Fairmont hotels in Quebec begin hiring staff with autism as support program helps


Derek Selwood says he couldn’t be more excited about starting a new job.

It’s at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, in the laundry room – the very job he’s campaigning for.

“I’m very ready to start working,” he said. “I’ve been working pretty hard the last few weeks getting ready, getting ready for the interview.”

Selwood just graduated from a program called Ready, Willing, and Able — offered by the Montreal organization Giant Steps — which helps neuro-divergent people participate in the workforce. The program also works with businesses to make them more inclusive.

All sorts of programs like this are absolutely necessary, and not just for the good of employees, says Andre Pereira, director of marketing and communications at Giant Steps.

“A recent US study showed that 87% of families with autistic children do not travel for fear of obstacles they may encounter while traveling,” he said.

“But when asked, 93% of those same families said they would travel if they knew the destination staff had been trained in autism.”

Pereira says a hotel can do a lot to make the travel experience safer for these families, such as assessing areas of a hotel that could create sensory overload with loud music or lighting. They can make dining rooms more accessible and arrange some rooms to better accommodate children with autism.

When Fairmont Mont Tremblant’s general manager heard about the Giant Steps initiative, she said she knew the hotel industry would make a perfect partnership.

“I put all the pieces together…looking at the strength they bring to the workplace: discipline, honesty, work ethic,” said Anne Marie Johns.

“I thought that the hotel industry – very warm and welcoming – we are in the hotel industry, like a second family, [so] I thought a marriage between the two made sense.

She says she was able to make the application and hiring process more inclusive for neuro-divergent staff through mentorship and guidance from Giant Step and Ready, Willing and Able.

“Without that element of support, I would find it very difficult to be successful on our own,” she said.

“But with the coaches on site offering coaching for as long as it takes, we have all the pieces in place to ensure the success of the program.”

Johns added that there is no quota on the number of candidates from Ready, Willing and Able she will hire.

“We are open to as many as possible,” she said. “At this stage, it’s one success at a time and we’re building on those successes.”

Program staff will receive the same salary, benefits and working conditions as all other staff.

“Under the Ready, Willing, and Able program, the philosophy is ‘same pay for same work,'” Pereira said.

“It’s not about wage subsidies because that, right off the bat, has negative connotations.”

For Selwood, the best part of the program was the personal journey it inspired, he said.

“What I enjoyed the most was really learning a bit more about myself and how autism affects me,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t expect, but I’m glad it happened.”

Soon, many more neuro-divergent people will have opportunities similar to Selwood, as Giant Steps builds a $50 million autism center in Montreal slated to open in the summer of 2023.


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