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The Active Job Seeker in the 21st Century: Strategies for Success

Editor's Note: The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians has promoted the full economic participation of people with disabilities (PWD), including those who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, for many years, by calling for anti-poverty strategies (like increasing the amount of disability pensions), shifts in employer attitudes towards hiring people with disabilities, and increased employment opportunities, such as through the promotion of higher education and skills training for PWDS. Anu Pala is a career facilitator with the Neil Squire Society. She also operates her own consulting business, A-Nu Vision, offering disability awareness training to organizations and computer training to blind people.

Looking for a job is a “full-time” job. It takes planning, dedication, creativity and, most of all, a positive attitude.

The way we seek employment has changed significantly over the years. When I was a teenager, I recall getting my first job at Expo 86 at Belgium Waffles. I learned about this opportunity through the local newspaper. My more mature and experienced co-workers often reflect on the days when they used to simply walk into a store or establishment and ask if they were hiring or read a “help wanted” sign in the window.

It is interesting to reflect on how technology has played a significant role in how we access information and communicate now. In the 21st century, we live in a digital world where we have access to virtually everything at our fingertips. This includes landing that perfect job.

While job postings and other career-related information can be accessed online, there are other practices that can broaden your horizons and support you in your job search. The following five tips each have their own importance and value, and will help prepare you to stay active and motivated.

Know how to market yourself.
Do you have the tools in your belt to demonstrate what you bring to the table? I compare applying for a job to marketing a product. In this case, “you” are the product. Think about how we get lured into purchasing something that we saw an ad for on TV. It’s all in the marketing strategy. The key elements in creating your personal brand include a confident self-introduction; strong job-specific resume and cover letter; and the ability to speak to your skills and abilities. The question to ask yourself is, “What separates me from the rest?” This is no time to be shy, but rather to shine.

Know how to tap into the Hidden Job Market.
Because most people are drawn to an online job search, they often miss out on other lucrative opportunities to connect with employers, recruiters and/or people who can connect them to key players. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be a scary thing, but at the same time the most rewarding.

85% of jobs are not advertised. It is a known fact that employers are more receptive to recruit through personal connections and recommendations. So, what do you need to do to get in the inner loop?

Be open to meeting prospective employers, human-resource (HR) managers and/or people who work in a company or line of work that is of interest to you. The purpose of this meeting is simply to gather information. Why? This is an opportunity to communicate your interest, as well as demonstrate what you bring to the table.

Know how to write and deliver success stories.
Have you ever been asked in an interview something like, “Tell me a time when you were challenged with completing a task within a tight deadline.” Or “Tell me about a situation when you had to influence someone to achieve a desired result. What was the outcome?” This interview style is called behavioral-based interviewing. Preparing for these types of questions requires work. Stories that outline past situations that have resulted in a positive outcome allow the interviewer to pull out specific skills that you utilized or possess. The key is to keep them short and impactful. In order to do this successfully, you need to practice, practice, practice.

Maintain a Healthy Attitude.
Finding a job is hard work and can be depleting. I know that trying to stay positive can be challenging when you have been rejected over and over. Through my own personal experience, what has worked for me is to keep a gratitude journal. Taking three to five minutes at night to write down a few things that you are grateful for can change your outlook significantly. Also make a conscious effort to surround yourself with positive people. When you feel positive, you send out positive vibes, and those vibes attract other positive energy that results in positive experiences.

Self Care.
Health and wellness are usually ignored or a last priority when in job-search mode. Because we are so focused and determined, we forget that nutrition, exercise, healthy sleep and allowing time for fun help maintain balance. Remember to take time to nurture yourself and acknowledge your hard work.

Having the support of friends and family is extremely valuable and necessary. Along with this, a career coach can also help you through the job-search process. Having someone to help you with research, preparation and debriefing can truly lighten the emotional load.

Although seeking employment at times can be daunting, it can also be an opportunity for learning, stretching yourself, and self-reflection. Dare to dream. Step out of your comfort zone and take time to nurture yourself. Here’s to a positive and productive job search experience!

Note: The Neil Squire Society is a national not-for-profit organization that has empowered Canadians with physical disabilities for over 25 years. Its Virtual Employ-Ability program is a self-paced employment program that can be accessed anywhere, anytime, through a computer and an internet connection. For further information, call 1-877-673-4636 or visit

Creating Joy From The Heart

Editor's Note: Cynthia Groopman lives in New York state. As a result of a medical accident, she became blind in 1988. Formerly a teacher in the New York City Public School System, she has contributed to her community through 20 years of volunteer work, for which she has been widely recognized.

To light a candle of understanding, to open minds, to touch a weary heart and to adorn a frownful face with a smile of sunshine are my passions.

For the past 20 years, I have devoted my energies and abilities and dedicated myself to achieve these goals with senior citizens.

