Victoria’s John Howard Society has received $1.5 million in federal funding to help people with disabilities get into the job market.
The funding is part of $118 million from the Opportunities Fund given to 60 projects across the country.
Society executive director Manj Toor said the local effort will help support 120 people with disabilities in seeking employment. “This is very significant,” he said, noting the society has been active in the capital region for 80 years.
While some know the society for its work integrating people who have been in the prison system, Toor said its mandate is “much broader and more inclusive.”
“We support youth at risk, we support people with mental-health and addiction issues.”
The society also offers affordable residential housing.
The local funding was announced Friday at the Burnside Gorge Community Centre by Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough, marking National AccessAbility Week.
Qualtrough said the funding will cover employment services and skills training for participants to prepare for, obtain and retain employment, or become self-employed, thus increasing their independence and economic participation.
“It’s incredible the potential that there is for this community to contribute to our economy.”
Qualtrough, who is legally blind, said she knows how important it is to give people with disabilities more opportunity. She said 16 per cent of the Canadian workforce is made up of people with disabilities, and they have the lowest employment rate among groups across the country.
In 2017, an estimated 852,000 of the country’s 1.9 million people with disabilities aged 15 to 64 — 45 per cent — were not employed, Qualtrough said.
“We really need Canada to understand how important this work really is,” she said. “The only way we’ll reach our goal of a barrier-free Canada by 2040 is if all us, government and businesses alike, are inclusive by default.”
The country is missing out on a lot of “talent and creativity” when people with disabilities can’t find work, Qualtrough said.
Among those who could be helped by the program is Tanelle Bolt, who worked in home construction until a paralyzing injury in a recreation accident. She is also a disability consultant for the John Howard Society.
The 36-year-old said she is starting her own consulting company dealing with accessibility in building design. “I’m wondering if there’s a way that the John Howard Society can support me in furthering my education [to help] in running the business.”