What happened at AEFN’s first community roundtable?

April 19, 2024
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On April 8th 2024, Alberta Employment First Network held its first community roundtable. This session was in collaboration with Albertans Advocating for Change Together (AACT). This advocacy group has members from all across the province, specifically from – Leduc, Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, High River, Barrhead, and Erskine. 

Sixteen people were available to join the session and it started off with an overview of the 2024 DEAM IDEA Conference, happening in Red Deer this year on October 4th. Community presence is invaluable at the DEAM conferences and we hope to continue to increase the percentage of community members in the audience this year. Members at the roundtable were asked to keep the conference in mind when answering the following questions: 

  1. What is something that comes to mind when you think of what you need from a service provider? Or any organization that has helped you find employment? 
  2. Is talent matching something you feel happens often?
  3. What is something that you would like to share with an employer, if you could?
  4. What did you enjoy about past conferences that you have attended? 

A couple weeks prior to the session, a Community Survey had been sent out for people with disabilities to fill out. The survey inquired about service provider experiences, employment barriers, current or past job placements, and lastly accommodations and inclusivity. Survey results can be summarized as such: 

  • Community members found resume help and job placement as being useful help from service providers.  
  • Dislikes of working with service providers : people were left overwhelmed and wondering what exactly the service providers could help with, lack of placement, found that service providers were taking over in a way that wasn’t advocating for the person’s needs.
  • Employment barriers: autistic discrimination, sensory and psychologically unsafe environments, lack of flexibility, neurologically inaccessible practices, asking for accommodations, employers/co-workers assuming what a person can or can’t do. Work from home is not a choice, no flexibility in work schedules. No support with hurtful and discriminatory staff, lack of understanding about mental health and accessibility. Not finding meaningful employment.
  • On responding to what has worked for them at the workplace :  Making their own accommodations (buying ergonomic items, scheduling meetings based on what they need), flexible work hours, days off, managers that are willing to understand and work together. Workload is shifted based on mental health needs. ASL interpreters and closed captioning being available.
  • About 50% of responses said that employers were willing to be accessible.
  • On knowing if a workplace is inclusive :  Not having to convince an employer of needs and being inclusive. Inclusive language, not assuming that everyone is physically capable of using stairs, participating in team building, asking all employees if there are any accommodations they need even if they haven’t disclosed a disability. Offering accessible options from the first point of contact ( i.e. the interview). Knowing their values and opinions on equity deserving groups. Having an inclusive company mission statement and sharing how many people with disabilities are employed.

“The employment rate for persons with disabilities aged 25 to 64 years was up 3 percentage points from 2017, narrowing the gap between the employment rates of persons with disabilities and of persons without disabilities by 5 percentage points.”

Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017 to 2022

Following the review of the survey results, members were asked to answer the aforementioned questions. Below is a summary of their responses. 

  1. What is something that comes to mind when you think of what you need from a service provider? Or any organization that has helped you find employment? 

A member mentioned wanting one on one support when starting a new job. Verbal instructions are often not as efficient as visual instructions, depending on the person –  like being able to shadow another employee on the job. Another member appreciated a service provider for searching for a job that suited them, the provider contacted a few employers before bringing the decision to the job seeker. There was support to adapt to the workplace and adjustments to their schedule were made to suit them best. 

A third member says that they need a service provider to see them as an individual. This is often also labeled as a person-centred approach. It is important to this member for their personal needs or likes and dislikes to be taken into consideration at every step in the role placement process. Ultimately, the service provider does best when curating a process to a person’s needs. 

  1. Is talent matching something you feel happens often?

The first member to answer says no, this has not happened often. The service provider used the work experience skills outlined on their resume to make assumptions about what kind of job they wanted to be placed in, versus taking into account the member’s lived experience and personal desires. The member referred to this process as “self discovery”. Cover letters didn’t seem to be enough to encompass the person’s desires and lived experience. 

One member did feel that they had a chance to talk about their personal employment desires to service providers, but once shared were told that they had to pursue further education to be qualified. Most members agree that they want more accessible options for learning new skills. Although there are grants available for people with disabilities to complete post secondary education, they may not see themselves represented at the institution or face other barriers through the application process. A member expresses that they are glad that there is funding for post secondary but either way wishes that their lived experience and skills obtained outside of the workplace were taken into account when applying for a job. Post secondary may not be for everybody. 

  1. What is something that you would like to share with an employer, if you could?

One member shares that they usually do not share their accessibility needs with the employer before they are hired for the role, they share this information after they are hired for a role. Another member shares that although they did share their disability to management previous to being hired, they got to know other employees who hadn’t shared the same information. The decision of whether or not to self disclose is often made in fear of jeopardizing the chances of being hired. When the disability is visible, it is often brought up in the first conversation with an employer. This particular member wishes that these conversations were productive – for an employer to ask about accessibility and ways in which their employee can use their lived experience in the role, instead of in the conversation simply acknowledging the disability. 

Another member has never had a conversation about their disability with their employer. Some members have had productive conversations with employers, and in conversation have made the employer realize that most accommodations are minimal and free of charge. 

“Nearly half of Canadians with disabilities faced financial challenges due to the pandemic.”

Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017 to 2022
  1. What did you enjoy about past conferences that you have attended? 

The first member shares that it is important to them that there is accessibility at the event, such as, ASL closed captioning, and clear audio. Another member shares that the AACT summits used to be a social worker run event and shifted into a community run event. They envision the same for any conference or event during Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM). Allyship is crucial but event leadership being all persons with disabilities stands out to the group members. The next AACT summit will be held in 2025. 

AEFN’s first community roundtable was an opportunity to hear straight from the source. Incorporating community members in conversation on inclusive employment has proven to be the most authentic and sustainable. Further collaboration is needed between people with disabilities and all parties involved in job placement. AEFN will be facilitating these conversations at capacity building events and at the DEAM IDEA Conference on October 4th. All information about these sessions will be shared on social media, our monthly newsletter and the events calendar on the website. For updated statistics visit the Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017 to 2022.

Check out the first service provider roundtable here.

Author : Mariebelle Sawma 

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