Jennifer’s face lights up with a beautiful grin when I walk through the doors at Vernon Teach and Learn. She stops working for a moment and says, “I’m at work…but I’m loving it! Is that normal?”
For Jennifer, this is an honest question. Although she handed out resumes for years, and had many interviews, she was never offered an ongoing paid position until she applied at Vernon Teach and Learn this June.
“Sometimes people don’t want to hire people with disabilities,” she said. “And people notice that I have a disability, even though I don’t always see it myself.”
With September being Disability Employment Month in B.C., which is part of the provincial government’s plan to make “B.C. the most progressive place for people with disabilities in Canada by 2024,” Jennifer is proud she is working. She pins her Vernon Teach and Learn nametag to her shirt and takes me on a walk through the store. She points out the work she does, from cleaning to stocking to pricing, and gets excited about the Halloween loot bags she is stuffing for kids this October. But her favourite part about the job?
“My employers,” she said without hesitation. “They respect their employees. They value and appreciate them.”
Vernon Teach & Learn owners Lynella and Trevor Henke say Jennifer’s personality makes this easy.
“It’s nice how happy she is about coming to work all the time,” said Lynella. “And she does a good job — she takes pride in the work she’s done.”
Overall, Lynella and Jennifer agree that finding a job was about finding the right fit, which for Jennifer meant one with routine and thorough explanation.
A job coach from Community Futures helped make the employment match; the only accommodation necessary to make the fit perfect for Jennifer’s style of working and learning? A whiteboard in the staff kitchen, with daily tasks listed, so Jennifer can check them off as she completes them each day.
“I love my routine,” she said with that same bright smile, as she checks another task from her list. “Now that I’m working I feel a lot better about myself.”
During her years spent looking for work, Jennifer says she didn’t always feel so good, and admits there were times she wanted to give up.
“I felt like people were better than me because they were working and I wasn’t,” she said, with some hesitation. “I felt like I was only good enough to volunteer.”
And volunteer she did, reliably, with great references, for six years. Family, friends, and community groups kept her going in her job search, with limitless support coming from the mentor she lives with.
“She gave me the strength to keep going,” Jennifer said, with gratitude. “She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Today, with Disability Employment Month on her mind, Jennifer shares her story hoping it helps someone else. In B.C., the employment rate for people with disabilities (aged 15 to 64 years) is 18 percentage points lower than for people without disabilities.
“If people like me who have a disability are looking for work, maybe they can read my story and know there is hope out there,” said Jennifer. “I know how it feels to think you can’t get a job, because I’ve been there. I know you can want to give up, because I did. But it is possible. There is hope.”
Anita Labelle is an employment advisor with Community Futures, where she helps people with disabilities and barriers to employment find work. People with disabilities seeking employment, or businesses looking to hire people with disabilities, can access Community Futures WorkBC Employment Services Centres. The Employment Program of British Columbia is funded by the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.