If you’ve got a disability, it can be tough to find employment, to find the motivation to get the education needed for a good job. Across the country, employment rates for working age persons with a disability (15 to 64) are significantly lower than those without a disability and they are faced with serious disadvantages in the area of education and training. Regardless of the disability type or the province you live in, there are many common challenges and obstacles to overcome to reach one’s full potential when living with disability.
The New Brunswick Employment Strategy for Persons with Disabilities identified the need to create a dialogue around future planning and career goals with youth with disabilities and particularly those with complex needs. It acknowledged much work is needed to dispel the myth that persons with disabilities are not employable and to challenge the mindset of youth with disabilities themselves and their caregivers and family.
Taking the leadership role, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, worked closely with the New Brunswick Disability Executive’s Network (NBDEN) to develop a framework for Youth in Action Atlantic (YIA Atlantic), an interactive summit for youth living with a disability ages 15 to 24. Supportive partnerships were created with disability networks in the provinces of New Brunswick (Premiers Council on the Status of Disabled Persons), Nova Scotia (NS Disability Partnership), Newfoundland and Labrador (NL Coalition of Persons with Disabilities) and Prince Edward Island (PEI Council of People with Disabilities). The coalitions in each of the Atlantic Provinces were asked to assist with the promotion of the summit and support the youth they serve through the registration process.
The conference had multiple goals:
- To create a dialogue among youth with disabilities;
- To empower and inspire youth to reach their full potential;
- To support youth in achieving transition to post-secondary education;
- To assist with the development of employment goals; and
- To support youth in making connections with post-secondary education institutions.
Based on feedback through post-conference surveys, Facebook, phone calls and other written correspondences, Youth in Action Atlantic 2016 met and exceeded our goals of building connections and inspiring youth to plan for their future.
Steven would have liked to see more programs with an outreach to Newfoundland and Labrador, but noted, “Since this was my first I honestly didn’t know what to expect but after I would definitely go next time again.” – NL
Caden said his caregiver’s favorite part was the Community Supports Marketplace, but his was the dance: “I was a bit nervous about meeting new people. But once I got there those fears completely left me.” – NS
Abbygail noted her mom loved “all the information she got out of it because she wants me to succeed in life”.
There were 139 registrants (101 youth and caregivers from Atlantic Canada, 7 youth and caregivers from Quebec and 31 professionals), 21 speakers, four sign language interpreters, over 20 vendors and professionals working in the field of post secondary education and disability and several sponsors in attendance.
Youth were empowered by learning from professionals and their successful peers during interactive workshops, educational sessions and panel discussions. Many of the speakers stayed to watch other presentations, stopped to speak with registrants, and took extensive time throughout the weekend to share approaches to hurdles in achieving their goals.
New connections were created among youth living with various disabilities and in all four Atlantic Provinces, Quebec, and Ontario. Several participants expressed that a cross-disability conference that includes participants from other provinces was very beneficial and preferred it over a provincial conference for single disability types.
Many registrants took full advantage of the Post-Secondary Education Expo and Community Supports Marketplace to explore opportunities in other provinces. Youth learned first-hand about accommodations available to them in their education and the diversity of employers actively seeking inclusion.
Youth in Action Atlantic was not all work for those attending. Registrants of all ages participated in an interpretive dance lesson as well as the wildly popular dance party hosted by Luca “Lazy Legz” Patuelli. Many signed up for free makeovers from Arbonne representatives onsite. And many clowned around in the photo booth!
Youth participants approached the event with some hesitation, citing social anxiety and wariness of large crowds. However, on-site and post-Summit feedback suggested that these fears slipped away as the event progressed. The common thread – each participant, from every group, left Youth in Action Atlantic feeling inspired.