A challenge to B.C. businesses on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

In 1992, The United Nations voted to proclaim December 3 as International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a day we should all celebrate. But I have a challenge for the B.C. business community: how will you make the day meaningful?

For the 16,000 adults with intellectual disabilities that are served by Community Living BC, employment is essential to their quality of life. Yet by our estimate, less than 20 per cent of those we serve are earning an income.

The government of B.C. has identified this as a priority. In its plan, called Accessibility 2024, it outlines a vision to make our province the most progressive for people with disabilities. Employment is a foundational building block.

At CLBC, we see employers as agents of change to overcome barriers preventing persons from disabilities from fully participating in every aspect of community life.

Work is integral to well-being. For individuals, it is a pathway to supportive relationships, meaningful contributions, a sense of belonging and financial security. Inclusive employment is also a beneficial pathway for businesses and communities. Businesses are recognized as local champions and progressive employers while local residents enjoy pride of place in an enriched and progressive community.

Persons with intellectual disabilities offer fresh perspectives, unique skills and abilities, commitment and innovation. Research conducted on this matter is unequivocal: people with disabilities add value to the bottom line.

In 2013, in collaboration with persons with disabilities, their families, community stakeholders and employers, CLBC launched a three-year community action employment plan with a clear goal to increase employment. But our research identified that we needed to shift attitudes. It’s vital that we help communities and employers grasp the untapped potential of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Today we are working in three pilot regions of the province, Central and Upper Island, Simon Fraser and Thompson Cariboo, in an innovative, multi-pronged effort. This involves bringing together school districts, community groups and employers to develop local employment plans that identify opportunities. We are investing in employment service agencies to build individual and customized supports that serve the needs of employers and employees. And we are reaching out to youth as they graduate from school to create plans to transition to good jobs.

Together we are overcoming barriers in creative new ways, including through assistive new technologies. In fact, outside of CLBC work, the provincial government has made a commitment of $3 million annually for assistive technologies that support employment goals.

Enabling technology is the theme of this year’s United Nations day of recognition. It has the power to unleash exceptional contributions to help you achieve your business goals. The message is clear: for employers, the concerns can be addressed.

CLBC will formally evaluate its pilot efforts, but early indications are promising. And there is nothing more hopeful than stories we are hearing of employers in Kamloops, Courtney, Maple Ridge and numerous other B.C. communities. They are telling us, “I wanted to contribute to my community, but I see it’s my business and our customers that are receiving the benefits.”

B.C. has been a pioneer in the movement to recognize the rights of persons with disabilities, thanks to the advocacy of countless individuals, families and friends. Today, we can all celebrate many achievements.  But the statistics around employment shed light on the work that has yet to be done.

If you are an employer, take a moment today to consider this opportunity and what role you can play. Visit www.communitylivingbc.ca to learn more about our community employment action plan.  And take a look at resources created by the business community at web sites like: www.senseability.ca. You may be surprised at the fresh possibilities you can create for your business, and your community.

Seonag Macrae, CEO
Community Living B.C.

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