Employers in the BC Labour Market are having a tough time finding good employees to fill the jobs that need doing right now.

Promoting Our AbilitiesWith one million job openings expected over the next ten years, agencies like the BC Self Advocacy Foundation (BCSAF) are working to ensure people with disabilities have the right not just to apply for these jobs, but to be hired and supported in them.

The goal of BCSAF, which was formed in 1985, is to have 100 more people employed in the right job match with the right support, by 2015. Jobs that are being targeted are in the high employment sectors of tourism, hospitality, retail services and community health.

The Foundation works with self advocates and self advocacy groups in many different ways, including community grants, community workshops, plain language publications and other special projects.

Up to 2010, people with disabilities in Canada had one of the lowest rates of employment at just 25 percent.

On March 11, 2010 the Government of Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. BCSAF was very excited about this and developed the No More Barriers Campaign to raise awareness about our human rights and get people talking about how to make these rights real for everyone.

In September 2013, BCSAF hosted a leadership retreat where advocacy leaders from the three pilot regions selected for the Community Action Employment Plan came together to develop a presentation framework directed at employers and the business community. Facilitated by BCSAF, an 8 member self- advocate working group developed the Promoting Our Abilities Start-up Kit. The kit was designed to be a step-by-step guide to the project; the focus being the 15-Minute Presentation. Every presentation begins with BCSAF’s No More Barriers video. The video was produced to introduce the self- advocacy movement to the general public quickly and succinctly. It has been viewed over 15,000 times and is now being used in schools, colleges and universities.  For the Promoting Our Abilities presentations, the video is used as an invitation to talk about employment. The video ends asking people to join the conversation… All local teams start their presentation with the video, but after the video each presentation is customized to showcase real employers and employees from the community.

BCSAF worked with CLBC Employment Coordinators and our other community partners in the three pilot regions to ensure self-advocates in pilot communities were aware of, and invited to become part of, local employment plans. This includes becoming familiar with existing self-advocate work around employment and weaving this leadership into local plans. The Comox Valley (Comox & Courtenay), Coquitlam and the Cariboo (Williams Lake & 100 Mile House) were identified as having pockets of leadership. For that reason, these three community were selected to anchor the first phase of BCSAF’s project. Once the communities were selected, BCSAF recruited 2-4 people in each committee to carry out the activities of the project. It is important to point out the Promoting Our Abilities project is not volunteer driven, but each of the teams in the three communities were offered a 4-6 month paid contract by the BCSAF. During that time, each team made 4-5 community presentations reaching roughly 200 community members. Of those community members roughly 115 were our target audience and from the local business community.  Our collective efforts resulted in three new jobs for people with diverse abilities and an addition 20 job leads. BCSAF will continue to follow-up on these leads for the next year.

BCSAF’s continuing efforts to link our project with existing work around employment and pockets of self-advocate leadership has led us slightly outside the pilot regions of the Community Action Employment Plan for the second phase of our project. BCSAF has selected the communities of Mission, Victoria and Kelowna for the next three Promoting Our Abilities sites.  Self-advocate leaders from each of these communities (all extremely invested in the CAEP) have approached BCSAF expressing interest in combining their local resources and community connections with our methodology and framework for promoting employment outcomes. The first three teams will take on a mentoring role with the next three teams. Phase Two of the project is scheduled to launch in September 2014.

While there are many people with disabilities who volunteer their time and talent, there is no reason they cannot have and keep a paying job. They want to earn money, learn new skills, explore their interests, meet new people, and build their confidence. In doing so they can have many more options in terms of housing, independence, and what to do in their spare time.

BCSAF believes that people with disabilities have the right to control their own lives and make their own decisions. They believe families, friends and advisers have a role in supporting self advocacy, where the person can speak out for their rights and lobby for changes to be made.

As the video says, “We aren’t sick and we aren’t stupid.”

In fact, a government-commissioned panel has found that there are almost 800,000 people with disabilities who are capable of working in Canada and almost half of them have post-secondary education. Their report said that when companies hire people with disabilities, no special accommodation is required in 57 per cent of cases. When special arrangements are necessary, the average cost to the company is just $500.

The panel spoke with 70 employers and received 130 online submissions. Panel members found that there is a broad willingness to hire workers with disabilities, but that more education and training is needed for companies to figure out how to overcome barriers and put their ideas into practice.

The BC Self Advocacy Foundation will continue this conversation through their website, Twitter, blog and Facebook, community projects and education initiatives, and by encouraging self-advocates to keep their voices loud and constant so that their goal of increasing job opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities who are able and want to work, will be met by 2015.

To learn more about the BC Self Advocacy Foundation and to view their blog, go to http://www.bcsaf.org/ or http://www.bcsaf.org/self-advocates-brighter-future.