The Sobeys in Cole Harbour, N.S., looks like most other supermarkets, with busy shoppers, aisles full of food and lots of hard-working employees. But thanks to store manager Paul Keinick, there’s something special about the grocery store: a third of its staff are people living with disabilities.
“It’s just a great experience,” Keinick told CTV Atlantic. “It certainly opens everybody’s hearts… It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Keinick’s mission to provide jobs to people with disabilities is deeply personal. Born prematurely, the manager’s twin 8-year-old sons are both blind and face mental and physical challenges.
«I saw a real need to stand up and do something for our community for people with disabilities,” Keinick said. “My company has always encouraged me to be part of the community, to support our community in every way we can and I saw this as an opportunity to hire people with disabilities.»
One of those employees is Anil Dastidar, who has Crohn’s disease and a cognitive disability.
«When you have a disability or you’re labelled as a disabled person, you have to overcome the mental stigmas,” Dastidar told CTV Atlantic.
Dastidar has quickly worked his way up from being a produce stocker to a cart-gatherer to a cashier.
«I have my good days and I have my bad days — I’m just like everyone else,” Dastidar said. “My end goal is to help everyone. No matter what I do, I always wanted to help people.»
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Dastidar is popular with customers too, Keinick added.
«I know Anil has certain customers that always pick him out in line and will swap lines, even wait(ing) longer just to have a chat with Anil and talk about food because he really, truly is a big foodie.”
For Keinick, it’s important to showcase his staff’s abilities rather than define them by their disabilities.
«They’re energetic, enthusiastic,” Keinick said. “Great attitudes and (they) want to be here and help out.»
For his part, Keinick has helped people with disabilities receive social support and find accommodation. In 2014, he also acquired a special shopping cart for his store that’s designed to carry a child or adult with disabilities.
«I hope I’m part of building the future for people with disabilities,” Keinick said. “I know my sons will enter the work world and I hope that they will have employers that are welcoming, and welcome them with open arms, realizing what a great resource that they are.”
For his work assisting disabled people, Keinick recently received a provincial award. But perhaps his greatest reward is having successfully built a dedicated team.
«Paul is so open about everything, and actually all the employees here are great about it if you need help,” Dastidar said. “And here I don’t feel as much of a person with an inability, but I’m able to use my gifts.»