As a recreational, educational and social work volunteer at the Dellamonica Senior Center, it has been a task of passionate joy and pleasure to teach English to non-English speakers. I accomplish this by having the students sing, engage in conversation, read, and eventually write. At the present time, I am teaching a totally blind man from Ecuador. He is amazing me so much with his fantastic memory.

A 73-year-old lady, who five years earlier came to me with no knowledge of English, learned to speak and to read, and eventually, after teaching her citizenship, she became a citizen and is proud and happy. She is my pride and joy.

As a telephone reassurance person, I cradle weary hearts, crying eyes and lonely voices with words of love and understanding, and I do this with the power of listening with God's joy. I sing with them, in different languages, pray with them, read Psalms and listen to them with an ear full of caring, a heart full of empathy and feelings of deep love and comfort. Many times I sing carols to them at Christmas. To me, that is the true spirit of the Holy day of giving, caring and sharing.

Reaching out to teach and to love is what it is all about, and I have been volunteering for 20 years as a fulfillment of what God has given me. I owe everything to God who, throughout the 23 years of my blindness, has instilled in me the willingness to help others grow and learn and to thrive and flourish in his garden.

Blind Student Checks Tech for College's Accessibility

Barrie--Georgian College student Matthew Campbell identifies--and removes--barriers many can't see. That's because he's blind.

A graduate of the W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, the 22-year-old Parry Sound man is now enrolled in Georgian's computer systems technician program. In addition to his studies, he's completing his first co-op placement as an accessibility specialist in the information technology department.

He chose Georgian because the college was already more accessible than others--but that's only encouraging him to make it even more so.

"Georgian seemed to have a lot of information on its website about helping students with disabilities and a lot of colleges didn't," he said. "I had a hard time finding a computer technician program. I found 'help desk support', and I don't want to do that. I want to be the guy who runs around the building fixing things."

Like others in the I.T. (information technology) business, Campbell loves technology and exploring how various devices, programs and applications can work together. He has both an Apple Mac laptop and a Windows notebook--and is awaiting the arrival of an iPhone.

His focus as an I.T. co-op student has been the same website that attracted him to Georgian in the first place.

"I'd like to see the college move a little quicker away from Adobe's flash technology, which is being used to display video on a web page. Adobe has a very sad attitude when it comes to accessibility, especially for the Mac user," he said. "Flash is a nightmare to navigate and work with using a screen-reading program." Screen reading is built into Apple computers, he noted, while on Windows-based systems the accessibility tool must be purchased separately.

He has suggested the college give blind students a tour by adding better audio descriptions of the campus, rather than relying so heavily on the camera. "If someone developed a website with descriptive labels for images, we could get an idea of what the image is showing," he said, adding that in many cases--from email links to websites--any text on the page, rather than an icon, would give information to the visually impaired.

Graduating from the Macdonald School, Campbell has more experience with other adaptive technologies, and is working to make the college's website work with those specialized devices as well.

He's also excited by the possibilities of mainstream technology--and making it even more useful for those with disabilities. Applications for the iPhone abound (not to mention the phone has a screen-reading "voice"), and he's looking to explore how to make them work with specialized programs and devices. "I'd like to get into that, too," he said. "There are lots of possibilities.

His supervisor, web usability analyst Monika Bernolak, said that experience is a valuable asset. "We have all kinds of reports and he's given us numerous suggestions. We're listening to him, to learn and improve our pages accordingly," she said. "He tests projects for us before they go live and lets us know how we can improve. It's very important in light of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which Georgian College is strongly committed to."

Made law in 2005, the AODA sets out a series of targets to break down barriers: customer service, the built environment, employment, communication and transportation. Municipalities and public agencies must, by January, offer good customer service to all--regardless of ability or disability. Stores and others in the business of customer service have until January 2012.

Just after that, information and communication must be accessible by 2013 in the private sector. All other compliance dates have yet to be determined. The goal of the AODA is to make the province totally accessible by 2025.

"(More) companies are thinking about accessibility and how to build it into mainstream products. It's pretty sad a lot of other (technology companies) are not following Apple and making it accessible," Campbell said. "(People with disabilities) may be a minority, but we do make up market share."

As part of his co-op placement, Campbell also has an accessibility blog, at

In September, Campbell returns to his in-class studies. One thing he will depend on isn't technical at all--but critically important in helping him make his way around: his guide dog Lillibelle.

"You'd be surprised at how many people have dogs," he said, adding he asks people not to pat the black lab while she is working. "Ask, don't assume, you can (pat the dog). Petting a dog that's working is unwise, potentially dangerous," he said, adding he's fortunate he's had no close calls due to Lillibelle being distracted from her duties.

