Here are the notes from the supported employment workshop at our conference.   Gordon Fletcher facilitated and Aaron took notes and did some quick graphics for people.   We wondered “what the heck is happening with real work for real pay around the province?”    The themes that came up were:

Employment is important because it allows us to afford to do things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

But there are many other reasons it is important, like the friends we make at work and the way in which they watch over us and make sure we’re safe.   It is also a lot of fun.   It is perhaps the most fun thing in some people’s lives.

Being employed makes a lot of other good things happen in someone’s life: a sense of purpose, things to do that are interesting, an increased circle of people who care, money to be involved with others, the means to “give” back to the community because we can afford to take others out for coffee AND because we can use the skills we learn at work to help others.

People had some interesting jobs that worked for them as individuals because they got to be part of things that they loved.   One person who loved horses worked at a stable.   One person who loved flowers worked as a gardener.   He also worked as a beekeeper.  Two people who loved being part of their neighbourhoods had jobs in Supermarkets that were really involved in their communities.   Some employers, like Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria (and a few other places), were really commended for being so inclusive and making sure the their stores were places where all kinds of people were valued.   In one case someone who worked in a mall was laid off and the other mall employers and employees got together to find him a new job because they wanted him to be part of their workplace.   Once people found a job they liked they worked at it for a long time – 21 years, 17 years, 14 years, etc.

People thought it was important that other people with disabilities have a chance to get work too.   They thought this was challenging but other self advocates, families and friends could help.   Some of the people had got jobs on their own and some had got jobs through friends and family members.   Some had been in job development programs and had worked with job coaches, and thought that was a great experience and they’d learned lots, but none of the people in the group had got a job through their job coach or employment program.

A big issue for people was the maximum amount of $500 that can be earned before money is deducted from GAIN cheques.   This was an issue for a few reasons.   First, because often people are living in poverty and while $500 helps a lot it still means they just scrape by.  Second, because while what they like about work is that they are part of teams where everyone has fun together and works hard, when their co-workers get bonuses or work more hours they will talk about what they are going to do: they might save their money; they might buy something special; they might go on a holiday.   Employees with disabilities don’t get to be part of these conversations and feel excluded from these conversations and embarrassed.   Most of the participants would rather work extra hours like their colleagues at work than say “no” partly because they like their jobs but also because they don’t want to be set apart from everyone else.   This means they work for free, unless they can work enough so that they can get off GAIN.

Some people with disabilities have retired and are on pensions and enjoy their retirement.   Some people would like to be off their benefits and just working but are afraid of losing their health benefits and not getting them back if something happens with their job.

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