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National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) Sets The Tone For The Decade Ahead: It’s Time For Action!

The final week of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) wrapped up in style, here in Ottawa and across the country.

LiveWorkPlay hosted a virtual meeting of the Federal Employment Strategy Group, and drew a massive turnout of over 40 participants, not including LiveWorkPlay staff. Hosted by volunteer FESG Chair Mary Gusella, Director of Employer Partnerships Jen Soucy, and Workplace Inclusion Specialist Kelly Fox, the agenda covered a range of essential topics, such as successful transitions to working from home, the Federal Internship Program for Canadians with Disabilities (FIPCD), the Accessible Canada Act, and open discussion of emerging best practices.

Later that same day, Co-Leader and Director of Communications Keenan Wellar was honoured to contribute as a panelist for an online event supported by the Canadian Heritage Advisory Committee on (Dis)Ability, which presented a virtual panel for public servants on the importance of employment inclusion for diverse persons with disabilities. Representatives from multiple agencies and departments were in attendance, including Canadian Heritage Assistant Deputy Minister (Community and Identity) Charles Slowey, and the event went overtime with a lively question and answer session. Keenan experienced amazing synergies with the panelists drawn from different organizations across the country, who spoke to barriers and opportunities for all disability groups and employment sectors in Canada. His concluding remarks (see speaking notes below) were also aligned with the global theme of the conversation: a call to action that delivers results.

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

This of course is Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms, and it is not a widely known story that the reference to disability was excluded from charter drafts, and only by way of persistent advocacy from disability rights champions and their supporters in the House of Commons and the Federal Public Service was this vital step taken back in 1982.

And of course in 2019 we have the Accessible Canada Act, and as a very concrete intended outcome, Nothing Without Us: An Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer and the Public Service Commission are moving forward with commitment to hire 5,000 employees with disabilities between 2020 and 2025.

As we move towards the 40th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the inclusion of that incredibly important clause 15, we need only reflect on the employment and poverty statistics to understand that legal rights are only a foundation for real change, and we have a long way to go. Simply put, supporting the employment of people with intellectual disabilities and autistic persons is not only the right thing to do, it is a way to make our workplaces better, to make our communities stronger, and to continue to lead as a country that understands that inclusion and diversity only exist when reflected in every aspect of Canadian society, and workplaces provide for us a powerful path to realizing our collective dream of a truly inclusive Canada.

As a longstanding member organization, LiveWorkPlay representatives also attended the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) Annual General Meeting. In addition to the regular business agenda, there was a presentation summarizing the many successful efforts to promote NDEAM, including several municipal proclamations, with Mayor of Ottawa Jim Watson starting things off on October 1.

While these events had a celebratory tone, and some much needed raising of spirits during these challenging times, the challenges ahead did not go unstated. Ontario is in the midst of a significant employment systems transformation, and the threat that people with disabilities will be left behind remains a front and centre concern. Few of these concerns have been addressed, even as the transformation moves through a prototype phase, and to date, opportunities for existing service providers like LiveWorkPlay to influence the process in support of the needs of people with intellectual disabilities and autistic persons has been limited or even non-existent. There are very few organizations across the province who have demonstrated success in this work, accumulating incredible employer partnerships along the way, and increased advocacy is needed to ensure that the important gains made to date are not lost Рthere is a very real danger of moving backwards instead of forwards.

All employment services have moved to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, meaning that fresh advocacy is needed to ensure the inclusion of people disabilities in publicly funded employment supports. We invite you to catch up on the process to date and contact Jen Soucy if you can help out as a member of the Employment Task Force, or contact Keenan Wellar if you have thoughts about how to effectively advocate for fairness and inclusion.