In January, in his next co-op placement, he may be back focusing on accessibility at Georgian. At least Bernolak hopes so. "He's been a great asset," she said.

Reprinted from The Barrie Advance,, Ontario, August 25, 2010.

Clowning Around With Marco

Editor's Note: Ms. Bennett is an AEBC member living in Brampton, Ontario and Associate Editor of the CBM.

Marc Proulx, also known as Marco the Clown, is on a mission to create smiles--at everything from birthday parties and weddings to fundraisers and seasonal celebrations. For the past ten years, the Brantford, Ontario, resident has been juggling, joking, yodeling, singing, dancing, cartwheeling and balloon-making his way into people's hearts. He also performs ventriloquism, with such characters as Sesame Street's Grover and Bruno, a chocolate Labrador of his own making. His guide dog, Felix, is also in on the act. While Marco wears a painted face, size 24 shoes, and a navy blue clown suit with multi-coloured patches, his four-legged companion sports a piece of multi-coloured denim on his back to match the hue of balloons. When Felix is not sleeping, he barks on cue during songs and jokes, and even jumps up into the air to catch treats. All to make someone's day!

Proulx first considered working as a clown in his adolescence after he became blind. Not only did he know someone who worked as a clown and who encouraged him, but his personality was also well suited to the job. Clowning served a crucial purpose. "It was my way of dealing with losing my sight," Proulx says, "instead of drugs or alcohol. Plus, I have a lot of energy and love joking around." Since he had difficulty finding other employment, Proulx joined Brant Clown Alley (BCA), a group of entertainers whose aim is to develop and improve members' skills through workshops and practical experience. Through BCA and similar outfits in Toronto and Hamilton, he learned to make animals, Spiderman, a Harley-Davidson and a ballerina out of balloons, usually by following each step hand over hand. To get to events, he either car-pools with other clowns or gets a ride from family/friends. While he typically works alone, it's not unusual for other clowns to join him at weddings or Canada Day celebrations. Summer is the busiest time of year, with up to 14 gigs a month in July and August; in wintertime, there might be two per month.

Apart from entertaining, Marco the Clown uses his gigs to educate others about blindness. He takes a sign with him to public events that reads: “I'm Marco the Clown / Here to entertain / And this is my guide dog / Felix is his name / I'm visually impaired / I do not see / So please let me know / If you need a balloon from me / I might juggle or jump / Or I may sing a song / I'll create with balloons / And it won't take me long!” Since he can’t see if children are butting into line for balloons, for example, this is one way to indicate to parents to keep their kids in check. Sometimes he also asks for assistance. Marco has also adapted the birthday party game Pin the Tail on the Donkey to Pin the Tail on the Black Lab--Felix!

For Proulx, it’s all about providing pleasure. “When I first got into clowning, I took my ventriloquism dummy Bruno to a restaurant, where he flirted unashamedly with the waitress. It’s fortunate I had good orientation to the restaurant, because before long we were going to different tables. We had the whole place in stitches.” Clowning is sometimes also one of the hardest things he’s done. “At one summer event, a father brought his seriously ill three-year-old son to me,” he recalls. “I lifted him up in my arms and began singing to him. When I returned the boy to his father, the Dad was weeping, because it was one of the few times he had seen his child smile.” Proulx pauses here before continuing, “Three weeks later, I got a call inviting me to the little boy’s funeral, where I attached a helium balloon to his casket.”

Marco the Clown is always striving to improve his skills, such as ballooning and juggling. He’s forever looking for new jokes and tricks, and has just started getting up on stilts. While the self-employed entertainer would like to be financially independent and attend a Texas college to study “the psychology of clowning”, his work is currently only part-time and he continues to receive a disability pension. Still, he’s thinking big. When I asked him about his goals for the future, his immediate response was “to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.” When I asked what that record might be, he quipped, “Stiltwalking or unicycling, of course!”

Did I mention that Marc Proulx is also a father, former Big Brother and star athlete? Perhaps it’s only natural then that he got into clowning--something that thrills children and requires great physical agility. He’s also an accessibility advocate in Brantford. Proulx believes that you have to reach for the stars in order to actually get one. “The impossible is only the untried,” he says. Whatever the future holds for him, it will no doubt be eventful.

For more information about Marc Proulx, call 519-304-2277 or email:

Canada's Programs for Disabled Too Complex, Says OECD

Canadians with disabilities or health (issues) are caught in a complex web of federal and provincial programs that make it almost impossible for them to join or remain in the workforce, says a new OECD report. Few programs lift the disabled out of poverty and many seem to work at cross-purposes, says the report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which looked at the major disability benefits and services offered by Ottawa and the provinces.

To improve programs and make it easier for the disabled to get help, the report recommends better federal-provincial coordination and "one-stop shopping" offices.

