B.C. promises action on jobs for disabled

Minister Don McRae says policy changes coming in June, and employers are a key part of increasing opportunity

Retired London Drugs CEO Wynne Powell speaks at the B.C. legislature with a sign-language interpreter: 'This is not out of the ordinary. This is how we should operate as a society.'

Of the thousands of comments the B.C. government received during its three-month consultation on increasing opportunities for disabled people, one of the last ones sums up the difficulty faced by job seekers.

“I’m quite capable of working, and what holds me back is the discrimination of employers within the community,” wrote Michael from the Thompson Okanagan on the government’s consultation website.

Like many other participants, Michael said his $906-a-month disability benefit isn’t enough to live on. WorkBC, the province’s agency for job seekers, puts its emphasis on helping applicants prepare for job interviews, rather than convincing employers to give them a chance.

In her comment, Lisa agreed, noting that employers and co-workers may see accommodation as “special treatment” for disabled people like her.

That’s where Wynne Powell comes in. The recently retired CEO of London Drugs is co-chair of the “presidents group” appointed by the B.C. government to reach out to employers.

Powell said his store chain has hired many disabled people, and he became accustomed to seeing sign-language interpreters and other assists at corporate events.

“They may have challenges in certain areas, but I can tell you as an employer, they are the most loyal, hard-working, caring people, and they help build your trust with the public,” Powell said.

Don McRae, B.C.’s minister of social development and social innovation, has been instructed by Premier Christy Clark to make B.C. “the most progressive place in Canada for people with disabilities.” He knows disabled people have heard the rhetoric before.

“Some people expressed exhaustion,” McRae said. “Some don’t have the networks of support that can make a positive difference. Some are excluded from opportunities they want, they need and they deserve.”

The province-wide consultation has created expectations that McRae has to deliver improvements as the ministry prepares for a policy conference in June.

Speaking at an event at the B.C. legislature to mark the end of the consultation tour, Powell agreed.

“I know minister, this consultation is a step in the right direction,” Powell said. “But words have to be backed up by action, and I know you’re committed to that.”

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