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Focusing on ability rather than disability

Identifying goals and preparing adults with developmental disabilities for gainful employment through the EmployMEnt Options program

Amanda Godin has a passion for fashion and she’s pleased that a new employment program for people with developmental disabilities has helped her find a job in her chosen field.

“I have a job right now,” said Godin. “I work at Smitten Apparel and it’s really great because I love clothes and fashion and I like to help people.”

Godin has been involved with Community Living Guelph Wellington for seven years and is now part of a newly established program called EmployMEnt Options that helps adults with developmental disabilities prepare for, find and maintain jobs.

“An individual that comes into Community Living Guelph Wellington identifies employment as a priority for them,” said Karen Calzonetti, Community Living Guelph Wellington EmployMEnt Options lead. “That starts the ball rolling in terms of determining their job readiness, teaching them some job readiness skills and developing a skill repertoire.”

Calzonetti joined the Community Living Guelph Wellington team in June.

“As a result of the transformation that has a occurred at Community Living, I have been hired to examine the employment program and to create and develop systems that focus on individuals with developmental disabilities,” she said.

October is National Disability Awareness Month and organizations across the country have been raising awareness about the social and economic benefits of employing people with disabilities.

Calzonetti stressed that people with disabilities want to work and cited research from the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) and Statistics Canada that show 90 per cent of people with a disability did as well or better at their job than co-workers without a disability.

“Another statistic that I think is significant is that 86 per cent of employees with disabilities have the same or better attendance rates as non-disabled,” said Calzonetti.

“Retention rates are 72 per cent higher amongst employees with a disability than those without.”

The studies also show that 78 per cent of Canadians polled are more likely to buy a product or service from a business that hires people with disabilities.

“So, it makes good business sense to hire someone with a disability from that perspective,” said Calzonetti. “It’s not done for the pat on the back. It’s done because it matters to the bottom line.”

A growing number of local businesses are recognizing that fact and have taken part in the EmployMEnt Options program.

"Over 50 businesses in Guelph alone have hired adults with disabilities connected to Community Living Guelph Wellington EmployMEnt Options (formerly known as The Supported Employment Program). Some individuals who began with Community Living have held their jobs for over 10 years. Now that's impressive!” said Calzonetti.

“One of the things I think Guelph does very well and is doing better at, is promoting the community partnership in a way that is not patronizing. I like to think we are creating an awareness for employers focused on ability rather than disability”

Another focus is on ensuring people with disabilities receive equal pay for equal work in a job they enjoy.

“It’s not like we take you and say there’s a job and you have to take it,” said Calzonetti. “I wouldn’t take a job I’m not interested in and other adults wouldn’t either. Adults with disabilities deserve to be able to choose a job that is focused on what they are interested in and what they are motivated by.”

Landing a job at Smitten Apparel has given Godin a renewed sense of fulfillment and economic independence and she has some advice for others with developmental disabilities.

“Don’t stress out,” she said. “Keep your head up and don’t fret because a job is waiting for you behind the door.”


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Troy Bridgeman

About the Author: Troy Bridgeman

Troy Bridgeman is a multi-media journalist that has lived and worked in the Guelph community his whole life. He has covered news and events in the city for more than two decades.
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