The 85-page report comes on the eve of a promised Ontario review of social assistance and mirrors many of the recommendations of a provincial expert panel that called for more coordination of federal and provincial programs for vulnerable working-age people.

"Even with better coordination, there is considerable room for streamlining by making provinces fully responsible for all employment measures and programming," says the OECD report, released this week.

Like many OECD countries, the report notes Canada's benefits and services are focused on what the sick and disabled cannot do rather than on what meaningful work they are able to do. Before the recession, just 60 per cent of Canadians with health (issues) or disabilities were in the workforce and their unemployment rate of more than 16 percent was twice as high as the general population, the report says.

A spokesperson for federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the Harper government has taken "unprecedented action to support Canadians with disabilities" including the new Registered Disability Savings Program, Employment Insurance sickness benefits for the self-employed, and the Working Income Tax Benefit.

Mary Marrone, of Ontario's Income Security Advocacy Centre, welcomed the report's recommendation that Canada and other countries need to focus on people's abilities, not their disabilities. But she is concerned about the report's suggestion that countries should tie disability benefits to a person's efforts to work, even part-time. "We need to be providing real opportunities for people to work through employment support and accommodation and not make work an obligation for people with disabilities," she said in an interview.

Michael Mendelson of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy said Canada would be unwise to adopt one-stop shopping for the disabled before reforming the various federal and provincial programs. "Creating an integrated service as a Band-Aid over a dis-integrated system would just create one more layer of bureaucracy," he said. "The issue is the coordination of programs," said Mendelson. "We need to try to develop our income security system as a whole."

Reprinted from The Toronto Star, October 3, 2010, courtesy of Torstar Syndication Services.

Our Rights, Our Future: A Rights-Holder Perspective

Editor's Note: The following are notes for the President's Report delivered by Robin at the opening of AEBC's 2010 Conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Montreal, Quebec.

I would like to welcome all of you to our Conference and AGM in Montreal. I am sure you will enjoy your visit here. I hope you meet some old friends and get acquainted with some new folks from across the country. Please join me in thanking the organizing committee--Anthony Tibbs, Marc Workman, Natalie Martiniello, Heather Rupert, Rosie Arcuri, Ezra Chitayat, Paulo Monteagudo--and the rest of the Montreal Chapter for working hundreds of hours to make this weekend a success.

I would also like to thank the 2009-10 Board of Directors for their commitment of valuable time and hard work to the AEBC. Each National Board member devotes many hours each week to promote the goals and objectives of our organization. Denise Sanders is leaving the Board after serving four terms, two each as Treasurer and Director Without Portfolio. She plans to stay involved on the Communications Working Group and will continue to participate with the Kelowna Chapter.

Welcome to all the new members who have joined AEBC during the past year.

To all the Chapters, I thank Executive members for their commitment to the work of AEBC. Also, I would like to thank the Affiliate for all its hard work in British Columbia. Further thanks go out to our National Committees, including scholarship, finance/fundraising, human resources, membership and policy development, and their many working groups.

I am pleased to report that, for the 2009-10 academic year, AEBC awarded three scholarships and two bursaries: The AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts to Mr. Allan Angus; The AEBC National Achievement Scholarship to Mr. Anthony Tibbs; The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship to Ms. Helen McFadyen; The Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for the Performing Arts to Mr. Koceïla Louali; and The Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for Vocational Training and Trades to Ms. Stephanie Berry. Congratulations to the winners. We wish them all the best in their studies and future plans.

AEBC has been very active during the past year. Discussions have taken place over the past several months between representatives of consumer organizations of blind Canadians, CNIB, the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. These discussions have been aimed at drafting recommendations on how a new network hub responsible for coordinating access to library services for print disabled Canadians should be designed and operated. Final recommendations were submitted to Library and Archives Canada (LAC), which is drafting a proposal to be sent to Cabinet. There will be future opportunities for AEBC and individual members to have further input into this process.

AEBC’s National Board of Directors has approved these recommendations with one exception: we have a membership resolution in place stating that any entity like the one being proposed be government run and operated. This resolution prevents the AEBC from endorsing that particular recommendation; however, the Board supports the remaining recommendations.

AEBC has also been meeting with other national rights-holder organizations and CNIB to attempt to form a national coalition that will work collaboratively on common issues. The main purpose of these meetings was to build on some of the momentum established over the last several months as these and other disability groups worked on the library issue.

Everyone seemed to agree that the working relationship was positive and productive, but if it is to continue operating as anything more than an ad hoc coalition, we needed to determine and clearly articulate the structure, roles and operations of the coalition and its various member organizations. In May, the groups met for two days in Toronto, and developed terms of reference for the Coalition. Each participating organization is to discuss the outcome of these meetings, and indicate its participation in the coalition. It is expected the groups will not meet again until the fall of 2010, and in the meantime work is to begin on access to PIN-and-card and point-of-sale devices.

