Four goodfoot couriers wearing goodfood t-shirts stand in front of a dark metal wall.

How the next courier you hire could shatter stigmas

Melissa MacIntosh delivers packages for Good Foot—along with a glimpse of just what people with disabilities can do when given a chance

“I’ve delivered a lot of different stuff,” says Melissa MacIntosh, a 32-year-old courier and dispatcher with Good Foot, a delivery company in Toronto. “I’ve picked up a pair of glasses that someone forgot at home and needed dropped at the office, and one time I even picked up an order of lingerie for a customer,” she says, laughing.

For more than five years MacIntosh has been making point-to-point deliveries all over the GTA via public transit. “I don’t courier as much anymore because I can’t handle all the walking,” she says. MacIntosh has spina bifida and, three years ago, needed surgery on her Achilles tendon to keep her heel from rolling over. Since then, she walks better on her foot, but still can’t handle too much distance. “Good Foot was good to me about it, though,” she says. “That’s when I started dispatching. Good Foot is very accommodating to everyone’s disability.”

In fact, every courier at the company has a disability. Good Foot was founded in 2010 by now board chair Kirsten Gauthier, a graphic designer who realized she was spending a lot of money on courier companies to get design files delivered to and from clients all over the city. It seemed silly that her brother Jon—who she knew could do just as good of a job, if not better—was having trouble finding work due to his developmental disability. She started paying him to make deliveries for her instead, and Good Foot was born.

“Our mission is to provide engaging employment for people with developmental disabilities through a competitive, professional courier service delivered via public transit, with pride,” says operations manager Courtney Ayukawa. Today, the company has grown into a registered non-profit charity with a staff of 40 couriers.

Portrait photo of Melissa, wearing a light blue GoodFoot t-shirt, laughing and playing with her necklace.

When MacIntosh applied for a job after seeing a clipping about the company from the Toronto Star, her only work experience was volunteering in a soup kitchen. That lack of experience is typical, says Ayukawa. “People in their 30s will apply for a job with us and have no formal work experience because they’ve never been given an opportunity before,” she says. “We strongly believe in giving everyone the opportunity to work.”

Most of the company’s couriers have developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome and autism, but a few have physical disabilities too, like hearing or vision impairment. For customers, Good Foot delivers a lot more than just packages.

“I receive calls on a weekly basis from customers who say, ‘A courier just came by and it was the highlight of my week—I’m so excited to use you guys again,’” says Ayukawa. “I also hear all the time from families of our staff who say, ‘Good Foot changed our lives,’ which is very touching.” There’s a ripple effect into the community as couriers redefine what people with disabilities can do, she says. “We like to say that they are shattering stigmas.”

The couriers benefit from a fair paying job (they receive 100 per cent commission on all deliveries), as well as a busy social program that gives them a chance to build their skills and social connections outside of work. “We really try to make it more than a job because we know that’s what the staff are craving,” says Ayukawa. They’ve gone bowling, had campfire nights at a local park and done cooking workshops. There’s even a run club coached by volunteers from BlackToe Running Inc. “I don’t actually run at Run Club – I walk,” says MacIntosh. “Mostly I do it to socialize anyway.”

There’s a waiting list of more than 100 applicants hoping to eventually secure a position couriering for the company. “There just isn’t a lot of funding or support for people with developmental disabilities,” Ayukawa says. In other words, there aren’t a lot of options out there. That’s also part of the reason why people rarely leave Good Foot. (The staff turnover rate is close to zero.) The company recently created a work placement initiative to create more job opportunities for accomplished couriers who are ready to move on, and is in talks with a number of businesses, including banks and restaurants, Ayukawa says.

But there’s another reason Good Foot’s employees rarely leave the company: they simply love it too much. MacIntosh says her job has given her life structure and she has developed some important friendships with coworkers outside the office. “You get to know a lot about other people and their challenges, but it’s lovely,” she says. “It’s more like a family than a company.”

Photography by Melissa Nunez

Sign up for The Good News Letter to get more stories like this in your inbox every Saturday.