Case Study: Whistler Blackcomb: Hiring People with Disabilities Can Be Business as Usual

Employers need not labour under the misconception that hiring someone with a disability will mean inconvenience and irretrievable extra costs. As one successful tourism and hospitality company has proven, creativity and flexibility can make hiring people with disabilities a natural workplace fit.

Joe “Grizz” Robinson

Whistler Blackcomb (WB) has roughly 3,600 employees at its wintertime peak, and 1,200 during the slower summer months, but according to vice president of employee experience Joel Chevalier, the company doesn’t track the number of people with disabilities it has hired “because that’s not what we focus on. We focus on finding the right person for the job, and if the right person has a disability, then we’ll make the necessary adjustments and accommodations.”

Statistics indicate that fewer than 20 per cent of job-ready Canadians with disabilities require any form of accommodation in the workplace, and the majority of workplace accommodations cost less than $500.

Over the years, WB has encountered numerous disability scenarios. This past winter, a job applicant was hoping to be hired as a grooming machine operator on the ski hill. The problem? He is deaf and mute, and that particular job requires working alone and staying in contact through radio communication. But WB and the job-seeker himself came up with an ingenious cost-free solution: hiring him for the mountain safety team, which always works in pairs. “He said, ‘There’s a way we can do this’,” Chevalier recalls. “There’s an element of radio communication, but he had a Blackberry, and he showed us how he could type in what he needs to say if he has a question.” Reassured that the applicant could do the job without jeopardizing safety, WB hired him.

The case of Joe “Grizz” Robinson demonstrates how the company is also prepared to work with multiple parties to enhance the working conditions of someone with a disability. Grizz, as he is known to everyone at WB, is legally blind due to a genetic condition, yet he has worked for some 20 years at WB, the last seven as shipper-receiver during the winter season at Creekside, home to Dusty’s Bar & BBQ. Grizz can see large shapes and bright colours and is able to read paperwork thanks to a magnifying screen. “We’ve made very few physical modifications, like painting a bright yellow strip on the edge of the loading bay,” says food and beverage manager, Joshua Kearns. With financial aids from WB, the local Lions Club and the Employment Program for People with Disabilities (EPPD), Grizz uses a talking thermometer to verify that all food coming off delivery trucks is frozen or refrigerated to FOODSAFE standards, and a scanner that allows him to read product names on boxes.

Paul Street, Joe “Grizz” Robinson, Joshua Kearns

Now the company wants to expand Grizz’s job duties. “Every staff member is developed at WB. You move people to their strengths, and you train them to that role,” says Kearns. Shipper-receivers in other parts of the company are routinely involved in inventory control and ordering, and WB wants Grizz to assume this role at Creekside. With training on some new technology, Grizz says he will learn to manage software “that will use the computer to give me spreadsheets so I can do ordering and inventory. With the old system, I would have had to use a mouse. This way I can just push a button.”

Grizz appreciates the investment WB is making in his career growth, while Kearns says the effort is par for the course. “Grizz does his job very well and he takes pride in his work. His commitment to us has made us want to give him more skills. It’s like any employee — you commit to the ones who commit to you.”

To learn more, read Beyond the Barriers: Adding People with Disabilities to Your Workplace.