Disabled workers productive
Rae Celotti says many Yellowknifers often look at disabled people and see the disability first, not a capable individual.

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 10/98) - Disabled people can be productive workers.

That was the message many local business owners heard at a workshop hosted by the Disabled Persons Work Strategy this week.

"What the workshop was about was bringing the employers and the clients together," said the program's co-ordinator, Rae Celotti.

"What they're asking for is maybe another workshop coming up in the near future focused on awareness of what kind of disabilities are out there."

Celotti said many Yellowknifers often look at disabled people and see the disability first, not a capable individual.

"We want them to be treated like anybody else," she said. "Say you're a paraplegic in a wheelchair, they're going to look at you and say, 'This guy doesn't know anything.'"

One example of business being responsive is Beaver Lumber, a store moving next to its current Old Airport Road location to a store with a wheelchair ramp, and likely wider aisles to accommodate wheelchairs, according to owner and manager Chuck Corothers.

Conference keynote speaker Jerry Blake said being a lawyer is a good profession given his predicament, unable to leave a wheelchair. "Work is so great because it gives you a reason for being."

Aside from offering a feeling of being productive, work gives people the ability to socialize and meet friends -- something valuable for anyone's psyche.

Part of Blake's role at the conference was demonstrating by example that people in wheelchairs can lead productive lives.

Human Resources and Development Canada started research at the end of February to discover feedback from about 1,700 employers on impressions of people living with disabilities.

Answered questions could be: Will business hire disabled persons? What do business owners know about disabilities? Do business owners want to know more about disabilities? Are their workplaces equipped for the disabled?

"We'll get back information from that and then we'll do a database afterwards," Celotti said. "That gives me something to go with."

Though Celotti said he is pleased research is under way and business feedback from the conference is positive, she is mixed about the turnout.

"Anything you do like this, you're hoping that people will be gung ho and people will want to come so in a way you are always a little disappointed that more didn't show up. For the turnout, it was 80 people, so that's good."

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