Kimberlee LoCicero has seen successes in the workplace stemming from being educated about employees who have a disability. For instance, colleagues of a man who has cerebral palsy overcame their initial discomfort with the first-hand knowledge that he’s a person who’s very capable of many things. “To see that kind of turnaround within a culture, within a group, is very, very powerful because everyone learns from it, and they realize that they perhaps did have barriers or perceptions that they needed to lose,” LoCicero says.

This direct, straightforward approach is one key that LoCicero sees to Abilities In Mind (AIM) unlocking doors in business and industry to greater workplace diversity.

LoCicero is human resources director at Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver, one of five founding business partners in AIM. This developing program at the BC Centre for Ability strives to reframe disability in the workplace so employers build organizational capacity to hire, retain and promote people who have a disability.

LoCicero says contributing to AIM is an extension of Shangri-La policy and its corporate social responsibility program. The luxury hotel chain stipulates that people who have a disability comprise at least two per cent of the workforce at all properties.

Its successes in employing individuals who have a disability, including those on the front line of this five-star hospitality player, lends credence to the viability of inclusive workplaces.

“It’s a wonderful story of how it can be done,” LoCicero says.

AIM is building credibility in the business community by engaging reputable and leading companies to assist in the drive for change. LoCicero says the founding partners are being extensively consulted in the development of AIM’s tools to help businesses grow capacity for inclusiveness. Critical input is also sought from employees who have a disability and businesses interested in building diversity.

This business-to-business approach to identify challenges, solutions and advantages to diverse workplaces is a strength of AIM. LoCicero says making a business case for inclusiveness will resonate with businesses and industry.

“As with any change, it has to be substantiated with an ROI — what is my return on investment,” LoCicero says, suggesting productivity, liability, profit, cost and customer impact are areas for AIM to address to pique interest and help the initiative gain momentum.

She notes, for instance, there’s a misconception that it’s more costly to hire a person who has a disability. “It’s very minimal,” she says, adding various supports are available.

LoCicero says AIM “is all about education and (addressing) what people know and what they don’t know.”

“AIM is looking for an opportunity, through education, discussion and open dialogue, to innovate that really makes sense with the business world and with people who are passionate but also up front and frank to put the elephant on the table and discuss how we move employment in the workplace to what it should be.”