Six Eagles Nest Youth Homes in Prince Albert and local business WinterSun 420 will be lit up in blue and purple on Thursday as part of a nation-wide campaign to spotlight the many ways employees with disabilities contribute on the job site.
The Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) started Light it Up for NDEAM (National Disability Employment Awareness Month) last year in Ontario. This year, they partnered with the Canadian Association for Supported Employment, MentorAbility Canada, and multiple community-based disability employment service provides to help spread the event across the country.
Prince Albert is one of seven Saskatchewan communities where community groups have decided to take part. Matt Grzesiak, the Prince Albert-based Saskatchewan coordinator for MentorAbility, said it’s exciting to see the campaign take off.
“I think we’re at over 250 places across Canada, and it’s growing every day,” Grzesiak said on Monday. “I still hope to get more on board by Thursday, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s exciting that we’re national. It’s getting so much traction everywhere, and that’s just fantastic to see.”
Job numbers from 2021 show more than 600,000 Canadian with a disability can and want to work, however the unemployment rate for that demographic is 59 per cent. Grzesiak said it’s difficult to say how much of that is due to employer hesitation, given how the province’s economy is struggling.
He’s hopeful Thursday’s demonstration will get people talking about the former, so Canadians with disabilities can get back to work when the latter is no longer a problem.
“I think more awareness for employers, that’s always number one,” Grzesiak said. “Businesses being more inclusive. Businesses being willing to give somebody a chance. It’s got to be based on employers, because you can have a whole bunch of job seekers, but if you don’t have that job for that right person, it might not work.”
Helping employers understand the importance of diverse hiring practices is just one part of Thursday’s campaign. Many organizations taking part said they wanted to help celebrate businesses who make a point of hiring Canadians with disabilities.
Saskatchewan Association of Rehab Centres (SARC) assistant executive director Melanie Weiss said they’ve spent many years supporting and helping employers hire people living with disabilities. She views the campaign as a positive way to get the message out.
“We just thought this was such a neat idea and such a fun way to spark that conversation and raise awareness,” Weiss explained. “That’s why we’re doing our part here in Saskatchewan to encourage everyone to light up the night sky on Oct. 21.”
Weiss said employers sometimes have misconceptions and uncertainty about what Canadians with disabilities can do in the workplace. She’s confident businesses will change they’re hiring practices if the get more information, something SARC works hard at.
The organization created a website called employlink.ca, which offers services that help employers and disabled employees build a successful working relationship.
Weiss said there are plenty of organizations willing to offer a helping hand, but business owners need to know they’re out there. Days like Light Up for NDEAM can help.
“Awareness is where we all need to start,” she said. “You can’t affect change until there is that awareness, but we just want to create excitement and opportunity and a way for organizations to reach out and learn more.
“For us, we’re hoping that people will ask, ‘what are these purple and blue lights about?’ That may translate to them learning about service providers in their own community that they can connect with.”
Light it Up organizers say the last event helped spark plenty of those conversations in Ontario, and they’re hoping to do that again, but this time on the national stage. Canadian landmarks like B.C. Place, Vancouver City Hall, the Calgary Tower, and CN Tower will all be lit up in purple and blue, and organizers hope that will get people talking.
“While Light it Up! For NDEAM is a single, one-night event, what it’s been doing is incredible, ODEN CEO Jeannette Campbell said. “It’s been sparking engagement and conversation about disability-inclusive hiring in many ways, between many community agencies and businesses and local governments, all over Canada. That’s going to have a last effect.”
Buildings in the Prince Albert area taking part in the event will be lit up at dusk on Oct. 21.