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A National AccessAbility Week To Remember!

National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) takes place every year starting on the last Sunday in May. It is a time when accessibility and inclusion is promoted across communities and workplaces and a time to celebrate the contributions of Canadians with disabilities. It is also an opportunity to recognize the efforts of Canadians who are actively removing barriers and ensuring persons with disabilities have an equal chance to participate in all aspects of Canadian society.

As the official website states “The increased social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities has positive economic and social benefits, for persons with disabilities, for business, the economy, and society in general. When persons with disabilities can access meaningful employment, resources and services, Canada’s economy grows. Businesses have the chance to welcome more customers, service satisfaction improves and workplaces reflect Canada’s diversity. By bringing Canadians together to recognize the valuable contributions of persons with disabilities, we are strengthening the collaborative effort needed to create a country that is fully accessible and inclusive.”

This expanded understanding of accessibility has made both national and local events organized around this theme more welcoming and meaningful for LiveWorkPlay, the people with intellectual and autistic persons that we support, and their family members. This year we enjoyed a unique opportunity to help celebrate employment in the federal public service at a special event organized by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and hosted by Krista Wilcox, Director General, Office for Disability Issues. Speaking at the event were London West MP Kate Young (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Science and Sport and to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility), Keenan Wellar, Co-Leader & Director of Communications at LiveWorkPlay, and Mary Gusella, volunteer Co-Chair of the LiveWorkPlay Federal Employment Strategy Group (FESG). You can listen to the speeches with the video below and there is also a transcript of Keenan’s presentation at the bottom of this blog.

Although Minister Qualtrough had hoped to attend, she was very busy working towards the passage of Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act and finally crossed the finish line on Wednesday night!

In attendance at the May 28 event in Gatineau were members of the LiveWorkPlay employment team, FESG volunteers, individuals supported by LiveWorkPlay who are working in the federal public service, their family members, and their colleagues, supervisors, and managers from dozens of agencies and departments.

“With the proposed legislation our government is transforming how we think about accessibility and work towards a Canada without barriers, we know this is an important culture change and LiveWorkPlay is helping us achieve that vision” said MP Young.

“Your organization is leading by example and I thank you for that. Since 2015 through our partnership with LiveWorkPlay our government has hired over 70 persons…and I am pleased that one of these employees recently became permanent…the Government of Canada wants to lead by example as well…just yesterday Minister Qualtrough launched Nothing Without Us the first public service of Canada accessibility strategy. With this strategy we will focus our efforts on improving recruitment, retention, and the promotion of persons with disabilities…our goal is to hire at least 5000 people with disabilities over the next 5 years.”

Keenan spoke to the importance of action in backing up important works about accessibility, inclusion, and diversity, and that while employment is just one way in which individuals with intellectual disabilities and autistic persons can progress towards social and economic inclusion but “we know that having a job and being a respected member of an inclusive workplace is at the top of the list.”

Concluding his remarks, Keenan noted that “the most important lesson of all is that when we include individuals with disabilities, like those who are here with us today, we end up with better workplaces, stronger communities, and a Canada that proudly leads by example on the world stage.”

Mary Gusella wrapped up the ceremony speaking from the heart about her decision to volunteer with LiveWorkPlay after her retirement following an incredible career in the federal public service, and the journey of building an employment supports model that was uniquely created to address the hiring needs of the Government of Canada. “Our goal is to continue this work and we ask each and every one of you to help us widen the circle…I thank LiveWorkPlay for giving me to the opportunity to see the results of this work, every time a person we are supporting is hired in the federal public service it gives us an enormous sense of satisfaction knowing they are making a contribution to their country.”

I want to thank MP Kate Young for this warm welcome. You were the first female news anchor at CFPL-TV in London, and one of the early adopters of anti-bullying campaigns in schools from your time at the Thames Valley District School Board, and I mention these examples because I know that you are no stranger to breaking new ground for social progress.

Avec la ministre Qualtrough et un grand nombre de vos collègues, nous comprenons que soutenir l’inclusion des personnes ayant une déficience intellectuelle – et des personnes autistiques – est une passion authentique – et pas seulement pendant la semaine nationale de l’accessibilité – c’est un effort quotidien continu avec des membres dévoués de la fonction publique – dans tous les organismes et ministères du gouvernement du Canada.

Three weeks ago on May 9th we hosted our annual LiveWorkPlay celebration of community to a sold out banquet hall just over the bridge on Preston Street, it was our pleasure to recognize Health Canada, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, and the Public Service Commission of Canada, who accepted some of our highest honours in the form of our Inclusive Employment Champion and Leadership in Employment Diversity awards. Last year we recognized the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the year before Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Who will it be in 2020? We hope to have many new departments up for consideration!

Notre compréhension de l’accessibilité a évolué. Tandis que nous continuons à apprendre et à améliorer nos efforts pour réduire les obstacles physiques dans l’environnement construit, nous sommes également conscients que les attitudes discriminatoires contribuent à l’exclusion sociale et économique – et que les actions parlent plus fort que les mots – pour démontrer que les personnes handicapées sont valorisées et contribuent de manière importante à la société canadienne.

There are many outcomes that can viewed as indicators of social inclusion, but at LiveWorkPlay, entering our 25th year of helping the community welcome people with intellectual disabilities, autistic persons, and individuals with a dual diagnosis to live, work, and play as valued citizens, we know that having a job and being a respected member of an inclusive workplace is at the top of the list.

There can be no doubt that in the last two years alone, Government of Canada agencies and departments have hired more people with intellectual disabilities and autistic persons than ever before in the history of our federal public service. Speaking only of hires made with the direct assistance of LiveWorkPlay, we are talking about 75 individuals in 25 departments and agencies, and with all of your help, we’ll make sure this is only the beginning of a proud legacy of access, inclusion, and diversity.

This notable achievement has been accomplished thanks to an incredible partnership that features current public servants, the LiveWorkPlay employment team, many of whom are here with us today, as well as retired professionals, including Mary Gusella, a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Outstanding Achievement Award, the highest honour in the federal public service Along with Daniel Spagnolo from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, who is also here today, Mary is the co-chair and a founding member of our Federal Employment Strategy Group.

We will hear from Mary in a moment, so I will conclude my remarks by urging that we not only celebrate National AccessAbility Week, but also remember that unemployment for people with intellectual disabilities and autistic persons remains as a severe impediment to social and economic inclusion.

Au cours des deux dernières années, nous avons appris quelques leçons importantes, notamment que la législation et la politique sociale sont essentielles pour permettre la réussite, mais aussi que ce sont les relations et la collaboration sur le terrain qui transforment la politique en action.

Finally the most important lesson of all is that when we include individuals with disabilities, like those who are here with us today, we end up with better workplaces, stronger communities, and a Canada that proudly leads by example on the world stage. Thank you.

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