My wife Debra and I are raising 6 amazing Starr kids and each of our children are unique in their own special way. For two of our children, autism is part of who they are and that plays a significant role in shaping our family dynamic. I'm certain this rings true for many families with loved ones on the spectrum.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. In North America it is estimated that 1 in 68 live with ASD and it occurs in every racial and ethnic group, and across all socioeconomic levels. However, boys are significantly more likely to develop ASD than girls.
Due to the fact that autism can be invisible to strangers at first glance, many will assume, judge and characterize through a typical lens, leaving little room for empathy during completely innocent interactions. From support services to education to employment opportunities, creating awareness opens the door to acceptance and the betterment of a society that can identify and celebrate different abilities.
Scientists believe that both genetics and environment likely play a role in ASD. Growing concerns that rates of autism have been increasing in recent decades without full explanation as to why makes awareness and acceptance even more important. We hope by sharing our experiences and what we know today about autism, the world will become a more inclusive place for all of us.
October is "Autism Awareness and Acceptance" month and a great opportunity to learn more...
Damin Starr is an Autism Parent and board member of the Canadian National Autism Foundation. He speaks regularly on autism and issues related to social inclusion.
In 2012, not long after struggling through the economic downturn brought on by the recession of 08/09, I began to rethink what it meant to be an employer and needed to know that my business practices reflected my values.
What was important to me? As many of my customers and suppliers had fallen victim to the toils of their own situations, I had to suddenly be much more aware of every aspect of my business to avoid a similar fate . . . Just as I suspected, I wasn't proud of my low-wage / high-turnover business model and producing marginal profits was draining my entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
Could the business sustain another economic fluctuation, and if so, for how long? With all the energy it takes to operate and maintain a business, I owed it to myself to make an effort to raise my expectations. In retrospect, I'm confident that workplace efficiency and employee retention were key components in reshaping what previously existed. By engaging staff and constantly self evaluating, internal mitigation helped us overcome challenges while improving workplace-morale. Yes, an immediate investment in the employees through wages (above minimum standards) was required, but the cost of unnecessary turnover (lost production, hiring, and training) was (by far) much greater.
I found, developing a mutual respect built on trust (beyond that found in "Public Relations" material) created a team approach which allowed the business to make significant achievements in operational productivity and become a certified living-wage employer while doing so. 'Success' is often a matter of perspective, but working towards a 'desirable workplace' has proven to be mutually beneficial for our employees and the business as a whole.
Although every individual business will eventually find their own path of achievement, it's important to point out that our customers DID NOT assume the brunt of improving our workplace desirability or modified wage commitments. Our goals were achieved through a reduction in excessive outsourcing and exploring internal efficiency opportunities. In our business, the pricing is determined through an ongoing practice of measuring supply and demand. The services we provide are assessed on their compatibility with our operations and our capacity to be competitive within the market.
My professional association with the Better Way Alliance (Collaborative group of business owners who champion good job strategies and promote the value of decent-work in creating sustainable economic growth) has giving me an opportunity to share my business experiences and participate in forums with entrepreneurs, business groups, government agencies, non-profit/for-profit organizations, educators and labour groups alike.
I was grateful for the opportunity to present in Niagara Falls (July 19th, 2017) before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs regarding Ontario's BILL 148. I've included the transcript below...
When I first entered the world of business ownership, the objective of keeping costs low to maximize profits seemed simple. Reflecting on my manufacturing company, I remember profits being “King”. Although I kept up with minimum standards, it wasn’t long before I found myself surrounded by very capable people who felt underpaid and unmotivated. The stuff you wouldn’t normally see on flashy PR material. While sales were high, so was the employee turnover, and I spent more and more of my personal time hiring, training and covering shifts to stay productive.
Eventually, I hit an economic crossroads and took that opportunity to re-evaluate where things were going wrong. I realized temp staff didn’t feel secure, some permanent staff had secondary jobs, time with friends and family was sparse, and inevitably most struggled to pay their bills … including me. Without any doubt their challenges were an anchor and the thought of employees having to work multiple jobs presented an unforeseen condition of fatigue. I needed to adjust and change needed to happen quickly.
Today, my wife and I continue to own and operate a small business here in Niagara. We champion the entrepreneurial spirit, but strongly encourage the development of good job strategies. Joining business partners through organizations like The Better Way Alliance and Living Wage Ontario, we are committed to creating decent work opportunities and ensuring wages reflect no-less than the “basic” realities of day-to-day life. In exchange, we have a productive workplace in a highly competitive market. I’m proud of our reliable, focused staff and respect their need to know there’s shared value in the company’s success.
