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Posted on 04 December 2016

A company based in Kitchener, Ontario, wants to send out a message using entrepreneurship.

Over the past decade there has been a great deal of focus on the issues of gender and race among organizations around the world, which is great. however, one area of diversity has been neglected: The disabled. One billion people, or fifteen percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. When you are part of this “minority” you have two choices: Accept that life is unfair and live or you can become an agent of change. Tee Talent has chosen the second option.

Tee Talent Apparel Inc. is a company that was founded in June of 2016 exclusively to change the perception of our society and business community towards the capacity of people with disabilities to become part of the workforce. Tee Talent has three founders, two of whom have disabilities and the third partner has someone in the family with a disability. Through its operation, Tee Talent wants to prove a point: people with disabilities can transfer their ability to adapt to life in the workplace. “We want to grow in a sustainable way and achieve our ultimate goal: to provide employment opportunities for those with disabilities”, says Carlos Martins Co-Founder of Tee Talent. Carlos lost his left foot in a shark attack in Brazil, his home country, in 1994.

Kitchener Market

“This idea of creating jobs for people with disabilities through entrepreneurship could have different formats. We could have been a coffee shop or a restaurant, but we have chosen the clothing business for a special reason: people express themselves through their clothing”, adds Carlos. Usually, when someone buys a t-shirt, this person wants to express his/her beliefs, by choosing a specific brand or by choosing a specific message. “T-shirts are more than a piece of clothing. T-shirts are a way to express your attitudes”, remembers Carlos.

In order to achieve its goals, Tee Talent Apparel Inc. sells high quality t-shirts with motivational messages and also offers custom apparel services. “This means a company considering making t-shirts for its employees, for example, can acquire a high quality product, for a competitive price and brings social change for our society”, informs Pablo Klein, responsible for the operations of Tee Talent. “We want to build a solid customer service and product based on the quality and not charity. We have the structure to provide it”, affirms Pablo that has several years of experience in this industry in Brazil.

“We want to prove a point. We want to cause an impact through our own example. We want to be an element of change of a misconception that has existed for many years”, says Shayne Smith, Director of Business Development of Tee Talent. Shayne lost his two legs, his left hand and part of his fingers on the right hand due to meningitis when he was 4 months old. “We will consider that we have achieved our goals when we start seeing that people with disabilities are being given a chance, not because of a charity/compliance act, but because of their value as human beings, professionals and contributing members of society”, adds Shayne.

The company just started its operations and already sold t-shirts to Canada, US, Brazil and Tunisia. They also just closed their first deal for custom apparel. “It is still a long road until we are capable of making our first hires, but we are working hard on it. In the meantime, we have been sharing on our blog and social media about the talent of successful individuals with disabilities in different fields”, says Carlos.

In the US, in 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with a disability were employed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65%. During its last research, Statistics Canada concluded that persons with disabilities were less likely than persons without a disability to be employed, even after accounting for the fact that they are generally older and proportionally less likely to have completed a university degree.

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