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Distance Learning Connects Canadians with Disabilities

by Jason Olson
Distance Learning (DL) tools are helping Canadians in remote communities connect to programs and services that would otherwise be beyond reach. With the help of DL, some of the most marginalized people with disabilities in Canada are able to take part in programs designed to improve their skills and get them into the workforce.

Employ-Ability: Overcoming Mobility Issues and Geography

The Employ-Ability program offered by the Neil Squire Society is one such program. This program is free and is provided via DL. Its focus is on career development and wellness for work, assisting people with disabilities in developing an action plan to return to work, education or volunteerism. It is directed at individuals who are marginalized due to their physical disabilities and are unable to attend other programs because of mobility or geography.

Students of this fully accessible program can participate either from the Society’s dedicated learning centers across Canada or directly from their homes, using online resources like Elluminate Live and the Moodle Learning Management System. Elluminate Live functions as a virtual classroom, allowing students and their facilitators to meet in real-time, regardless of their physical location.

The Moodle system, on the other hand, can be considered a virtual textbook. The distance Employ-Ability Moodle course includes notes, videos, discussion forums and assignments for participants to complete as they progress through the Employ-Ability program.

Creating Connection

Because of these resources, the Society is able to deliver the program anytime, anywhere, to any Canadian with a physical disability as long as they have Internet access, according to e-Learning Manager Chad Leaman.

Chad tells the story of Jaycee, a distance Employ-Ability client and amputee, who lives several kilometers outside the small community of Lytton, BC. He says that Jaycee’s life just prior to joining the program “was a little bit like a country song…. She lost her leg, her dog had just died and she was depressed and alone. So to be connected to a group of people everyday, to be engaged and to have something to do was reinvigorating for her.”

Before joining the program, Jaycee had only left her home twice in nine months. Through the program Jaycee was able to gain some very valuable employment skills, but according to Chad the most enriching part of the program was the fact that it eliminated the sense of isolation that she had been feeling. Jaycee so enjoyed the interactions with her classmates that, when the course ended, she drove all the way to Burnaby to meet them and take part in the graduation. She even invited each of them to camp out at her place that summer.

The distance portion of the Employ-Ability program has been highly successful. Since its introduction in 2008, over 30% of its 291 participants have gone on to find employment. An additional 10% of them have gone on to further their education.

These statistics are wonderful. However, the ability to connect people who otherwise would face isolation may be the best thing about distance learning.

Jason Olson is a creative writer from Vancouver, BC. He studied English and Political Science at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, Alberta and currently works as an Administrative Assistant for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby, BC. His work can be found in Rehab Matters Magazine.

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