I feel, Bill-148, the Fair Jobs Act is simply catching up with reality and I’m confident many Ontario workers would agree. Let’s face it, government bureaucracies tend to move at a snail’s pace and the business community is usually the first to complain about it. The term ‘working-poor’ is very real and its impact on everyone is measurable. Poverty brings with it a diminished sense of self-worth, puts a chronic (and costly) strain on our health care system, and perpetuates a negative cycle through generations. With nearly 25% of Ontario’s workforce being positively impacted by improved employment standards, I need not implore your social conscience, just your common sense and a few basic mathematics skills should suffice. Heck, you can’t grow of an entire economy when a ¼ of the workforce has had less and less to spend each year.
Those currently lobbying for ‘a lowest common denominator’ or even suggesting ‘extended implementation’ might be laying on the ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric a little too thick. It’s highly unlikely their own pay-stubs reflect earnings that are less than $15/hr. Historically, these debates are predictable.
Some may say this is all ‘too soon’, but if you were to ask those earning $11.40/hr … they know it’s ‘long overdue’. A positive contribution to our economy through employment is deserving of fair considerations. These adjustments level the playing field for businesses, and bring legislation in line with common expectations.
Though, I know many do voluntarily take steps to understand and work through operational challenges. Workplaces that model themselves on minimum standards are relying on the government to do the homework for them. So, Bill-148 should be a welcomed piece of legislation. The homework is done!
Knee-jerk reactions become highly probable in the face of change, but we all must remember that the laws of supply and demand keep prices in check. Positive stimulus into local economies (and the ability to spend more in local businesses) should give naysayers pause.
Generally entrepreneurs don’t pack up and run. So, in the spirit of business, let’s be innovative, organized, and make our economy work for everyone. Let’s not be afraid to raise our expectations.
Presented to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs regarding Ontario's BILL 148, Niagara Falls July 19, 2017.
As published in the HAMILTON SPECTATOR July 29, 2017 By Damin Starr (OPINION)
When I first entered the world of business ownership, I assumed that keeping wages low was one way to maximize profit — but then again, nothing cheap is truly cheap.
Although I kept up with the required minimum employment standards, it wasn't long before I found myself surrounded by very capable people who felt underpaid and unmotivated. Sales were high, but so were my employee turnover rates. I was spending more and more time hiring and training new staff and scrambling to cover shifts. It's amazing how distant you feel when it seems you're the only one who cares, but also, dare I say, the only one who benefits.
Eventually, I hit an economic crossroad. I had to take some time to re-evaluate where things were going wrong. That's when reality grounded me. I realized my temp staff didn't feel secure, my permanent staff had secondary jobs, few within the workplace had any time to spend with friends and family, and most were struggling to pay their bills.
I hadn't anticipated that my employees would be fatigued from working multiple jobs, and couldn't give me their best. Without a doubt, their problems became an anchor weighing down my business. I needed to change things — and do it quickly.
Today, my wife and I continue to own and operate a small business in Niagara. We champion the entrepreneurial spirit, but strongly encourage the development of good job strategies. Joining business partners through organizations like The Better Way Alliance and Living Wage Ontario, we are committed to creating decent work opportunities and ensuring wages reflect no less than the "basic" realities of day-to-day life.
In exchange, we have a productive workplace in a highly competitive market. I'm proud of our reliable, focused staff and respect their need to know there's shared value in the company's success.
Is that too 2017 of me? In my view, Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, is simply catching up with reality and I'm confident many working Ontarians would agree. After all, the term 'working poor' is very real and its impact on everyone is measurable. Poverty brings with it a diminished sense of self-worth, puts a chronic (and costly) strain on our health system, and perpetuates a negative cycle through generations.
With nearly 25 per cent of Ontario's workforce being positively impacted by improved employment standards, I need not implore one's social conscience; just common sense and a few basic mathematics skills should suffice. Heck, you can't truly grow of an economy when a quarter of the workforce has had less and less to spend each year.
Today's debate over minimum wage is predictably cyclical. Historically, we have heard the same arguments ever since we decided to end child labour. I would have hoped by now that decent work and wages would be widely understood as the foundation of a strong economy.
Knee-jerk reactions become highly probable in the face of change, but we all must remember that the laws of supply and demand keep prices in check. Positive stimulus into local economies by working Ontarians who would (have the ability to) spend more in local businesses should give naysayers pause.
Beyond scratching the surface, I feel that Bill 148 is a necessary adjustment to keep the playing fields of our economy fair, strong and healthy. Some will continue to claim this discussion is 'sudden and unexpected,' but those earning $11.40 an hour know it's 'long overdue.'
Those employers who model themselves on minimum standards are continually relying on the government to do the homework for them. Ironically, this bill should be a welcomed piece of legislation. If standards are meant to reflect common societal expectations, then protest coming from those unlikely to be earning less than $15 per hour, screams hypocrisy.
Simply put, it's the government's responsibility to determine and implement current standards. I, for one, encourage them to do so in a timely and effective manner. What would be the point otherwise? By definition, entrepreneurs are innovative and organized. They get ahead of the challenges. They evolve, they don't pack up and run. So, in the spirit of business, let's be innovative, organized, and make our economy work for everyone. Let's not be afraid to raise our expectations.
