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KEEPING THE NDEAM DREAM ALIVE

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) originated in the United States in recognition of the positive impact on business of recruiting persons with disabilities.  It was introduced to Canada and launched in Ottawa on May 15th 2011, by Link-Up Employment Services, and is now recognized in many countries around the world.

So just how well have things improved for job seekers and employees with disabilities? “Little progress has been made over the years,” Dr. Michael Prince, University of Victoria’s Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy, remarked at the National Conference on Disability and Work co-hosted by the Institute for Work and Health plus the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy in Ottawa from November 27-29.

They posit that employment barriers are complex, multifacited and intricately interconnected.  Moreover, these barriers will be manifested in different ways depending on the type of disability (visible, invisible, episodic, chronic, mental, physical); degree of functional limitation; as well as variations in how policies and systems across the country are administered.  Key issues raised at the conference include the:

  • dissimilar yet overlapping and conflicting income support programs in Canada, with their various legal structures and requirements creating incentives and disincentives to finding work;
  • resources needed by employers for workplace accommodation compliance;
  • potential role of adaptive technology and workplace flexibility in providing greater accessibility;
  • effect of automation on job opportunities for persons with disabilities; and
  • role of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as political leverage.

However, resourceful and innovative persons with disabilities are taking charge of their own destiny by shaping their skills and talents into viable business ideas and pursuing self-employment.  One such leader is Carol-Ann Chafe, Founder and Chair, Access 2 Accessibility, which is a registered Canadian non-profit organization.  Carol-Ann’s vision is to produce a “one central resource hub” – a digital online resource directory of products, services and supports as well as a live division offering events, education and networking opportunities.  “The Digital Division has many deliverables it is working on such as a mobile website that will serve as a local searchable directory of products, services, supports, events and more; plus, a YouTube Channel to offer live webinars, training videos, highlighting of entrepreneurs and professionals with disabilities; and more. The Live Division will provide events and programs for networking, learning, sharing of resources and more for individuals with disabilities, employers, employees, and the public,” Carol-Ann explains.

The first program offered by Access2Accessibility is Entrepreneurs & Professionals with Disabilities (EPWD) – click here for link to Entrepreneurs & Professionals, with Disabilities . These free MeetUps are designed to facilitate empowerment through support, encouragement and sharing of successes and challenges, while offering resources and opportunities for networking to career minded individuals with visible and invisible disabilities.

These monthly events are currently held in two Microsoft Store Learning Centres – one in Mississauga and one in Toronto, with a third venue opening in January.  Microsoft is a community supporter of Entrepreneurs and Professionals with Disabilities, and it is Carol-Ann’s goal to expand these events throughout Ontario and eventually across Canada.  One of the perks of having Microsoft as a community supporter is access to their learning centres and product advisors who provide demonstrations on accessibility features of Microsoft products and programs.

As EPWD states, “Our disabilities don’t define us, together we can support one another, share, network etc. to help each other in our professional endeavours.”

Despite limited progress at the systemic and social policy level for employment with persons with disabilities, individual initiatives such as Access2Accessibility speak to the potential for social change at the grassroots, community level.


  1. At Work, Issue 91, Winter 2018: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto
  2. Carol-Ann Chafe, Founder and Chair. Access2Accessibility
Denise Feltham
Designer of D.I.C.E. (Disability Impact on Career/Employment). Owner/Operator of D.I.C.E. Assessment & Employment Counselling Services Bachelor of Social Work Degree (Ryerson University). Career & Work Counsellor Diploma (George Brown College) Life Skills Coach Certification (Levels I & II) - YWCA

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