Valued, respected and included

Ian Clark and his employer blaze a trail for others to follow

Not everyone finds a job where you like your co-workers, the work environment and the work that you do.

It’s even less likely for an individual with a disability, challenged by the myths and misconceptions that often frustrate their efforts to find meaningful employment.

But Ian Clark recently celebrated his first anniversary working as a customer service representative for TD Bank and he is quite happy to celebrate many more.

“If I had to recommend a place of employment to anyone I would recommend TD in a heartbeat,” he said. “The people there on a scale of 1-10 are more than a 10. It’s a great place to work.”

Ian returned to full-time work after a 25-year hiatus thanks to Ottawa’s Employment Accessibil-ity Resource Network (EARN). EARN is a United Way-led community initiative that brings to-gether employers and service providers with a goal of increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. TD is an employer founding member.

“We are building a unique and inclusive workplace where every employee is valued, respected and can reach their full potential,” said Christine Stigter, Senior Manager, Diversity and Inclu-sion, TD.

Time to take action

Ian was born with a condition that led to progressive vision loss and has been legally blind since 1987.

“I’ve always known my vision would end up this way,” he said. “Fortunately I had many years to prepare and get used to it.”

Ian left his position with the federal government and secured benefits through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). In the years that followed, he carried out volunteer work and fundraised for the guide dog school that has provided him with two furry companions – first Gareth and now Admiral Pike.

But then the time came for a change.

“It was probably because I’m stubborn, and I didn’t want to stay on ODSP the rest of my life,” Ian said. “I finally wanted to get out of my four walls and go do something.”

Despite his employment background, Ian opted to search for employment in the private sector, where he believed there was a greater opportunity to make a difference.

But where to start?

Ian’s ODSP employment support specialist referred him to a number of service organizations who could help. This led him to Linda Simpson and her team at Performance Plus Rehabilitative Care (PPRC).

PPRC, a service provider partner and founding member of EARN, works under contract with ODSP to help people with physical or developmental disabilities, as well as those who are coming off of any kind of disability leave, find gainful employment.

“Linda is a lovely lady and we’ve had a great working relationship since we started,” Ian said.

PPRC worked with Ian to prepare him for a return to the workforce, beginning with an employment readiness assessment that identified his challenge areas. Chief among them was computer skills. PPRC secured training and funding from ODSP for a screen reading software called JAWS (Job Access With Speech).

And it was Linda who suggested he pursue an opportunity with TD in Ottawa.

“Linda gave great feedback as well as career coaching based on my abilities,” Ian said. “Customer service was a job I had good skills for.”

Ian found at TD a culture that embraces diversity and fosters a comfortable and inclusive environment. In addition to adaptive technology and software at his workstation, the building where he works has several features to enhance accessibility, such as automatic door openers, accessible washrooms and elevators equipped with voice annunciation for the visually impaired.

And of course, TD and the colleagues with whom Ian works have been just as accommodating to his service dog, Admiral Pike.

“They treat me as a person and a human being and not someone who has a disability,” he said. “And that’s all I want – don’t treat me any differently.”

Ian’s advice to others to others?

“Don’t close yourself off to anything,” he said. “Take the time to find out about opportunities that may exist. Some people who have been out of the workforce for a long time may be afraid to take steps to get help in finding a good job. You don’t know until you try and there are a lot of people who can help.”