Conference looks to create disability employment agenda

Nadya Bell
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Employer attitudes discussed by delegates

Delegates attending a Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) conference this week are being encouraged to think about how they can improve access to employment for persons with disabilities.

The CCRW national conference "Employment Now! Diversity Planning for Inclusive Employment" began Sunday and continues today in St. John's.

St. John's Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth, CCRW board chairman Jackie Challenger and Human Resources Minister Shawn Skinner open the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work annual national conference Monday morning. - Photo by Nadya Bell/The Telegram

Delegates attending a Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) conference this week are being encouraged to think about how they can improve access to employment for persons with disabilities.

The CCRW national conference "Employment Now! Diversity Planning for Inclusive Employment" began Sunday and continues today in St. John's.

"It is about employment now, it's not about employment in a decade, so the conference value will be what each of us makes of it," said CCRW board chairwoman Jackie Challenger.

"We really want to build out the framework for what we hope will be a national employment delivery strategy, so my question to all of you is how can each of us, individually, contribute to this framework?" she asked.

Human Resources Minister Shawn Skinner said at the conference opening Monday his department is working on creating a disability policy office to inform all government departments.

Skinner said he will be interested to hear the results from the conference, especially as they relate to awareness of statutory obligations, the cost of accommodations and attitudes towards people with disabilities.

"Those are three very relevant things in terms of the kinds of experiences I've had here in the province as minister responsible for the status of persons with disabilities," he said.

"Any recommendations related to those three areas would be recommendations that I would be very interested in trying to build some policy."

Skinner said he will change one of his titles to minister responsible for the status of persons with disabilities, after hearing from people in the community that they prefer that wording.

While the Department of Human Resources recently announced the creation of an employment specialist for people with vision problems, Skinner says there are three more programs expected to be announced in the near future.

St. John's Deputy Mayor and local businessman Ron Ellsworth also spoke at the conference, saying it is an excellent opportunity to learn about the best practices in disability employment across the country.

"It's important that we all come together throughout the country to understand the challenges that are there are not just yours, they face many communities, they face many individuals," Ellsworth said.

"By coming together it gives us an opportunity to figure out what other people have done well, and what we're not doing so well," he said.

Ellsworth said he thinks education is still the biggest challenge to fully employing people with disabilities.

One area where employer education is especially important is in the skilled trades area, according to Emily Arrowsmith, who works with the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.

Arrowsmith says the stigma against disability in the workplace is so great in the trades area, there was difficulty finding anyone working with a disability to interview for research, because many have not disclosed their condition to their employer.

Of people who have managed to complete a trade certificate, Arrowsmith says only 34.8 per cent are working in a related trade.

nbell@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canadian Council on Rehabilitation, CCRW board, Department of Human Resources Canadian Apprenticeship Forum

Geographic location: St. John's

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  • Edna
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    I am not a resident of your province, I am a resident of Nova Scotia. I am a lady who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and a former employee of the Federal Government, Employment and Immigration Canada, now known as Service Canada. I have experienced first hand some of the obstacles persons with disaiblity encounter in the workplace. I am encouraged to know there is interest to change attitudes towards persons with disabilities. I have been working as a volunteer from home for 9 years as a social activist and lobbyist on government policy matters. I have tried to prove my ability to those in government in the hope of bettering myself as I worked toward trying to change policy for the betterment of people. My dream was to be a politician but it appears this dream will never be a reality because politicial parties only want healthy people. I know there is a member of Parliament in a wheelchair from a car accident. I believe political parties take a different outlook on those who have permanent disabilities from accidents and those who suffer disabilities from poor health. I have the ability, a very keen mind and a desire to change my life but I do not have the healthy body Government wants. I find it very difficult to accept and question myself about the desire government has to improve the lives of Canadians with disabililty. I believe Disabled Persons have much to offer to society if they are treated properly and given consideration and room to work around what disables them. Some disabled persons may not be able to keep a full schedule, or keep up to the bottom line profit mindset of business that expects disabled persons to work full tilt according to demand. Disability has many faces because disability can be physical or mental, it can be degenerating or it can be stagnant. Disability is as individual as the person suffering from it as a disabled person learns to cope with unwanted symptoms of illness or accident that has been thrust upon them. Some Disabled persons are born into a life that challenges them from an early age to adapt. I was a healthy mother of two when suddenly an illness took over my life and I was caught up in a nightmare. The battle to survive, adapt and accept was the greatest challenge of my life. Lack of understanding in the workplace made my life miserable which did not help my illness. As a young mother of two, I made a choice to leave the stress of working in an office that had little understanding for my illness. I chose to stay at home and try to remain as healthy as possible for my children. My children are grown and I am so grateful to have made it to see them self sufficient. In 1999, I found a new way to be a part of society. I became a social activist for Devco miners throwing caution to the wind and taking on a fight of a lifetime. Suddenly I felt alive and a whole person. I hid my disability because I knew this would affect the way I was accepted by govenment officials. I knew they would worry I was hurting myself. I hid this disability until I had a bout of M.S. and ended up in a wheelchair in Ottawa. I could hide it no more. Since 1999, I have been writing to government on policy. I am known to be outspoken and I can be their worst nightmare. I have used my skills as a typist and my computer from home to work on behalf of Canada and Canadians. I am a silent volunteer , unpaid for my services because I am unaccepted as candidate material. I suffer from Multiple Sclerosis. I still continue on with my effort to change and bring awareness because this gives me a sense of being worthwhile. I work my own hours and amount of time I give. I do not have to keep up to someone elses expectations. I get the job done and I am proud of my contribution. I believe change will not happen if we do not speak out and request action. It is my hope this initiative will expand to go across Canada and that employers will realize they have a great opportunity to seize upon some very dedicated workers, disabled persons who deserve the chance to improve their lives and Be The Best They Can Be. A Disabled Person has to have hope, inspiration and a sense of contribution. Personally, I have found these factors to be the spark that keeps me alive with a will to continue on to fight for change. In my opinion, change for Disabled persons will only come when employers take the initiative to become educated and active in lifting the barriers both visible and invisible in the workplace.

