Mom Backs Disabled Son's Business Venture

By Sharon Hill, The Windsor Star May 17, 2010

Anne Marie Fantin has worried about what job her son Eric could find ever since he entered grade school.

It sounds like a typical mom thing until you hear about the fear, anxiety and sadness that sometimes envelopes a parent with an intellectually challenged child.

"What happens to him when I'm gone? Who's going to take care of him and make sure they're living a quality of life they deserve?"

Eric, who turns 18 in July, just started his own lawn care business and Anne Marie, a registered nurse, plans to change careers and take horticulture classes at St. Clair College in the fall so she can help his business grow. The Leamington single mom isn't stopping there. With a kick start from Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley's challenge to hire more people with disabilities, Anne Marie wants to make it easier for other parents and other people with disabilities.

Myths include thinking people with disabilities will be absent more, won't work as hard, will be more prone to on-the-job injuries or cost more to accommodate. But staff at Community Living Windsor say studies have shown that's not true.

"The general public thinks when it comes to barriers with any kind of disability, the barrier lies with the person who has a disability. That's not true. The barrier lies with us," said Melodie Cook, operations director with Community Living Windsor which provides support for about 500 people with an intellectual disability and their families.

To help employers, Community Living is raising awareness and will send someone along with a worker at a new job and follow up to make sure the job is working out for the employer and employee. The Windsor organization looks for needs in the community and has trained people in food preparation to help 50 people find jobs in the last four years.

The Essex County version of Community Living helps about 600 people. Some progress has been made, says Tony DeSantis, manager of community relations and resource development. We are moving away from sheltered workshops and society has gone from housing people in institutions to bringing them back into the community.

"A big part of being a part of the community is employment," DeSantis said.

One of the local success stories is Lakeside Produce, which hired a worker through Community Living about nine months ago for the greenhouse vegetable packing line. Now he's an assistant supervisor over eight to 10 packers.

"He's always on time. His work effort is second to none," said Lakeside Produce account manager Matt McShane.

He said the Leamington company has hired two people with disabilities and would hire more.

"Everyone should be given an equal chance to show what they have," McShane said.

If you think it's tough finding a job in a recession, think of people with disabilities where the job market is always in a depression.

People with disabilities have a 49 per cent unemployment rate, said Joe Dale, executive director with the Ontario Disability Employment Network. But the real statistic is likely closer to 70 per cent since people who haven't been employed aren't included in the statistics.

People with disabilities who have jobs tend to get part time work — 70 per find entry level service jobs — and can see their hours cut during hard times.

Dale said it's a hidden issue. Almost 16 per cent of Canada's population is disabled. That's 5.3 million people or the combined population of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, he said. In Ontario there are at least 1.85 million people or one in seven people with a disability and that will increase as the population ages, he said. He didn't have the number of people with intellectual disabilities.

Dale said the maximum benefit someone with a disability can receive is about $11,000 a year.

In January, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley dared all mayors in Ontario to hire people with disabilities. The Community Living group in Sarnia asked him to issue the challenge and the response has been "tremendous," Bradley said.

Essex County stood out in the awareness challenge as Community Living groups and people with intellectual challenges got to meet with local mayors, he said. A survey of how many people with disabilities got jobs as a result of the challenge is being done. Sarnia has nine disabled employees and could add more.

"It's been a success," Bradley said. "We're knocking down some barriers of mindsets."

Anne Marie Fantin hopes her son's business will grow to where he can hire workers and inspire others with disabilities. She wants to challenge local employers and find six businesses willing to hire people with intellectual difficulties.

"It's time to look at people as people, not at the disability."

Bradley will be the guest speaker May 26 at a noon luncheon for local mayors and businesses at Kingsville's pavilion in Lakeside Park.

Business owners and employers who are interested in attending the free luncheon can call Tony DeSantis at (519) 776-6483, ext 246, and RSVP by May 21.

© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star

Reproduced from http://www.windsorstar.com/health/backs+disabled+business+venture/3039497/story.html

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