From Walmart Cashier to a Cabinet Minister’s Staff

By the time she graduated high school at the age of 17, Sophie Cleroux had endured a coma, three surgeries and the implantation of a pacemaker thanks to a heart condition that left her with a learning disability.

Such challenges would have left many people in her circumstances discouraged about the future, with low expectations about what they could achieve in terms of work and career, but not Sophie.  

“People always told me that I would go far in life because I am a fighter,” she said. “When someone tells me I can’t do something, I fight twice as hard and never give up.”

During high school Sophie worked at Walmart as a cashier. While she did well in this position, she wanted more for herself. However, employment options were limited due to her learning disability, which makes it difficult for her to communicate through writing or work with written material.

But one day while in downtown Ottawa, she saw a sign advertising an information session for an employment program for people with disabilities. This led her to Linda Simpson and the team at Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care (PPRC).
PPRC is not an employment agency, but it does help people with physical or developmental disabilities, as well as those who are coming off of any kind of disability leave, get their foot in the door with employers. It specializes in finding a strong match that will result in a productive long-term relationship.

PPRC’s services are offered under the auspices of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) at no cost to clients such as Sophie. Instead, the Ontario government provides funds to PPRC to help clients find gainful employment that will eliminate their reliance on government assistance. PPRC also helped Sophie go through the process with a third-party psychologist to qualify as a member of a visible minority due to her disability. This qualification allowed Sophie to obtain accommodation during her testing for the Public Service Commission. A member of the PPRC then served as Sophie’s reader during her written PSC test.

Thanks to the support of Linda and her team, Sophie secured a number of office admin roles through local temp agencies. Not only did this build her skills and experience, it demonstrated that, despite her disability, Sophie was quite capable of working in a white collar environment and dealing with a myriad of administrative tasks, from managing expense reports to staffing a busy reception desk. She continued to improve her qualifications, including taking the training courses necessary to meet the bilingualism requirements of the public service.

Today, at 23, Sophie has full-time permanent employment with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). She is a CR5-level clerk and is moving up to a position on the staff of the minister. Always one to set goals for herself, Sophie planned to buy her first home by the age of 25, but she has already achieved that milestone, having recently purchased a condo.

She credits her success to the support and help she received from the team at PPRC. “Linda helped me a lot and I wouldn’t be where I am if not for her.”

But ultimately, it all began with her desire and drive to take control of her own life.

“If you stay in your house and say you can’t do something, then you can’t do something,” Sophie said. “You have to avoid negativity and letting your condition get in the way of your life. No matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone else with more challenges than you.”