  • Edna
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    I am not a resident of your province, I am a resident of Nova Scotia. I am a lady who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and a former employee of the Federal Government, Employment and Immigration Canada, now known as Service Canada. I have experienced first hand some of the obstacles persons with disaiblity encounter in the workplace. I am encouraged to know there is interest to change attitudes towards persons with disabilities. I have been working as a volunteer from home for 9 years as a social activist and lobbyist on government policy matters. I have tried to prove my ability to those in government in the hope of bettering myself as I worked toward trying to change policy for the betterment of people. My dream was to be a politician but it appears this dream will never be a reality because politicial parties only want healthy people. I know there is a member of Parliament in a wheelchair from a car accident. I believe political parties take a different outlook on those who have permanent disabilities from accidents and those who suffer disabilities from poor health. I have the ability, a very keen mind and a desire to change my life but I do not have the healthy body Government wants. I find it very difficult to accept and question myself about the desire government has to improve the lives of Canadians with disabililty. I believe Disabled Persons have much to offer to society if they are treated properly and given consideration and room to work around what disables them. Some disabled persons may not be able to keep a full schedule, or keep up to the bottom line profit mindset of business that expects disabled persons to work full tilt according to demand. Disability has many faces because disability can be physical or mental, it can be degenerating or it can be stagnant. Disability is as individual as the person suffering from it as a disabled person learns to cope with unwanted symptoms of illness or accident that has been thrust upon them. Some Disabled persons are born into a life that challenges them from an early age to adapt. I was a healthy mother of two when suddenly an illness took over my life and I was caught up in a nightmare. The battle to survive, adapt and accept was the greatest challenge of my life. Lack of understanding in the workplace made my life miserable which did not help my illness. As a young mother of two, I made a choice to leave the stress of working in an office that had little understanding for my illness. I chose to stay at home and try to remain as healthy as possible for my children. My children are grown and I am so grateful to have made it to see them self sufficient. In 1999, I found a new way to be a part of society. I became a social activist for Devco miners throwing caution to the wind and taking on a fight of a lifetime. Suddenly I felt alive and a whole person. I hid my disability because I knew this would affect the way I was accepted by govenment officials. I knew they would worry I was hurting myself. I hid this disability until I had a bout of M.S. and ended up in a wheelchair in Ottawa. I could hide it no more. Since 1999, I have been writing to government on policy. I am known to be outspoken and I can be their worst nightmare. I have used my skills as a typist and my computer from home to work on behalf of Canada and Canadians. I am a silent volunteer , unpaid for my services because I am unaccepted as candidate material. I suffer from Multiple Sclerosis. I still continue on with my effort to change and bring awareness because this gives me a sense of being worthwhile. I work my own hours and amount of time I give. I do not have to keep up to someone elses expectations. I get the job done and I am proud of my contribution. I believe change will not happen if we do not speak out and request action. It is my hope this initiative will expand to go across Canada and that employers will realize they have a great opportunity to seize upon some very dedicated workers, disabled persons who deserve the chance to improve their lives and Be The Best They Can Be. A Disabled Person has to have hope, inspiration and a sense of contribution. Personally, I have found these factors to be the spark that keeps me alive with a will to continue on to fight for change. In my opinion, change for Disabled persons will only come when employers take the initiative to become educated and active in lifting the barriers both visible and invisible in the workplace.