Report on the Victoria NEADS Student Leadership & Employment Forum
Victoria, British Columbia
Prepared by Neil Faba
Since 1998, NEADS has organized ten Disabled Student Leadership Forums across Canada. These events have been held in Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, St. John's, Antigonish, Yellowknife, Winnipeg, Toronto, Victoria and most recently, again in Montreal. Detailed reports on each of these meetings are available on the NEADS Web site at www.neads.ca. The ideas and issues discussed with participants in the first six forums fell into the following distinct areas: support to campus organizations, support to individual students, expanded internet services, high school outreach and differences between small and large post-secondary institutions.
As noted in previous reports, the NEADS board of directors decided to build on the successes of these meetings by expanding the topic areas discussed to include employment. This decision was made based upon an awareness of the importance of labour market issues and access to the job market for graduating students, and the importance of summer or part time work for those still in school. It should also be pointed out that these issues were discussed in detail by the membership of the Association during its 2000 national conference in Ottawa: "Networking, Educating, Advocating: Delivering Success in the New Millennium." With the Board's direction, NEADS has moved to develop an exciting partnership with Human Resources Development Canada's (HRDC) Youth Initiatives Directorate in order to deliver this additional component of the program in four locations in 2001-2002: Winnipeg, Toronto, Victoria and Montreal. The forums in 2001-2002 are sponsored through a contribution agreement with the Youth Initiatives Directorate (Information and Awareness Program) and are being hosted by members of the NEADS board of directors in collaboration with the Association's national office and a project consultant.
Students with disabilities are invited to participate in the forums, to lend their insights to the issues at hand. A number of groups and organizations are asked to speak to the students: regional HRDC representatives, employers and employment agencies, and leaders of both student and disability organizations. In Victoria the NEADS BC Provincial Representative, Rachael Ross, was key to making contact with these local organizations to serve as resource people on the panel, and also responsible for generating significant interest on the part of students, which resulted in one of the best-attended Forums NEADS has had across the country.
What follows is a report based on the proceedings of the Student Leadership and Employment Forum that took place on Friday, March 15 in Victoria. Steve Estey, NEADS' Student Leadership and Employment Forums consultant, welcomed participants and explained the objectives of the project and the meeting. He also offered closing remarks. About 45 participants joined us for the day at the Coast Harbourside Hotel. The panel presentations and discussion were excellent.
The event was divided into two distinct focus areas: student leadership and employment. Discussion in each area was similarly structured, with a panel presentation to introduce each subject and put it into context, and then small group discussions that took place around a prepared set of questions. NEADS' British Columbia Representative to the NEADS Board, Rachael Ross, chaired the student leadership presentation, while NEADS Vice-President and Open Category Representative, Sanjeet Singh, from Calgary chaired the employment session in the afternoon. At the end of each discussion, groups reported their findings back to the larger forum. This report follows that same structure.
Focus Area A: Student Leadership
Sanjeet began the morning by discussing the Triple A Group. The organization began at the University of Calgary in the mid-1980s, to advocate for people with disabilities on campus at the university, and to make others in the university community aware of the issues faced by people with disabilities. The group has arranged many activities over the years for students with disabilities, including a leadership forum in 1999 that Sanjeet said was similar to this NEADS event. They have also held "open-house" awareness days, when able-bodied people participated in activities designed to simulate life with disabilities. Also, Triple A focus groups have looked at issues such as accommodation.
Each student at the University of Calgary pays one dollar per term to the Disability Resource Centre, which they then use to purchase adaptive technology and equipment for students with disabilities. Triple A is in the process of trying to get a representative on a committee that helps to generate funding.
Sanjeet said that the Triple A Group is conducting activities to recruit new members. They hold orientation sessions at the start of each school year to give students and employees of the university an overview of the organization and the work it does. Social events, such as pizza parties, also provide valuable opportunities to sign up new members to the group. Despite the success of these events, Sanjeet also identified certain problems Triple A has noticed in recruiting new members. He said that students in their first or second years at university are often reluctant to get involved. He said it was important to recruit these students, because these are the ones who can be a part of the organization and carry on its legacy over time. Sanjeet told forum participants that it is critical that each post-secondary campus has a group for students with disabilities, to identify and resolve issues these students face, and to raise awareness of disabled students' issues to the campus community as a whole. Being a part of any campus group can provide valuable opportunities to learn skills such as leadership, teamwork and communication.
