Ready for hire

Program launched to get more people with intellectual disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder in the workplace

Bonnie Belec bbelec@thetelegram.com
Published on February 26, 2015

Eric, Mark and Mark are prime examples of what people with an intellectual disability or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are capable of accomplishing, say their employers.

They work, they have friends and are part of their workplace teams.

The biggest problem, say the people who work with the Ready, Willing and Able program, is there are too few of these examples and they want employers to hire more.

The Ready, Willing and Able program is a three-year, $15-million federally funded strategy designed to work with employers in an effort to help them hire more people who have intellectual disabilities or ASD.

It is being run in 20 communities across the country. The Newfoundland and Labrador Community Living Association and the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance have partnered to run it here.

It was introduced to St. John’s Thursday by Frank Fagan, the program’s labour market facilitator.

 “People with disabilities or ASD are devoted, hard workers,” he said.

“But they are extremely underemployed and we want to engage employers to hire them. This program will offer the help and support they need to do that,” said Fagan.

During the launch, Eric, Mark and Mark’s employers told a room full of business people about their experiences with hiring them.

Dave Escott, produce manager at Sobeys Mount Pearl, said he has worked with Mark for more than three years and would love to have more workers with his enthusiasm.

“It has been a privilege to work with him,” he said. “Just like the program says, he comes to work ready, willing and able. He has passion and drive, and he’s a joy to work with,” said Escott.

Kelly Mansell, co-owner of Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food on Water Street in St. John’s, and Michelle Pennell, front store manager at Shopper’s Drug Mart on LeMarchant Road, were the other two panellists who have hired people with disabilities.

Mansell said Eric is extremely efficient and is always in a good mood.

“I encourage any employer to take part and hire someone with a disability,” she said. “Working with Eric has enriched our lives. He wants to stay and work with us, there are very few absences and he’s just awesome to be around.”

Pennell said Mark has been at her store for about a year, and one word sums up his work — perfection.

“He is very responsible and has a passion for keeping things in the shop organized and he is always happy,” she said.

“I think the fear is the disability, but you have to look past and see the ability. Find their strengths and weaknesses like every other employee and focus on their skills. What have you got to lose? Just give them a chance,” said Pennell.

Don Gallant, Ready, Willing and Able’s national co-ordinator, said less than 30 per cent of people with intellectual disabilities or ASD have jobs.

“That’s the unfortunate reality despite all the work that has been done over the years by different groups and agencies,” he said.

Gallant said it is those realities that led to a discussion with Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney to try to change the situation.  

“It took a bit of work and the funding was announced in the 2014 budget. After some planning we started to unroll it across the country in October. It’s a very exciting program,” he said.

To learn more about the program, visit www.readywillingable.ca.

Key elements for an inclusive and effective labour market.

• Employer capacity and confidence.

• Employer-to-employer networks.

• Entrepreneurship and small business development.

• Inclusive post-secondary education.

• Service system modernization.

• Youth Transitions to Employment.