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At Coop Coco & Calendula, Inclusion is Synonymous with Retention

Production clerks Heather Franklin and Shadday Polony.Among the 25 employees working at Coop Coco & Calendula, three are participants in the Ready, Willing and Able program: packing clerk Lucia Feola, and production clerks Heather Franklin and Shadday Polony. 

In the early days of the cooperative, which produces natural soaps and body care products, a volunteer with an intellectual disability helped out. This experience led co-owner Sarah Hunter to hire inclusively. 

As is the case for all employees, those with a disability tried out their tasks for a few days to make sure it was a good fit for them. 

During their first few days, the Ready, Willing and Able program assisted the employer by providing information about intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. Counselors from Action main-d’œuvre and Agence Ometz, organizations that help place employees with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder, explained how Hunter could work with program participants.

Initially, Hunter worried that employees with a disability would have a hard time adapting to working with other employees. She found that managing employees with an intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder was no different than managing employees without a diagnosis. Some people have a particular way of working that occasionally needs to be explained to others.

At first, employees with an intellectual disability weren’t performing as well as their colleagues. With appropriate support and guidance, their job performance is now equal to other employees.

When Hunter needs to fill a vacant position, working with Ready, Willing and Able makes life easier for her. 

When she was approached by the program, this employer saw how it could help solve her problems with employee retention. She was correct about that. The average turnover rate for workers with an intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder is only 7%, compared to 49% of  workers without disabilities in all sectors.

On top of this, she says that clients appreciate that her company hires employees with an intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder – and that gives her a competitive advantage. When she has openings for them, she is prepared to hire other Ready, Willing and Able participants. She recommends the program to other employers and advises them to find out more about the skills of employees with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder.

Ready, Willing and Able is a national initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance (CASDA). It was designed to increase the labour force participation of people with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder, working with partners in the job market, employers and employment agencies from coast to coast.