Sanjeet said the NEADS would be holding a conference in the second week of November, with the theme "Opening Doors to Success." Participants at the conference will discuss issues such as student leadership, the transition from school to work, high school outreach, and technology.
Joanne began by speaking about the Action Committee of People with Disabilities, an activism and advocacy group, of which she is president. The Action Committee is a non-profit, cross-disability group, which has been in existence for 25 years. It seeks full and equal participation for people with disabilities. Joanne said she attributes the group's success and longevity to the dedication of its volunteers.
She then discussed the importance of advocacy with regard to disability issues. She said that 'advocacy' is often looked upon poorly, as a form of radical protest rather than a legitimate and useful tool for change.
Joanne identified two types of advocacy: public and political. Political advocacy is challenging, and at times frustrating. It involves having individual or collective concerns heard by the people who make decisions that involve the population at large. Simply, it involves advocating to political institutions. Among students with disabilities, issues that have required political advocacy are those involving tuition fees and income supports. Public advocacy involves grassroots movements, and personal stories from those affected, on issues such as human rights, housing affordability and accessibility. Joanne said that this type of advocacy can be more rewarding, since many times the results are seen sooner than with political advocacy.
The Action Committee of People with Disabilities advocates for a variety of issues, including improved health care services. The group uses books and pamphlets to help get their message out, and hold recreational and social activities. Joanne noted that, since the Committee is a consumer-led organization, students could approach it with any issue they might need help on. The group embraces student involvement and encourages students with disabilities to get involved in advocacy.
Pat told those in attendance that the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities performs many of the same tasks as the Action Committee of People with Disabilities, but operates on a provincial level. The BCCPD began in 1972 to provide persons with disabilities a venue through which they could offer each other support, and advocate for their needs. Such advocacy groups were not common at the time, only beginning to gain popularity when human rights legislation came into effect a couple years later. By 1976, Pat noted, all Western provinces had organizations for people with disabilities. Over time, these groups realized that they could effect change by coming together to advocate for a common cause.
Pat said that she believes people with disabilities are the best spokespeople for the issues that affect them. She said people with disabilities must ensure they are treated with equality and respect, and must learn how to effectively advocate for their needs. The BCCPD employs a self-help model, through which people with disabilities are taught to help themselves wherever possible.
Pat closed with a quote from Steadman Graham: "Leaders are the ones that are in the trenches. Leaders must believe in themselves, take responsibility for themselves, and have the capacity to transform ideas into reality."
Ken said the Disability Resource Centre represents some 500 organizations, and provides information to consumers on issues relating to people with disabilities. The group's primary focus has been creating employment opportunities for those with disabilities, through self-employment.
The Centre has a program called "Navigating the Waters," which is designed to help people realize self-employment opportunities. Ken said the program has been well-used and successful.
Ken told those in attendance that the Navigating the Waters program is relevant for students, since many people with disabilities coming out of post-secondary or trade school programs often have difficulty finding employment. The program is currently only part-time, but it has helped 18 new businesses get off the ground last year alone. He said the Centre hopes to make Navigating the Waters a full-time program, so that it can help even more people create employment opportunities.
Ryan and Luke, two staff members from the Disability Resource Centre, also spoke to the group assembled. They have been attempting to put together a youth group, and have spoken to more than 1000 students at schools about this. Ryan said he made a video of his graduating class climbing a mountain last year. The message of the video is that people can work together, and is meant to make people aware of integration of different abilities. The positive feedback from the video's message has resulted in several people signing up to a list of those interested in forming a youth group. Ryan and Luke said that their objective is to have able-bodied and disabled youth working together. They have received feedback and assistance from people in the community, and they encourage students interested in helping out to get in touch with them.
Following the panel presentations, participants broke into small groups to discuss a set of prepared questions. The following are some of the points that came from those discussions:
Focus Area B: Employment
Kathy spoke to the participants about the work and programs of HRDC's Youth Initiative, and how they can be of assistance to students with disabilities. The Government of Canada in 1997 announced the creation of the Youth Employment Strategy (YES). This strategy, administered through HRDC, provides $100 million annually for programs and information to help youth find employment. 75,000 youth participate annually in the strategy, with 7,000 student participants in the B.C./Yukon region.