A resolution will be introduced to you, the members, at this Conference to endorse AEBC's participation in this coalition.

Over the past year, the AEBC National Board has been engaged in a comprehensive review of our activities. Our goal has been to determine those areas where we are most effective, and those in which our performance or effectiveness could be improved. Discussion of this review will take place at this Conference.

We also need to work on our communications strategy. The present redesign of the national website will go a long way toward addressing this concern, by collecting information on each “issue” (elections, quiet cars, education, etc.) into a central location; however, our internal communications (among Chapters, members and the National Board) also needs an overhaul. This Conference will give you the opportunity, as members, to participate in determining how AEBC will go about communicating our future activities to you. The final plan will need "buy-in" from all levels of the organization--Chapters, committees and the National Board--to be successful.

Several years ago, Donna Jodhan, our 2nd Vice President, launched a Charter case in which she is challenging the Canadian government over inaccessible websites and unequal access to information. Donna, with her lawyers and supporters, including AEBC, has been fighting to force the federal government to make its websites and information accessible and usable. Unfortunately, to date, the Canadian government has ignored all requests to settle this ongoing action. Donna's case, on behalf of all Blind Canadians, will be heard in federal court on September 21-23, 2010. The AEBC fully supports this landmark access case, and we urge members of our community to come out and show their support. (Editor’s Note: Please see “Challenging the System” elsewhere in these pages for further details and an update on the case.)

AEBC continues to submit briefs and make presentations on issues of concern. More and more, we are being recognized by all levels of government as the real voice of Canadians with significant vision impairment.

Our activities over the past year (2009-10) have included: meeting with representatives from the Office of Disability Issues re a national ID card; hosting Michel Grenier, Director of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) at our November Board meeting; making a presentation to the review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); a presentation on poverty to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development (HRSD); presenting Webzine on the AODA and the Accessibility Standards development process for Citizens With Disabilities-Ontario (CWDO); a presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy for Bill 152, an act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario; meeting with HRSD Canada Special Advisor to Minister to discuss funding, hybrid cars, electronic voting, library issues etc.; participating in Canada Transportation Agency Advisory Committee meetings; Speaking on advocacy and facilitating a workshop at the annual Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Action Coalition Conference, entitled Leading the Way: Developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy for People with Disabilities; speaking on a panel at Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Taking Action on Poverty, Poor Health and Bad Jobs, sponsored by the Toronto Social Planning Council; and attending the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly on the introduction of the Blind Voters Rights Bill.

Briefs and position papers we have submitted include: Electoral Accessibility: A Key to Equality, to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario; Status of the AODA; Copyright Consultation; National Economic Strategy, to the Standing Committee on Finance; Review of the Municipal Elections Act, to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing; Bill 152, an act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario, to the Standing Committee on Social Policy; and Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (ICAS), to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

More details on our activities can be found by visiting our website: (Editor’s Note: Also see “Headlines & Highlights” in these pages for updated information).

Finally, some AEBC members believe our organization would be more successful if we concentrated our efforts on fewer issues. This is an understandable view but potentially problematic, due to the vast number of other barriers blind Canadians continue to face daily. We, as a national organization and the voice of the blind, cannot ignore these issues. However, I believe that becoming more focused on a few issues can be achieved, as long as we still recognize there are many issues related to blindness that need to be addressed, albeit at a lower priority.

Over the past few months, the AEBC Board has been discussing the idea of trying to find three to five "issues" that we, as an organization, can prioritize so that our actions are focused and more effective. A large list of issues that matter to blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted members was drawn up primarily from the brainstorming session at the face-to-face Board meeting that took place in Toronto. We started out with a list of more than 20 items, which we then proceeded to merge and eliminate, combine and rewrite. We also recently conducted a poll among the membership to ascertain which issues you consider the most important. The results will help guide the discussions at this year's Conference.

The outcome of these discussions, in many ways, will be a difficult task for each of you to consider. The issues are all very important, and it will be hard to choose a few that deserve to have a higher priority than others. However, we need to face the question of whether we can achieve more by becoming focused.

An AEBC member is a rights-holder who inspires empowerment and addresses our rights for the future.

Each member of this organization needs to advocate and be part of the common voice of the blind. We, as a community, need to work together, speak out, and take action. We must work in our local Chapters, through our National Committee's, and as a national voice to ensure our rights are entrenched. Our advocacy must become focused, and yet we must continue to address the wide range of barriers we face.

Our rights and our future are in your hands.

Do Human Resource Grads Need More on Disabilities?

How do people with disabilities fit into corporate culture?

Businesses that pay attention to equity and diversity, building teams that reflect the rich multi-faceted nature of the global village we inhabit, operate from positions of strength.

