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Gateway Association – Calgary wants to break down disability-based job barriers for youth

The Gateway Association – Calgary’s Job Seeker Support program is about breaking down job market barriers for young people with disabilities.

Gateway’s Ashton Bennett said they start knocking barriers down from the get-go: Their programming doesn’t require proof of disability. It’s self-disclosure on the part of the applicant.

From there, it opens up a world of free, foundational skill-building for program participants aged 15 to 34. Once enrolled, young Calgarians can gain experience in career search, accessing post-secondary training, employment placement, digital literacy training and more.

“It’s individualized supports, and we work with where each individual is at, so the only real requirement, aside from that disability-based barrier, is to just be motivated and ready to achieve their employment goals,” Bennett said.

They recognize there are other disability-based support services out there. Bennett said oftentimes the eligibility criteria limits access.

“We want to reach out to those for whom that term disability might not really resonate with,” she said.

They’re a pan-disability organization, Bennett said. That means they work with people who have mental health struggles, physical, developmental learning, medical and other barriers that hold them back from participating in the workforce.

“We just wanted to really broaden that field and not create an additional barrier for individuals to access those employment supports,” Bennett said.

“We are working really hard to break down the stigma and the barriers that exist for individuals with those disability-based barriers. Especially those that are hidden or ones that maybe people are a little bit more hesitant to disclose.”

Expanding learning, personal growth

Bennett said program participants are put in a position to succeed. Not only while learning, but also in their job pursuit. They boast a placement success rate of more than 85 per cent.

With the individualized learning, it caters to the needs of each person. They chart the participant’s course through any of their training programs.  But the help doesn’t end there.

They empower candidates in their job search and work with employers to smooth the work transition where needed.

“Employers often feel a little bit nervous or uncertain about how to support somebody with a disability. We’re here to help build their capacities as well and focus on improving their equity, diversity and inclusion practices,” Bennett said.

“The goal with participants and employers, we want everybody to feel like we’ve helped build their capacities to point that they actually don’t need the support from us anymore.”

This also provides a chance to break out of the isolation – not only the pandemic variety, but isolation that can often go with perception about one’s condition.

“What we’re seeing is individuals are actually coming to these workshops, to work on their skills, but they’re actually building these social connections,” Bennett said.

“They’re creating a community while they’re also working on these skills.”

 Bennett said they’re open to all young people with disability-based barriers – even those with experience in certain fields. They help participants find a fulfilling career path and then aid them in finding employment. It’s not just for entry level positions.

They’ve worked with bookkeepers, aspiring film and set designers, floral arrangers and commercial drivers – all full-time work.

“I can’t say enough amazing things about our team and just our focus on building that rapport with individuals right from the start,” Bennett said.

“That just sets the tone.”

Weekly information sessions (Wednesdays) are available for prospective job seekers. There’s also a newsletter to keep participants informed.

Visit the Gateway Association Job Seeker Support webpage for more information.