Kathy then discussed some of the individual programs that operate as part of YES. Youth Services Canada provides community work opportunities for youth between 15 and 30 years of age. Youth work in teams, learning life and employability skills while working on projects. The Youth Internship program helps youth gain work experience, by offering employers wage subsidies for hiring young people. Youth International offers young people the opportunity for work internships in foreign countries. Kathy said there have been students with disabilities sent to different countries to work on projects as part of this program. HRDC also operates Human Resources Centres for Students (HRCS) in communities across the country. These offices offer tips and leads to students looking for summer employment. Kathy also discussed loans available to students interested in starting their own business over the summer; this funding is administered through the Business Development Bank of Canada.
Sandra is the marketing and communications coordinator for the Career Edge program. Career Edge offer internships of varying lengths for post-secondary graduates across Canada. Interns are paid $1500 a month through the program, while gaining practical work experience. Ability Edge is a component of Career Edge offering internships for students with disabilities. The internship structure and stipend is the same as with the Career Edge program.
Sandra then discussed a few of the potential internship opportunities available through the program: accounting, customer support and human resources, to name just a few. She said that as of the end of February 2002, 56 Ability Edge interns had been placed with eight organizations. 73 percent of those found work after completing their internships, and sixty percent were hired by their host organization. The program ensures internship opportunities provide productive work environments by meeting with the host organizations beforehand, and by offering interns a toll-free number and email address for questions or concerns.
The Ability Edge program administrators have spoken to youth with disabilities to discuss what they consider are barriers to employment. Some of these include: employer attitudes; physical accessibility at workplaces; and inadequate training for employment. Sandra said that the Career Edge/Ability Edge program seeks to combat these obstacles through rewarding internship opportunities, and by communicating with workplaces to ensure accessibility needs are being met. Students can find out more about Ability Edge and internship opportunities through its Web site: www.abilityedge.org
Detlef discussed the work of Advice and Business Loans for People with Disabilities. He said the organization began in the spring of 2000; to assist British Columbian's with disabilities in creating self-employment opportunities. He said the organization focuses on entrepreneurs who have a disability, rather than on people with disabilities who want to be entrepreneurs; put simply, the focus is on the individuals' abilities, rather than their disabilities. The organization seeks people with drive and initiative, who are determined to make their ideas a reality.
The organization provides training and helps with business development. It partners with disability organizations for additional support. Entrepreneurs are also linked with mentors to assist in their business development. The organization provides funding to entrepreneurs attempting to start a business, with loans of as little as $500 and as large as $75,000.
Detlef discussed some of the businesses that have been successful thanks in part to the Advice and Business Loans for People with Disabilities. He said that the support offered through the organization offers important help to entrepreneurs with disabilities.
Mario discussed the recruitment process of the Public Service Commission, the Federal government's recruiting agency. He said that 47 percent of current public servants are eligible for retirement over the next 10 years, so now is a good time for youth to look into a career with the public service. Mario encouraged those in attendance to visit the PSC office in Victoria for information on opportunities available.
Mario said the Public Service Commission is Canada's largest single employer, hiring more than 10,000 people every year. The goal of the Federal Public Service is to establish a workforce of qualified employees that reflects the diversity of Canada, and eliminate barriers to employment.
The Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) is the government's primary vehicle for recruiting students across the country. Students can sign up on the Web site, indicating their skills and employment interests. As positions open up with the government, qualified candidates are determined by the database of all students signed up to the program. Students are then sometimes hired by the organizations at the end of their FSWEP term.
The Public Service Commission also recruits post-secondary graduates year-round. College and university career offices usually have information on the types of opportunities available to recent graduates. Mario told the group that most available positions are located in Ottawa and Vancouver, and both temporary and permanent positions are available.
After the panel presentations, participants were given the chance to ask questions to panelists. Following the question period, participants broke into small groups to discuss a set of prepared questions. The following are some of the observations and ideas that came out of that session:
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