Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget has small boosts for training programs helping Canadians with intellectual disabilities get to work.

By: Staff Reporter, Staff Reporter, Toronto Star.

OTTAWA—Job training for Canadians with intellectual disabilities will receive a modest boost in cash from Ottawa, but experts say the money will go a long way.

The 2014 federal budget, tabled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Tuesday, includes $26.4 million over four years to help expand two training programs connecting Canadians with intellectual disabilities and employers.

The funding includes $15 million over three years for the Canadian Association for Community Living’s Ready, Willing and Able initiative, encourages employers to hire youth and working-age people with developmental disabilities.

“The assumption is you graduate high school and you go on welfare. That’s the trajectory for people with intellectual disabilities in this country,” said Michael Bach, the executive vice-president of CACL.

“There’s some great examples of programs that are helping people shift into the labour market, but (they are) small scale. So what we want to do use this initiative to scale up what we know works by tapping the leadership of employers.”

The initiative recently signed a partnership with wholesale giant Costco and their 20 stores in the GTA. The federal funding will help connect another 1,200 people with jobs over the next three years, Bach said.

The budget also commits $11.4 million over four years to support vocational training for Canadians with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The joint initiative from the Sinneave Family Foundation and Autism Speaks Canada helps approximately 1,200 youth a year at vocational training centres across Canada.

Richard Burelle, the executive director of Autism Society Canada, said people with ASD often face initial barriers that, once overcome, lead to a “win-win” for both employer and employee.

“Imagine going to a job interview and not being able to look at the interviewer in the eye,” Burelle said. “For sure you’re not going to get past that stage. So we need to help educate the employer, let them know that these people, if you give them the right environment, they will flourish and they will help your company flourish.”

A Star series on the challenges facing youth and adults with autism estimated at least 100,000 adults have ASD in Ontario, including as many as 20,000 in their 20s.

Carole Ann MacDonald, a high-functioning adult with autism, said she was grateful that the government was putting money toward the autism community in an otherwise tight budget.

“We’ve been waiting a long time as a community for this type of funding,” she said.

MacDonald said she would like to see more funding to help individuals who don’t necessarily need just vocational training, but broader classes to improve their skills to make themselves more marketable.

For example, MacDonald said, she would like to take a social skills class to help her get a promotion.

“Right now I’m a teacher and I want to become a vice-principal. So I would love to take a course on how to improve my communication so that I can be a better communicator so I could possibly be considered for a promotion.”

Margaret Spoelstra, the executive director of Autism Ontario, said she hoped the money will encourage employers to hire people on the autism spectrum.

“Having those dollars available allows us to provide that type of training that is necessary to help those individuals be competitive in getting jobs,” she said.

“So many people — young people — with autism spectrum disorder graduate from high school straight to the couch at home,” she said. “It’s lost opportunities for them.”

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