Offering equal footing to people with disabilities entering the workforce

The B.C. government’= is trying to position B.C. as the country’s leading province for people with disabilities.

September is Disability Employment Month, and one of the B.C. government’s initiatives in its 10-year action plan (Accessibility 2024) is to position B.C. as the country’s leading province for people with disabilities.

On board with the progressive action plan is EK Employment Columbia Valley (formerly the Columbia Valley Employment Centre), which is eager to get the message out. EK Employment is on the front lines of facilitating work for the disabled by connecting them with the community and acting as ambassadors for the Employment Program of BC and the local WorkBC Employment Services Centre.

“The Canadian Mental Health Association for the Kootenays holds the WorkBC contract for the Columbia Valley and the Family Resource Centre of Invermere is the subcontractor,” said Jennie Hilder, case manger with EK Employment Columbia Valley, in an email. “The following are examples of the services we provide to assist people with disabilities to help them prepare for secure and sustained employment, including: specialized assessments, accessing financial support for assistive technology, wage subsidies, skills training, job coaching and customized employment.”

Customized employment includes coming from “the perspective of strength based, person centred planning with a goal of identifying ideal conditions for employment that meet the needs of the employee and the employer,” she said.

Businesses who employ this vastly underrepresented workforce experience a significant reduction in turnover rates and are five times more likely to keep the disabled employee on the job in juxtaposition with their disability-free counterparts, according to Ms. Hilder.

“Hiring people with disabilities is a mutual benefit for employers, employees, and communities across the province — people with disabilities make great employees.  The quality of lives are improved by empowering the individual to achieve higher levels of independence, this in turn increases confidence and self-worth. It also improves the work force in the community by creating a more inclusive community environment,” she also said in the email.

The Employment Program of BC has worked tirelessly to improve the quality and adaptive measures in the services they provide for people coping with disabilities, in order to meet the government’s initiative in this deserving area.

EK Employment’s statistics reveal there are huge disparities in relation to the hiring of people without disabilities in comparison to those with disabilities.

On average, the employment rate for people with disabilities aged 15 to 64 is appropriately 19 per cent lower than the average employee.

Cost to the employer accommodating people with special needs is below $500 and they represent a huge demographic for consumer relations; the disabled are currently spending $25 billion a year in the marketplace.

Successes are already being noted and a $1.4 million effort to provide structure and assistive technologies to those with disabilities has already affected the lives of 7,000 people who have acclimated to the workforce and achieved their career goals since the inception of the government’s action plan in 2012.

“September is disability employment month — from a philosophical standpoint, I’m a big supporter of increasing employment for people with disabilities,” said former A.C.E. (Accessibility in the Community for Everyone) president and Invermere councillor Spring Hawes.

Accessibility is a huge component of facilitating an effective interplay between the corporate community and people with disabilities. “Businesses and industries are struggling to hire people out here. There are people with disabilities who would love to be working right now,” said Ms. Hawes.

Unfortunately, access to transportation poses a huge threat to the implementation of the new initiatives.

“It’s a big challenge, not having the proper structures in place — especially in rural communities. People can’t physically drive, or can’t afford to buy an adaptive vehicle,” she said.

The average cost of an adaptive vehicle is $70,000, which is out of the question for most people living on disability assistance and averaging an income of about $900 a month, which barely supports the cost of living. Funding is necessary to enable people with disabilities to have access to those kind of resources, said Ms. Hawes.

Stigma is another barrier in the interrelations between a healthy workforce and the integration of people with special needs. According to Ms. Hawes, certain presumptions are being made. “The notion out there is that people with disabilities are hard to accommodate.”

Issues of discrimination and whether an applicant with a disability should disclose a visible (or invisible) disability are more stumbling blocks for disabled people approaching the job market. There is an element of fear associated with the disclosure of this type of information, said Ms. Hawes.

While awareness and education are important for bridging the gap between the corporate world and the disabled population, the ultimate solution, according to Ms. Hawes, is to create independence.

“I’ve talked to a lot of individuals with college degrees who can’t find jobs. A lot of it has to do with mobility issues and physical barriers,” she said. “It’s important to have equal footing in society — to function in society.”


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