Horizons Centre, Touchstone Clubhouse and Catholic Social Services in Wetaskiwin have something in common. They provide services and support to individuals with disabilities. They also know they are working with an untapped source of labor so on December 3rd, they joined forces and hosted a day long Employment Workshop. The event coincided with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
During the day, a series of speakers addressed topics such as: barriers for employers and employees; funding to assist people with disabilities to enter the work force; job coaching; registered disability savings plan; bullying; dealing with anxiety; and closed the day with a special message from National Special Olympian mentalist, Kendra Reeb.
Many types of disabilities – some from birth, others occur during lifetime
A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these. A disability may be present from birth, or occur during a person's lifetime. Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.
Employers and people with disabilities learn from each other
The event provided ample opportunities for open discussion and sharing of information between potential employers and people with disabilities. Janna Huntley, Touchstone Clubhouse, explained the purpose of the Employment Workshop. “I am here representing the mental illness faction of Wetaskiwin and today we are just hoping to get more public awareness in the community about people with disabilities. We are promoting programs that are helping people with disabilities so they can get back out in the community and get regular jobs. The workshop this morning is all about employing and employment and this afternoon we actually have guest speakers who have a disability and will be sharing their successes.”
Many of the speakers stressed that people with disabilities want to work. As one speaker said, “People with disabilities have abilities. They want to work but often the stigma surrounding people with disabilities gets in the way. Employers fear the unknown.”
Funding available to assist with hiring people with disabilities
The Government of Canada offers a variety of services and financial benefits to assist people with disabilities and also to assist their families. Dagmar Hargreaves was a presenter at the Workshop. She introduced the audience to the Federal Government Employment Initiative ‘Opportunities Fund’ that she administers. She said the program was created to assist people with disabilities to make the transition into employment. She is a one-woman show with a great deal of discretion in accepting applicants for funding. “Each application is looked at based on its own merit.” Although the applicant must have exhausted all other sources of funding when they arrive at her door making a request she has a great deal of authority to make decisions in the ‘grey’ areas of each cases.
Many forms of financial help available
Help comes in many forms: short term training or paying supplementary costs for individuals involved in programs that are under one year. i.e.: books, transportation, living costs, daycare etc.; assist individuals with one-time costs that are directly related to employment like specialized clothing needs, initial transportation costs, initial child care costs, equipment costs etc.; cost related to job site adaptations; provide wage subsidies to employers.
Other guiding rules include: part time positions with 15 hours per week or more are eligible; wage requirement is minimum wage or better; provide special services and interventions tailored to meet the needs of the individual. i.e.: job coaching; assist with self-employment costs that are disability related, however cannot provide any operating capital; provide a paid ‘work experience’ that does not have to have an employment outcome, but must provide the participant with job related skills,
“This program is funded through the E.I. Surplus therefore, we cannot work with individuals currently receiving E.I. benefits or those who are E.I. Reachback, meaning they have collected benefits within the past 3 years.”