Calgary program works with youth with disabilities to help them find work

Gateway Association provides financial support for interview clothes, bus passes, childcare, and up to one year of tuition

By Krista Sylvester | February 2, 2022 |5:00 am

Wren is one of the youth who successfully went through the Gateway Association program, which helps youth with disabilities prepare for a career.

Photo: Submitted

It’s a program designed to help youth with disabilities plan and prepare for a career that lines up with their interests, skills and values.

In some ways though, the Gateway Association programming is also life-changing. 

Gateway Association’s programs are for youth ages 15 to 34 who self-identify as having a disability, says organization senior manager Samantha Grabinsky. 

“We work with youth who have all types of disabilities including ADHD, anxiety, multiple sclerosis (MS), dyslexia, or autism,” she explains, adding they don’t require proof of disability such as clinical assessments or professional referrals. 

“Our team is focused on getting to know the individual so we can find out what that person’s strengths are, as well as what is getting in the way of them finding work.” 

It’s all about helping youth with disabilities 

The organization launched in June 2020 and has seen success despite the pandemic. They’ve also tripled in size and are now able to support many more individuals. 

The organization knows employers are struggling with recruitment and retention, and youth unemployment rates are incredibly high and members of the disability community are seeing prolonged bouts of isolation. 

“Once we know the person we can help them to develop a career plan, connect to training and education opportunities, develop a resume, apply for jobs, interview and get hired,” Grabinsky says. 

“Youth accessing our programs can get financial support with things like interview clothes, bus passes, childcare and up to one year of tuition. We also offer a wide range of workshops and digital literacy programs to help youth prepare for their future.” 

Reducing the stigma youth with disabilities often face 

Grabinsky says that many of the youth they work with have hidden disabilities and they need support but they’re afraid to ask for help. 

“We’re able to assist youth without labelling them or limiting their options. Gateway participants have found jobs in the film and television industry, bookkeeping, floral design, and commercial driving,” she explains. 

“We want to reduce the stigma around accessing career services – many people with and without disabilities need help to kickstart their careers.”

The fact that they’re able to fund training, certifications and education for up to one year is incredibly impactful on the young people they serve, she adds. 

“In addition to financial support, we help participants navigate the post-secondary system, which can be confusing and intimidating.” 

Another success story

Robyn, 26, who chose not to use her last name, was diagnosed with MS when she was just 21 years old. By the time she was 23, she wasn’t able to keep working where she was. 

“I was so happy with how they helped me in so many different ways,” Robyn says, adding she worked with a career counsellor and they helped her reach her goals. 

Now, after several months of working with the organization, she’s almost done her Continuing Education Certificate course at Bow Valley College and she will receive her bookkeeping certificate. 

“They provided me with an extra support system to prepare to go back to work,” Robyn explains, adding they’ve helped her in a variety of ways including paying for her course. 

Robyn says she’s happy to be in a place where she can go back to work again with the extra support Gateway Association has given her. 

“My whole life changed after I got sick. I had to rethink some things and I didn’t know how to go about going back to work and navigating everything. I didn’t know how to do any of it,” she says. 

“I didn’t even know that programs like this existed. I’m really glad that I reached out. I can’t thank them enough for the help they have given. ” 

It’s a win-win situation 

Gateway Association’s employer partners have access to an untapped talent pool of skilled, trained candidates who add value to their workplaces and teams. 

“The candidates we put forward are keen to work — retention rates among people with disabilities are much higher than people without disabilities,” Grabinsky says. 

The organization offers resources and support with planning for workplace accommodations, onboarding, and training so that job matches are successful. 

Many of the small businesses the group works with do not have HR teams or experience with workplace accommodations, so they support them to build their capacity.

“And 22% of working-aged Canadians identify as having a disability and disability is diversity. With companies increasingly turning their focus towards equity, diversity and inclusion we want employers to think about disability in a new way,” Grabinsky adds. 

Participants can meet with their career consultant, attend workshops and participate in training or education opportunities online.

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Krista Sylvester

Managing Editor at Calgary Citizen

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