If opportunity doesn’t knock, then build a door.

 

That is exactly what is happening for the estimated 83 percent of individuals who are eligible for services through Community Living BC, and are unemployed. That door is being constructed via a three-year Community Employment Action Plan for adults with developmental disabilities who wish to work in their communities.

 

The Plan was launched in 2013. Opening that door to employment opportunities puts those with developmental disabilities on a pathway of meaningful work that pays a living wage. The goal of the Plan is to increase the employment of individuals served by CLBC by 1200 people over three years, from the current estimate of 2200 participating in employment.

 

How did this initiative come about? Many years ago self-advocate leaders became disenchanted with their situations, performing menial tasks in segregated settings, usually without competent salaries. Their refrain became “real work for real pay”.

 

Over the past number of years, young people leaving school and their families have almost increasingly been asking for real employment, elevated from the traditional menial, low-grade jobs that people with developmental disabilities were assumed to fit into. There have been small numbers of people, who, with the support of their families, service providers, educators, and employers, have worked at rewarding jobs, earned a paycheck, made friends with co workers and gained confidence and satisfaction from a sense of belonging. Most importantly, paid employment means a higher quality of life.

 

Between 2007 and 2012, as awareness of the importance of employment grew, Community Living BC undertook a number of initiatives to build capacity and momentum. The Customized Employment Demonstration Project concentrated on the value of individualizing the employment relationship to meet the needs of both the employer and the employee. Eight projects were funded for four years and the results were telling. Employment was possible for people across a wide spectrum of disabilities and that adoption of customized employment provided a real promise of success.

 

Reinventing day supports, those that promoted daytime activities, a comfortable home and leisure time with friends led to a deeper understanding of the need to move these supports towards employment. This shift came as a generation of youth experienced (at least periods of) inclusive education. Being marginalized or summarily excluded was not going to be accepted anymore.

 

BC Employment Development Strategy Network, in collaboration with Douglas College continuing education, developed curricula and began training staff to increase their competency in supporting people to find and keep work.

 

A number of service providers and practitioners joined together to create EmployNet, a hub for learning, sharing, and collaboration in advancing best practices in employment supports and to help employers improve the bottom line by employing a diverse workforce.

 

In spite of people’s efforts, progress over the years had been incremental at best. It was time to build on the work already done and develop a sector-wide employment plan. They wanted to make a real impact. In 2012, CLBC engaged individuals, families, service providers, CLBC staff, school and government representatives and employers to develop a three-year employment plan. The consultation culminated in a provincial employment summit that took place in Oct. 2012, with over 150 attendees from around the province and the Community Action Employment Plan focuses on building that door to inclusive employment situations.

 

The Plan focuses on shifting attitudes towards a belief that individuals with developmental disabilities have a valuable contribution to make in the workforce. Every community is different. The Plan tailors solutions to the unique characteristics of a region because the nature of work opportunities differs in each region. Approximately 600 youth leave school and become eligible for CLBC services each year. These youth are a priority for employment services where they can transition with their peers and receive services that will support their personal goals instead of determining them.

 

CLBC will increase the number of adults with developmental disabilities that it employs and contracts with. Social enterprise and self-employment have the potential to provide many adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to pursue meaningful work.  CLBC will better support individuals pursuing this option and creation of a self-employment program at post-secondary institutions.

 

The Ministry of Social Development has made improvements with BC Disability Benefits to make employment more attractive option for people to pursue. A full copy of the plan is available at www.communitylivingbc.ca