How do you tap into that talent and how do you keep it?

All those questions eventually land on the shoulders of the men and women who study human resources. Diversity is an important part of human resources courses at universities and community colleges, but it is usually questions of ethnicity and culture that predominate. When it comes to disability, how much exposure to the issues do students really get? Enough for them to feel comfortable when they're faced with wheelchairs or hearing aids or white canes in the hiring process?

Kim Wrigley-Archer found herself asking all those questions. A graduate of Ryerson University's School of Disability Studies, Wrigley-Archer also has spent many years in the workforce. Although she has low vision and is hard of hearing, she says her employers focused on her abilities, making her own workplace experience generally positive. But she knows that's not always the case.

People with disabilities are far less likely to be employed than their able-bodied counterparts, no matter that they have the talents and the credentials. A report card on inclusion released this month by the Canadian Association for Community Living ( shows only 25 percent of working-age adults who have an intellectual disability are employed.

"We know that it's possible for people to live well," says Keith Powell, executive director of Community Living Ontario. "But in order to belong and contribute, people require support, healthy relationships, employment and other opportunities, as well as accepting and inclusive attitudes by others."

Wrigley-Archer cites numerous studies revealing disturbing facts on disability and unemployment. Among them, Canadian Abilities Foundation research shows people with disabilities fare poorly in the workforce even at times when employers say they have trouble finding trained workers to fill vacant positions.

And a study by the CNIB (formerly Canadian National Institute for the Blind) found that negative attitudes toward prospective employees with disabilities may be kept under wraps, but are still very much a factor in the outcome of the game on an uneven playing field.

All this suggests that more attention needs to be paid to education about disability issues, particularly for Human (Resources), Wrigley-Archer says. To that end, she's looking at how human resources graduates feel about what they were taught about disability issues. Do they think their training prepared them for responding appropriately to situations involving people with disabilities? How did that training influence their views on disabilities? What information about disabilities do they think should be included in education programs?

The study is funded by the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies and is also supported by Citizens With Disabilities-Ontario (CWDO). The aim is to explore strategies and develop innovative approaches to the issue.

If you graduated from college or university in the past 10 years and have been working in human resources in the Greater Toronto Area for at least three years, Wrigley-Archer would like to know what you think. Participants will remain anonymous. All identifying information (including personal and company names) will be removed from any reports and kept strictly confidential.

For more information, email

Reprinted from the Toronto Star, December 12, 2009, courtesy of Torstar Syndication Services.

A Wheelchair Doesn't Make an Employee Perfect

“I just told off a man in a wheelchair and it felt so good."

The speaker is Dr. Naomi Bennett, director of Pacific Wellcare, one of the fictional medical clinics depicted on the ABC television series Private Practice. The man in the wheelchair is Dr. Gabriel Fife, a "brilliant but arrogant" new colleague with whom she disagrees.

Bennett, it transpires, is uncomfortable being her usually assertive self with someone who is disabled. Like most able-bodied people, she suddenly feels trapped by the spectre of political correctness--until the man in the wheelchair goes too far and she erupts.

This particular hour of television contained many serious issues about society's attitude toward people with disabilities. But Bennett's obvious discomfort in speaking her mind happened to coincide with the release of a survey that shows many Ontario bosses feel exactly the same way she does. Which is one of the things that make it even tougher for qualified, competent disabled people to find jobs.

The survey, conducted by Compas Inc. for JOIN, the Job Opportunity Information Network, found one of the major reasons human resources executives say they are reluctant to hire is because "it's harder to dismiss an underperforming person with a disability than one without a disability."

Some day soon we have to get over this stereotype kid-glove approach, just one more way of sidelining people who are in fact likely to make very good employees.

That's part of the purpose of JOIN, a network of community agencies helping people with disabilities to find jobs and employers to recruit qualified disabled workers. Among other things, JOIN believes people with disabilities have the same right as anyone else to be hired and dismissed, if necessary.

The survey was funded by the Ministry of Community and Social Services as part of the Ontario Disability Support Program. Compas interviewed 110 human resources executives from public, private, not-for-profit and for-profit companies. The results "help us address concerns and educate" potential employers, says JOIN Toronto's vice-chair, Jenna Erickson.

In addition to the 36 percent of executives who said they felt uncomfortable reprimanding someone with a disability, 24 percent said they worried about higher absentee rates, 21 percent were concerned about expenses related to modifying the workplace and 16 percent believed it would take more effort to train new recruits and they might not perform as well.

On the plus side, 53 percent believed employees with a disability "try harder" and bring "fresh perspectives" to the job, while 46 percent said they are "much more loyal" and "more reliable."

