Kyla Kongsdorf knows the frustration of finding employment, when potential employers have difficulty looking past her wheelchair to the ability of the person in the chair.
And that’s the idea behind an event she’s organizing for International Day of Persons with Disabilities
An intern at Independent Living Vernon, Kongsdorf is helping to organize the annual celebration, taking place Dec. 3 at the ILV office.
“On this day, Canadians celebrate and raise awareness of skills and contributions people with disabilities make to society and to their families,” said Kongsdorf, a 2007 Fulton graduate. “For me, people see the chair and assume that I’m not intelligent or that I’m not capable of working, so it’s frustrating.”
When her internship is up, Kongsdorf will return to Okanagan College in January to study criminal and social justice, to further her goal of working with troubled youth.
According to the Neil Squire Society, one in three adults have some form of a disability, meaning they have some type of difficulty completing at least one basic action or complex activity limitation.
Based in Burnaby, the society’s mission is to use technology, knowledge and passion to empower Canadians with disabilities.
“They help people with adaptive technology,” said Kongsdorf, who was born with spina bifida. “Accessibility is a touchy subject for many people and Vernon is not the most accessible place — sidewalks are tricky and some shops can be difficult to manoeuver around.”
According to the society, people with disabilities in British Columbia are 20 per cent less likely to participate in the labour market than those who are without disabilities.
“To address this issue, there are many programs and initiatives under way to help improve employment for people with disabilities in B.C.,” said Kongsdorf. “And there is a lot of adaptive technology out there, which is where the employment piece comes in. So if someone has a problem with their arm, or a back issue, there are things that can be done, whether it’s a different type of computer mouse or a monitor, there is quite a bit of good equipment out there.”
Independent Living Vernon opened its doors in 1992 and has been in partnership with the Neil Squire Society since 2004. Its programs include employability, to help people with disabilities gain meaningful skills and tools that they can take with them from employer to employer; the self-esteem course, which helps people with disabilities gain confidence and a better understanding about themselves and what they are capable of; Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), a program for youth ages 16 to 29 who are interested in connecting with other youth with disabilities, gaining life skills and having fun.
“It’s a great group for any youth who identifies as having a disability of any type,” she said. “You learn life skills and connect with other youth, plus we have fun.”
This year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities takes place Dec. 3 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the ILV office, 3402-27th Ave., in the People Place, room 006. The theme is “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology.”
The fundraising event for Independent Living Vernon includes appetizers, karaoke, door prizes, gift baskets and a silent auction with items donated by local businesses. The event is free, but donations are welcome, with proceeds to the YOU group; tax receipts will be given for donations of more than $20.
“This is a fun event that we hope will also bring awareness and to educate people as to what it’s like for people living with a disability,” said Kongsdorf.
For more information on the event, or on the YOU group, call Crystal Williams at the ILV office at 250-545-9292 or for more information on any of the courses offered by ILV, call Lisa Kongsdorf, as there is limited space available for courses starting in January, at 250-545-9292 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org