Working Towards Employment

 

The mission statement could not be more clear: “To be the best employment service for people with disabilities in the Greater Toronto Area.” And, after assisting thousands to re-enter the work force, LinkUp Employment Services is celebrating ten years of continued achievements.

The results speak for themselves. During the past decade, the venerable non-profit agency has helped over 1,500 people find employment, secured training for 900 others and assisted hundreds more with job accommodations. Executive Director Bob Santos attributes much of LinkUp’s success to the agency’s ability to “level the playing field for persons with disabilities.”

“We hear about a company’s wants but don’t look at that. Instead, we determine their needs and work around that,” he says. “In that way, we have been very successful.”

Santos points out that an employer may not realize that up to 30 per cent of their work force may have some form of disability. When dealing with LinkUp, however, companies are dealing with potential employees who have disclosed the fact they have disabilities – although this information is never revealed on a résumé. Instead, an emphasis is placed on skills that closely match the employer’s requirements, and a worker’s potential “fit” with the company, thus only qualified candidates are marketed to an employer.

Once an employer expresses interest in hiring someone, accommodations are discussed. Accommodations are modifications, either to the workplace or the job description, that allow a person with a disability to perform the essential tasks of the job. Accommodations may range from a person with a learning disability being given more time to learn her duties, to purchasing voice-activated software to assist a person with a physical disability. Some employers may fret over the perceived costs of accommodating a worker with a disability, but in fact the costs for most accommodations are low, most less than $650, and many cost nothing at all.

Educating employers on the diversity of available accommodations has been key to LinkUp’s success, and has also thrust the agency into the unique position of supplying services to workers with a broad range of disabilities. That range is echoed by the sheer volume of jobs filled by employees with disabilities: “everything from lawyers to hot walkers at the race track,” says Santos.

In addition, LinkUp also conducts regular intakes, provides assessments to determine employment and training needs, and assists with job search and accommodation requirements. The agency also brokers Targeted Wage Subsidies, a federal initiative that reimburses employers a salary percentage of the wages paid to eligible participants.

Another successful component of LinkUp’s services is the Corporate Partnership Program that offers work trials and volunteer placements to its clients. Employers are encouraged to identify service gaps, which are filled for an average of three months by a candidate with a disability. The placement becomes a flexible tool that allows an employer to determine how successfully a candidate “fits” the position, while providing an opportunity for the worker to job shadow, receive on-the-job training and assess his own needs. Clients receive a small honorarium, lunch and transportation money. To date, companies including Toshiba have benefited from the program. Santos says that their greatest successes have been with small-to-medium-sized companies.

These programs have brought LinkUp recognition both locally and abroad. Santos has received inquiries from service providers as far away as Russia who are interested in duplicating the agency’s service delivery model. In 1999, the agency was a proud recipient of the City of Toronto’s Access Award.

Further benchmarks of the agency’s achievements are indicated by a sensitivity to the unique needs of individual clients. Santos’ voice swells with pride when he says that 95 per cent of all of LinkUp’s services are offered by a caring staff with cross-disabilities themselves. “We practise what we preach,” he says.

As LinkUp enters a second decade of service, plans are underway to enhance current programs by developing a training model that addresses the needs of those individuals who “fall through the cracks.” Santos describes this group as “revolving-door clients” who tend to be referred from one ill-equipped agency to another, whose needs remain unmet. He estimates that up to 20 per cent of all clients with disabilities receive inadequate assistance. The program will attempt to fill this gap.

It’s another small step towards the integration of persons with disabilities into the workplace and an able-bodied culture. “Ideally, there will come a day where we won’t need to exist,” he says. “Then we’ll know that disabilities are no longer an issue and truly celebrated within a diverse society.”

For further information or to make a donation, contact LinkUp at (416) 413-4922; TTY: (416) 413-4926. Visit the website, www.linkup.ca, or write to 1075 Bay St., Ste. 801, Toronto, ON, M5S 2B1.

 

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