"People living with a disability represent the largest, untapped human resources pool in Canada," Susan Howatt, chair of JOIN Toronto, told a one-day conference on the subject earlier this month. "Outdated stigmas are still the No. 1 barrier to jobs."

Indeed, statistics show employees with disabilities are high performers, says Erickson. "They are good at their jobs and they show loyalty. There's a low turnover rate; they stick with you."

The key is to "demystify the myths and build a culture of inclusion," says Cory Garlough, vice-president of global employment strategies at Scotiabank, one of JOIN's supporters.

His bank practises what it preaches by offering managers guides on how to make the workplace inclusive. "We make it part of management training," Garlough says. "We emphasize that it's about being authentic while respecting each other. And it's okay to ask questions."

Not only okay, but imperative to be able to speak your mind about legitimate concerns. Which brings us back to the fictional Dr. Bennett and Private Practice's good hiring practices. Michael Patrick Thornton, the actor who plays the man in the wheelchair, is himself in a wheelchair.

For more information on JOIN, go to

helenhenderson @

Reprinted from the Toronto Star, November 14, 2009, courtesy of Torstar Syndication Services.

Photo: Michael Patrick Thornton plays Dr. Gabriel Fife in TV show Private Practice

Employment and Technology: Increasing Opportunities, or Merely Reshaping the Landscape?

Editor's Note: Anthony Tibbs is AEBC’s National Treasurer and President of its Montreal, Quebec, Chapter.

For people who are blind and partially sighted, employment prospects can, at times, be very few and far between. Indeed, a 2004 study of approximately 350 Canadians with vision impairments found that only 19% of those aged 21 to 64 (of working age) were employed, and about 32% were “unemployed”--without work but actively looking for a job [1]. It’s likely, however, that many more are also unemployed but not looking for work, largely because they expect it to be futile. Considering Canada's unemployment rate, as a whole, is only around 7%, these numbers are, and should be, shocking. What’s more, the employment figures haven't changed much in the past 30 years, despite a general sense that improvements in computer technology ought to have made this possible. After all, we now have advanced scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software to convert printed material into electronic text, and screen-reading and magnification technology to provide access to various applications and websites. The "digital age" and the increasing use of electronic information storage and retrieval systems have greatly increased employment opportunities for the blind. Or has it?

People with disabilities, including those who are blind, can and do benefit from assistive technologies that enable access to previously inaccessible information. Even though they do not always provide blind users with a level of access equal to that of their sighted peers, such as in the case of inaccessible websites or proprietary software, these technologies, and the necessary mastery of them, is reported to "open doors to high-tech career fields that were once unavailable to people with disabilities" [2]. This is probably true, but is unhelpful for the majority of people who are blind for three reasons.

First, not everyone is a "techie," with the time and experience necessary to develop a mastery of their access technology to the point where they could script and program enhancements to "make it work" in situations where, out of the box, it otherwise would not. For those who have an aptitude for technical endeavours, such mastery may well help to pave the way to a "high-tech" career, but it is hardly going to help in other fields.

Second, research has shown that educational attainment has an even more significant correlation to employment prospects for people with disabilities than for the non-disabled. What, then, do we make of the fact that only 40% of the 815,000 or so Canadians who have a "seeing limitation" have completed any education beyond high school [3], as compared with more than 50% for the population at large [4]? The "high-tech" careers that technology has enabled generally require a minimum of a bachelor's degree, after all. In fact, in the United States at least, "the employment rate for [people with disabilities] who complete high school is 30.2%; ... and for those with four years of college it is 50.3%" [5], suggesting that even a 10% difference could be very significant to employment rates.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we must consider the net effect of technology on the employability of the blind. In many respects, we may be more employable in certain industries now, thanks to the advances in computer technology. But at the same time, we also become less necessary or employable in other industries that have traditionally been seen, rightly or wrongly, as “more accessible” to the blind (e.g. transcription, social work, piano tuning, piece work, etc.). As such, technology may have merely shifted the available jobs from lower-paying (but ubiquitous) fields to higher-paying (but highly specialized) ones.

University graduates who are blind may have an easier time now securing employment in highly information-based industries than they could in the past, but not everyone is destined to be a lawyer, manager or computer programmer. For real progress to be made on the employment front, opportunities must be created in the middle ground of these extremes. Technology is an enabler, but to the extent that attitudinal barriers continue to exist and new, unconquered technological inventions are created, access technology should not be assumed to be a primary enabler of employment for the blind and partially sighted.

