The Current

Developmentally disabled people need real jobs, says advocate

Unemployment among Canadians who are intellectually or developmentally challenged registers at between 30 to 50-percent. Those who support them say they want to work and they can work and the old system of sheltered day programs to occupy their time needs to change.
Frank Charbonneau has sorted and shred paper for Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa for 35 years. In this photo he is with his sister, Ann Carmichael. (CBC/Tom Jokinen)

"First we went in there and we sorted paper and we shredded paper... Oh I loved working there because it was a nice job and we got paid for it." - Gladys Whincup, worked for Library and Archives Canada for 35 years.

Ms. Whincup's and others' stories were recorded in a video by the Ottawa Citizen. And since it was produced, Library and Archives Canada reinstated the contract and the jobs. Watch the Video

Last week, the government agency moved to cancel a contract with the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities. That's the organization that placed about fifty people in their jobs. And they do consider them to be jobs, although they're paid an honorarium, rather than a salary. 

When news emerged that these 50 or so people would be losing their work, the public outrage over the lost positions, only grew louder when people learned what Ms. Whincup and her fellow paper shredders did take home — About $1.15 per hour. Of course, some believe it's hard to put a price on the experience and the social interactions, these jobs provide to the workers. And their honorarium pay is meant to supplement disability benefit payments. Yet, to some onlookers, it's these types of positions that end up trapping people with developmental disabilities in situations where they do have to rely on government benefits.

Michael Bach is the Executive Vice President of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL). Over the years the organization’s local agencies helped establish placements like those set up at the National Library and Archives. CACL has worked to advance the interests of people with intellectual disabilities since 1958. Among other things, the association is working on a pilot project aimed at finding ways to make it easier for people with disabilities to compete in the traditional job market. 

Sean Wiltshire is the head of Avalon Employment Inc., a not-for-profit group in St. John's that helps people with intellectual disabilities find jobs.

If you have an experience to add to the discussion - as someone with a disability, a family member or employer... let us know.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Gord Westmacott and Marc Apollonio.