Inclusive Employment; Now is the Time
August 20, 2015
Posted in: Uncategorized
Inclusive Employment; Now is the Time
Written by Tricia Bain
Curtis MacDonald is one of the fortunate youths who were hired by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to work in the Stewardship Youth Ranger Program (SYRP). This is a highly sought-after job for youth interested in the environment and working outdoors. The projects the rangers work on include trail cleaning in parks, invasive species removal, turtle tracking (which involves walking and swimming in swamps), rattlesnake surveys, garbage clean-up and much more. This is appealing work for those who like the outdoors and hope to pursue future employment as a Conservation Officer. This year four rangers worked together all summer; three will attend the Parry Sound High School this fall.
While being interviewed for a summer youth employment video being produced by Community Living Parry Sound (CLPS), the rangers were asked about their favorite moments of the summer. Curtis shared that his was “releasing baby turtles” while others spoke of working with animals at the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. The team also saw bears and rattlesnakes which “actually wasn’t that scary”. They all agreed it was the best summer job; “we get to be outside all day, meet new people and try new things” says Curtis. Kaliska, another of the rangers, is new to the Parry Sound area and when she goes to school in September she will now know two other students because she worked with them through bogs and bush all summer long.
Trevor Hicks, Stewardship Youth Ranger Team lead, explains that when hiring rangers the MNRF looks for “self-motivated youth interested in the environment, who are physically fit and used to the bugs, heat and dirt that come with working in the bush”. The MNRF strives to be inclusive and diverse, focusing on people’s abilities and not their disabilities. For the past two years Ministry representatives from the Parry Sound office have attended an event for employers organized by CLPS that presents them with facts about the value of hiring people with disabilities and provides an opportunity to listen to a panel of employers who have experienced the advantages and benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
Leading Into New Careers (LINC) Customized Employment Specialist Katie Nelson was on top of finding a potential match when the MNRF posted jobs for the Stewardship Youth Ranger Program this year. It was a small move to pick up the phone to call Curtis, but in that moment a huge door opened to creating a community of full inclusion for people with disabilities for future generations and for Curtis MacDonald who was ready, willing and able to apply. The stigma of having a disability is still real and palpable in society but the time is ripe for change. Employment is the way forward for people without a disability to experience the benefits of working with resourceful, strong and innovative people with disabilities who are available to the labour force. Trevor says “Curtis has had a few ideas out in the field that were better than the planned ones, so we ended up going with his idea; having Curtis as a part of the team helps round out the group”.
LINC attended Curtis’ initial interview as well as his orientation shifts and assisted him with learning some of the health and safety aspects of the job. When Curtis needed his boating license to work on a water project, LINC Job Coach Sky Stamplecoskie worked with Curtis to support him through the online test requirements for the license so he could go the next day.
Curtis wanted to learn more about wildlife and says having this job has made him more aware of the habitats around him; bio-reserves, plants and animals. He says “It’s been fun joking around with the other rangers and the job has built up my confidence.” As well as being paid equal wages for his work Curtis will receive two Co-op credits for the summer job. He is now thinking about what he might want to do after high school and may take some courses at Fleming College.
When I met up with the Stewardship Youth Rangers the team was preparing for a day of work at Healy Lake Lodge. Trevor Hicks explained to me that the flat grass area originally planted in front of the cabins was to be restored by the team to a more natural state, stabilizing the waterfront to filter nutrients harmful to the lake and to deter geese from grazing; a win-win for the lodge and environment. Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve experts were also present and set up a teaching display for guests and children to provide education on snakes and plants.
Innovative community partnerships are part of the Community Living Parry Sound strategic plan for moving the community forward ever closer to their mission of ensuring the full participation, inclusion and citizenship of people who have a developmental disability.
Only 49% of all people with a disability have any labour market attachment and, of those people, 25% face unemployment. “People with disabilities (mild, moderate or severe) are likely to be unemployed and living in poverty” says Joe Dale of the Ontario Disability Employment Network. This is true despite the fact that Statistics Canada reports finding that workers who have a disability are 5x more likely to stay on the job than people who do not have a disability and a Harris study found that 39% of workers who have a disability are more reliable than other workers.
Employers are starting to open their minds and doors to hire people with disabilities into the workforce in greater numbers; experiencing great success and marvelling at the previously unknown benefits of inclusive teams. The challenge remains that not all employers know how to hire people with disabilities and employers are unaware of how to go about finding the right people with disabilities to fit the jobs that they have available. Curtis was fortunate to have access to LINC employment services, an arm of Community Living Parry Sound. This excellence in employment service needs to be duplicated province wide in order to alter the course of the workforce for better; improving our labour force and the lives of people with disabilities.
Now is the time to break down all residual barriers from the past; stigma, fear of accessibility costs, myths about what constitutes ‘ability’ and not being able to see a person because of their disability. Curtis’s coworkers Kalista, Shayna and Kelton will carry on as expected in life after their time as Stewardship Youth Rangers and are likely to go on to post-secondary school and jobs. Curtis will carry on his life defying the past odds of people who have a disability. Unlike generations that have gone before him this summer employment opportunity has raised Curtis’s expectations of what he can experience in life; a post-secondary education and a job that pays him fair and equal wages. Curtis has learned that he is capable of applying for and gaining employment and now he has the confidence to go out into the community and try.