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UVic’s CanAssist programs offer timely employment boost for people with disabilities

Labour force entry barriers range from lack of small accommodations to outright discrimination
TeenWork is one of the employment support programs for people with disabilities, run under the auspices of CanAssist at the University of Victoria. (Photo courtesy CanAssist)

CanAssist’s employment program has championed the destruction of barriers to employment for people with disabilities amidst a rising labour shortage across Greater Victoria.

Since May 2020 the University of Victoria-based organization has assisted 90 people in preparing for employment opportunities through career searches, resume building, practice interviews and services uniquely tailored to their disability. Clients diagnosed with physical, cognitive, learning or other forms of disability are seeking everything from entry-level work to changes in their career.

CanAssist, founded in 1999, began as an assistive technology group. Since then it has expanded to include employment services for high school students with disabilities – the TeenWork program – and most recently, the AccessWork program supports people with disabilities entering the world of full-time work.

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TeenWork program manager Karina Zobolotny gave as an example a recent graduate of UVic’s science, geography and environmental science program who also has a disability. The grad found a position in their field with the Lifecycles Project, a Victoria organization engaged in food harvesting and sustainability.

Across Canada, over six million people 15 and older identify as having a disability – “(that’s a) huge part of the labour pool in B.C. and Victoria as well,” Zobolotny said.

CanAssist’s clients have in common that they’ve all faced barriers to entering the labour force due to lack of small accommodations, or outright employment discrimination.

“The reality is that people with disabilities are constantly overlooked and undervalued by employers, despite what we know to be true about their work, related skills and abilities,” said AccessWork team lead and TeenWork job coach Tiffany Parks.

This prevails despite a labour shortage being felt by small businesses across Vancouver Island. The return of students to schools following the summer break has left employers in the hospitality industry, in particular, with multiple positions to fill each season.

READ ALSO: Worker shortage leaves Vancouver Island business owners scrambling

On top of increasing equitability, creating a more accessible workplace is good for businesses, Parks said.

“Those that hire people with disabilities are twice as likely to meet their financial targets, they’re three times as likely to be high performing, and they’re eight times more likely to achieve better results,” she said, citing research done at UVic.

Employers, people with disabilities and those interested in the program can access it through CanAssist’s website,

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