Calgary

'Give us the opportunity,' Calgary disability advocate tells employers

Darby Young was born with mild cerebral palsy and says it taught her early on about the obstacles people with disabilities face in the workforce.

Darby Young fights to make businesses more inclusive, aware and accessible

"When people see persons with disabilities, they think they scream 'accommodation,' and that's not necessarily true," says Darby Young, the founder of Level Playing Field. (Submitted by Darby Young)

October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, and one Calgary business owner is encouraging employers to be more inclusive through both her advocacy and her day job.

Darby Young was born with mild cerebral palsy (CP) and says it taught her early on about the obstacles people with disabilities face in the workforce.

"I had great difficulty, because a lot of times I'd apply for jobs and if I didn't let them know that I had CP to start with, they were offended when I'd come in to the interviews," Young told Doug Dirks on The Homestretch.

"And then, if I did say that I had CP in my cover letters, I wouldn't necessarily get the interview."

Young handled it by pressing on, she says, and searching for companies and positions that recognized her worth.

Eventually, this tenacity led Young to found her own business called Level Playing Field, an agency that provides education and design recommendations to make buildings more accessible.

"I just fought through every interview, tried to find the perfect fit. I didn't necessarily apply to every company under the sun, I applied to ones that actually would appreciate what I had to offer," Young said.

"But then, ultimately, I ended up stepping away and starting my own company, and now I've got persons with disabilities within my organization that help us succeed every day."

Level Playing Field has been operational since 2015, and Young now runs a team of six. 

In 2018, Young was named one of Canada's Top 40 Under 40, an accomplishment that could make Young's career trajectory appear deceptively smooth from the outside. But she is quick to acknowledge that it hasn't been.

"It's definitely not easy, especially being an entrepreneur, being a woman, and then also having a disability on top of that," Young said. 

"So [I'm] having to manage my health, having to manage the health of my team, and also trying to get everyone to see past the disability."

When people hire Level Playing Field, Young says, it's usually to solve issues such as having washrooms that are difficult to access. 

Those conversations signify a gradual but important evolution, Young says.

"We're slowly progressing. We've opened the door to the conversation about accessibility, and getting people to see more and more that persons with disabilities actually belong in the workplace," Young said.

As for what employers can do to be more inclusive, Young feels more people with disabilities need to be given opportunities — and companies have to be willing to grant them.

"Give us the opportunity to work within your environment," Young said.

"We want to be in the workplace. We don't want to be at home watching TV. We want to be involved in our community and make changes."

With files from The Homestretch

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