton: Untapped talent pool is key to British Columbia’s future

Persephone Brewing Co. CEO Brian Smith in the brewery’s hop yard in Gibsons in 2016. The company grows hops for its beer and has several acres dedicated to eggs and vegetable crops as part of a social enterprise that employs people with developmental disabilities. (Simon Hayter/PNG FILES)

Simon Hayter / PNG

All British Columbians deserve a meaningful job. We all want to be happy and proud of our workplace culture. We want our employers to thrive and succeed.

That is why it is good news that more and more B.C. businesses are employing people with intellectual disabilities. September is Disability Employment Awareness Month and Community Living B.C. has found that in 2019 more than 5,000 adults living with intellectual disabilities are now reporting an income. That’s up from 2,200 in 2013, although it still represents only 25 per cent of people who Community Living B.C. serves. This is an issue we continue to address with our partners through our Community Action Employment Plan.

This progress is thanks to the hard work of many, including change-driven business champions such as those in the B.C. network called the President’s Group. It’s due to visionary service agencies like those in the B.C. Employment Network. And it’s because of individuals who live with disabilities who are changing perspectives about what is possible.

Positive, dramatic change — the kind that moves businesses and communities from good to great — happens when we become aware of the biases that hold us back. When we see what people, businesses and communities can do, rather than what they can’t. When we see possibilities, rather than limits.

Daynna is the mother of a son who lives with autism and receives services from Community Living B.C. Last year, she was thrilled when a B.C. software company saw the potential of her son. “Soon after, we got the call: Tyler had a job! A paying job!,” recalled Daynna. “This was so amazing for Tyler and our whole family. It was hard to hold back the tears.” Inclusive hiring has the power to transform the future for individuals and their families.

It can also have a dramatic change our workplaces. The facts show that employees who live with disabilities are dedicated, loyal and perform as well as their colleagues. They foster a learning culture, enrich staff connections and improve workforce skills. They help create better, happier workplaces.

And according to, inclusive workplaces are two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets, six times more likely to be innovative and six times more likely to effectively anticipate change. How can that be? It’s because companies that see possibilities are the companies that succeed.

Employment is a key element of the government’s poverty reduction strategy and there are resources to help B.C. companies make it happen. The government provides services and supports through Work BC and Community Living B.C. funded agencies for those looking for work and for employers seeking to hire inclusively. Programs like Ready Willing and Able and networks of leading B.C. businesses like the President’s Group, provide other resources and mentors.

This is important, because there are still large numbers of people who live with disabilities whose talents remain untapped. With clear evidence of their potential, and many helping hands, what’s holding us back? We have it within us to drive dramatic positive change for people, businesses and entire communities. It’s just a matter of seeing the possibilities.

Ross Chilton is CEO of Community Living B.C., the provincial Crown corporation that funds supports and services for adults with developmental disabilities, as well as individuals who have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and who also have significant difficulty doing things on their own.

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