Saturday September 30, 2017

How two brothers overcame the high jobless rate for people with disabilities

Luke Williams and his little brother, Sam, playing Sam's favourite sport, golf. Sam competed in the event at the Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Summer Games.

Luke Williams and his little brother, Sam, playing Sam's favourite sport, golf. Sam competed in the event at the Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Summer Games. (Ruth Williams)

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This summer, Sam Williams, a 23-year-old who lives with a developmental disability, decided it was time to try and find a full-time job.

"I just thought it's time to get out and explore the new world," said Williams, "to try and find the job I've been looking for."

Williams, who lives in Springwater, Ont., looked to his 25-year-old brother Luke for inspiration. Luke has a physical disability but that didn't stop him from landing a position as a production assistant with CBC.

Sam Williams

Sam Williams listens attentively to Debbie Osborn, his job coach at Simcoe Community Services. (Luke Williams)

For Canadians like Sam and Luke, landing a job is no easy task. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is much higher than the national average. And Sam says not having a job can really affect self-esteem.

"It's a life feeling empty right now," Sam said about being unemployed. "I need to fill that emptiness with something and I hope that something will be a job." 

When Luke was looking for work, he took advantage of community agencies that help people with disabilities. So that's how Sam started his job search, too.

He went to Simcoe Community Services and met Debbie Osborn. She helped Sam come up with a "chase list" — a list of all potential jobs in the region.

Sam identified his ideal jobs as working at a pet store, working with kids, or doing heavy lifting in order to work out his muscles. He started pounding the pavement and quickly faced ups and downs.

Sam got turned down for one job at a pet store because he couldn't do cash. (He has an IQ of 40.) Then, he got offered a job at a different pet store, but they needed him to start earlier than the first bus could get him to work. So he had to turn it down.

"It makes me feel angry and upset," Sam said about the transportation conflict that kept him from taking the position. "I'm so close I can see it there."

But Sam didn't give up. He took some advice from Osborn: network. "In this world," she told him, "it's all about who knows who, right?"

Sam Williams and Ted Lister

Sam Williams got help at a golf tournament this summer from volunteer caddie Ted Lister. (Luke Williams)

Sam competed in this year's Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Summer Games, held in Peel, Ont. There, he made some great contacts, including his caddie, Ted Lister, who was impressed by him.

"He's determined and focused," Lister said about Sam. "If he's anything like he is outside of the golf course, he shouldn't have a problem in the work world."

Finally, a job coach named Mandy from the Youth Job Connection helped Sam make a key contact. She got in touch with a party company that needed someone to lift and move things. Sam scored an interview and got the position.

"I'm very happy, very excited," Sam said about his new job. "I'm going to be part of their family, hopefully for a long time."

Now, Sam feels like he can be a role model to others, just like his big brother was a role model for him.

"I can now go out and be able to show myself and anybody who has a disability that it's not too late to go out and find a job," he said.