British Columbia

Seeking meaningful work: program aims to help youths with intellectual disabilities

Five-year research program aims to help young people with intellectual disabilities, their parents and potential employers understand the youths' abilities and goals, says researcher.

'When people are employed, they report better quality of life'

The Transitioning Youth with Disabilities and Employment project will partner with young people like José Figueroa (pictured above) to ensure the quality of service is engaging and fun, says Rachelle Hole. (Dr. Jon Corbett/UBC)

A new program is setting out to help young people with intellectual disabilities and autism find work that is meaningful for them. 

Less than a quarter of Canadians with these kinds of disabilities have jobs, according to Rachelle Hole, associate professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Social Work and co-director for the Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship.

And those who are employed often work few hours for low wages.

"I think that there's a lot of misunderstanding about the abilities of folks with intellectual disabilities or autism," Hole told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

Hole is the principal investigator on the new five-year research project. She and other researchers at UBC Okanagan have received more than $1-million in federal funding for the project.

The meaningfulness of a job is dependant on what the young person is passionate about, said Hole. "[It could be] a young person who loves animals and seeks out a job working at a pet store," she said by way of example.

The program is aimed at people with a range of intellectual disabilities including Down syndrome and autism. The mainly targets youth between age 14 and 16, as well as their parents.

It is set to launch in September 2019.

Faith Bodnar (pictured centre), former executive director at Inclusion BC, speaks at a meeting of the project's stakeholders. (Dr. Jon Corbett/UBC)

Confronting stereotypes

The program helps the youth communicate to employers what their abilities are, and how they can be accommodated and supported in employment settings.

The program will also inform employers of the benefits of hiring people with intellectual disabilities.

"We know from research and evidence that employers that do hire employees with intellectual disabilities or autism, report lower turnovers … better punctuality."

The work culture also changes when a workplace is more inclusive, said Hole. 

"When people are employed, they report better quality of life. Even in terms of their health," she said.

Beginning stages

The program's first cohort will consist of approximately 30 youth and 30 parents, said Hole. 

The project is partly funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. 

Hole said that by reaching participants with disabilities at a young age, the program can instill confidence. 

"The earlier that we're supporting youth around believing in themselves and believing in their abilities, and in fact they can pursue their dreams and aspirations, the better the outcomes are later in life."

Listen to the full interview here:

With files from Daybreak South