[1] Gold, D. & H. Simson. (2005, Sep.). "Identifying the needs of people in Canada who are blind and visually impaired: Preliminary results of a nation-wide study." Vision 2005 - Proceedings of the International Congress held between 4 and 7 April 2005 in London, UK. International Congress Series, 1282, pp. 139-142.
[2] Burgstahler, S. (n.d.) The role of technology in preparing youth with disabilities for postsecondary education and employment. Bermidji State University, p. 1.
[3] Statistics Canada. (2009). Adult 15 years and older, with a seeing limitation, by highest education level, Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2006. Special tabulation, based on Participation Activity and Limitations Survey (PALS) 2006, Statistics Canada.
[4] Statistics Canada. (2006). Population 15 years and over by highest degree, certificate or diploma (1986 to 2006 Census). Census of Population (2006), Statistics Canada.
[5] Burgstahler, supra note 2 at p. 3.

Photo: Anthony Tibbs, AEBC Treasurer

Blind Still Rely on Braille: High-tech advances can't entirely replace system

Daytona Beach, Florida--Two students sat across from a teacher in a darkened room. Their fingertips rolled confidently across the bumpy text of the books during the one-hour lesson. “I love languages, so this is my opportunity to learn another,” said Berline Mercy, who lost her eyesight after surgery to remove a brain tumour last year. “It's the language of braille.”

Mercy, a 30-year-old registered nurse, started learning how to read again last November at the Division of Blind Services on Dunn Avenue. Even with major technological advancements, braille remains the foundation of communication for the blind, although some studies indicate the use of the traditional reading system is on the wane.

Amy Williams, a blind braille instructor at the Daytona Beach facility, said computers, voice activation and large print can make life easier, but it will not replace the dotted code invented by Louis Braille almost 200 years ago. “What happens when the computer dies for people who can see? You go back to pencil and paper,” she said. “When the computer goes out for us, it's braille.”

Williams lost her eyesight 30 years ago and remains a “visual learner”--someone who finds it much easier to retain information by reading it on paper rather than hearing it on an audio disk or tape. “If you were a reader, your medium is braille,” she said. “And with high-tech you can't read things like labels on cans of food to determine whether it's (a) can of soup or peas.” Without braille, a home-cooked dinner often could turn into a “mystery meal.”

But the National Federation of the Blind recently reported that only 10 percent of sightless people today read braille, compared with about half in the 1950s. That doesn't bode well for employment. The organization reported that 80 percent of blind workers with good jobs are proficient in braille.

Reasons attributed to the decline include advanced text-to-speech technology, less emphasis on teaching braille to blind school children, and the expense of producing braille books. The American Printing House for the Blind in 2007 also reported that less than 10 percent of the nation's 58,000 sightless youngsters use braille as their primary method to read, compared to half in the 1960s.

“People talk about braille dying and that it's outdated,” said Ike Presley, national project manager for the American Foundation (for) the Blind, after a recent training session he held in Daytona Beach Shores. “It's not going to be outdated until print is outdated.”

For the sighted world, Presley rhetorically asks: “Would you be willing only to hear things?” He said day-to-day living for a blind person still requires braille. Just reading a business card, or checking a phone number or unusually spelled name, would otherwise be impossible out in public.

“Braille allows a person to have a reading and writing medium for both information access and for personal use,” he said. “Technology is not replacing braille. It increases the availability (of) braille, making it easier to produce and less expensive.”

Presley, who has lived with low vision his 56 years, said that in many places there's not enough classroom time dedicated to braille, with children receiving training once or twice a week. He said the parents of sighted children would be outraged if their youngsters received such minimal time learning to read and write.

He said the numbers regarding the use of braille are deceiving, since more babies are surviving difficult deliveries because of medical advancements. Sometimes these children are blind, but many also (have) other physical or cognitive impairments that leave them incapable of learning braille. “Twenty years ago, they might not have lived,” he said. “So the numbers are skewed because many people who are blind cannot actually learn braille.”

Edward Hudson, 55, the centre director at (the) Daytona Beach facility, gradually went blind as a child and didn't learn braille until sixth grade. “If you have a child with a vision (limitation), the earlier they start learning braille the better,” he said. “The repetition and practice to learn the shapes and forms, the tactile feel, is important. It's a matter of literacy.”

Hudson said a strong advocacy movement exists among educators and professionals in the field to keep braille a fundamental part of teaching for the blind. “Everything else is built upon it,” he said, adding that math is next to impossible to do without braille.

Kay Ratzlaff is on the front lines of education, as the coordinator of resources for the Florida Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Impaired. She said braille remains the foundation for learning. “Just listening is not the same,” she said. “You've got to have the foundation. It's like saying other (sighted) kids don't need print. Braille is the same thing as print for our kids. They can't do without it. Listening is so passive.”

Donna Ross teaches a braille course to future teachers at Florida State University. She said the state requires braille to be taught in public schools, “unless you can prove something else is better” for a student. “We want our teachers to know it and teach it,” Ross said. “It's not going anywhere. There's always going to be a need for braille.”

Reprinted with permission from the Daytona Beach News-Journal, January 27, 2010.


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