Increasing Employment Opportunities for People with Developmental Disabilities: Working it Out

A summary of the Community Living British Columbia Employment Summit held last week in Vancouver

Like other Canadians of working age, people with developmental disabilities want and need to work. They are very much underrepresented in the workforce. Only 33 per cent of people with developmental disabilities participate in the labour force in contrast to 75 per cent of people without disabilities. [1]

Close to 180 individuals from across the province participated in the Community Living British Columbia (CLBC) Employment Summit on October 22nd and 23rd to imagine a future in which British Columbia has the highest employment rate for people with developmental disabilities in North America. The goal of the Summit was to build a provincial Community Action Employment Plan that will achieve this vision in three years.

For two intensive but inspiring days, service providers, families, Self-Advocates, employers and others engaged in conversations to identify actions, strategies, initiatives and other promising ideas needed to facilitate change towards a future with more employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. They built on the information that has been gathered throughout BC communities over the last several months.

Speakers shared stories about people with developmental disabilities gaining and holding jobs —inspiring stories illustrating the very real impact employment has on individuals, employers and families. Fittingly, the conference slogan was “We Can WORK It Out” and, as a delightful added touch, participants were frequently treated to the Beatle’s song. Notably, results from this conference will help co-create the Community Action Employment Plan.

For Community Living BC, the conference marked an important step in their ongoing Employment Initiative aimed at increasing employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. First initiated in 2008, this strategy promotes a culture of “Employment First” throughout communities. It has included, for example, a three-year test of a “customized employment” approach in which CLBC staff work closely with clients and employers to find a win-win job fit.


To learn more about the Employment First policies and practices and its implementation in various US states, see the Webinar presentation by Dr. Laura Owens, the Executive Director of the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE), a national organization focusing on the advancement of integrated employment for citizens with disabilities.

For more information about CLBC’s Employment Initiative, click here.

[1] Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006, Statistics Canada