A certified Living Wage Employer and a partner of the betterwayalliance.ca, Damin presented on Bill 148 before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in Niagara Falls.
On Twitter @daminstarr
Before we begin, I can't stress enough the importance of cycling safety! As an avid BMXer and Mountain Biker, I've experienced my share of wipeouts. Wearing a helmet is crucial when cycling and it's the law for those under the age of 18 years.
Hey adults, the youngsters are watching you . . . so lead by example!
To the reader: Online links are only intended to be helpful suggestions and as the author, all data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. I make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis, but I welcome reader suggestions and feedback.
Life can be a balancing act of family, work/school, friends, commitments and personal time, so finding opportunities for casual bike rides can be challenging even for the most organized among us. I'm fortunate because my kids love cycling as much as I do, so what better way to spend time together than outdoors, staying active, and exploring the city we live in.
Mapping the ride in a 'circuit' allows us to begin and end anywhere along the route :) From time to time we substitute any appropriate start location along the circuit. I hope you enjoy the post !
Moving east along Melvin Avenue, it's on to one of my favourite trails, the Red Hill Valley Trail. We cross Barton Street heading north toward Lake Ontario. The valley from north to south is beautiful in any season and worth setting aside the perfect day to explore on bike or on foot. Take a moment and visit the City of Hamilton's website to view it's 10 Great Bike Rides page... (Mapping point A)
For many, the East Hamilton Waterfront Link Multi-Use Pedestrian Bridge is a sound choice for providing connectivity of the city's recreational trail system. We make a brief stop at the Red Hill Valley Lookout Point and then make a seamless leap over the Queen Elizabeth Way to Hamilton's beautiful Breezeway Trail at Van Wagner's Beach, Confederation Park. If interested in the many fascinating structural details associated with this Multi-Use Pedestrian Bridge, check out the 2012 Engineering Awards Submission PDF below... (Mapping point B)
Once on the Breezeway Trail it's clear that the City of Hamilton is home to one of the most pleasant Lake Ontario shorelines. The Breezeway Trail (maintained by the Hamilton Conservation Authority) is an asphalt-surface trail that extends along Hamilton Beach from Beach Boulevard to Grays Road, and is approximately 3 kms long by 3.5 m wide. The trail forms part of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail and in my personal opinion has one of the most amazing waterfront views. For those wanting to learn more then visit the Hamilton Conservation Authority's website... (Mapping point C)
While riding the Breezeway Trail we admire the subtle public art pieces along the way. Just west of Lakeland Kartway there's a wonderful sculpture called "Pebbles On The Beach". Here we find our tie in point to the Woodward Avenue bike lanes via Beach Boulevard and Eastport Drive. Using the short road tunnel under the Queen Elizabeth Way, we head south onto Woodward Avenue over Burlington Street to begin our ride back to the McQueston Urban Farm. Recently resurfaced the Woodward Avenue bike lanes are well marked and offer a comfortably smooth ride. Along this stretch there's the ever popular Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology, which is definitely worth a visit. Check out the Museum's website below for schedules and events... (Mapping point D)
We continue heading south on Woodward Avenue then cross Barton Street toward the McQueston Urban Farm. I always warn my kids to stay alert at intersections. This one is particularly large and busy. Intersections are where many collisions occur. For those wanting to brush up on their cycling-skills, I've found Ontario's Guide to Safe Cycling a great start... (Mapping point E)
And... We finish our 7km East Hamilton circuit in just over 25 minutes. A combination of urban, off road, and scenic features, with each presenting an opportunity to plan future rides. I've found the City of Hamilton's website to be an excellent ride planning resource. Check out their online website for 'biking and cyclists' below... (Mapping point F)
Always enjoy the ride !
East Hamilton Cycling by Damin Starr
7 kms (Approx. 25mins continuous cycling)
Features along the way...
McQueston Urban Farm (400 Melvin Avenue, Hamilton, ON)
Red Hill Valley Trail (North)
Red Hill Valley Trail Look Out Point (Multi-Use Pedestrian Bridge)
BreezeWay Trail at Lake Ontario
Woodward Avenue Bike Lanes (Passing Museum of Steam & Technology)
As a returning member of Hamilton's LRT Community Connector Team, I look forward to informing, educating, and engaging community members (residents, businesses, and property owners) along the LRT route this Spring. While focused on complimenting the program's team approach, I take pride in sharing the most accurate project information currently available and happy to connect community members to our LRT Office professionals when required.
Check out the Hamilton Light Rail Transit Community Connector Program Update PDF from our second outreach as presented to the City of Hamilton's Light Rail Transit Sub Committee on January 30th 2017.
For more information and project updates please visit,