Canadian Social Enterprises create healthy, vibrant communities by supporting persons with disabilities

Jun 27th, 2022

Certified Social Enterprise OneLight

In Canada, there are nearly 645,000 individuals with disabilities aged 25-64 who are able to work, but not currently employed (Statistics Canada). Work is something which brings meaning to many people’s lives, as well as providing structure, connection to the community, and a stable income. As labour market demands grow, this represents a group of potential employees which could give contribute to their communities and economies.

We can see the positive impacts of inclusive work in the testimonials of employees from OneLight, a Buy Social Canada Certified Social Enterprise in Powell River, BC.

“It’s raised my self-esteem a lot and my feeling of usefulness. I wasn’t employed for a long time and OneLight provides that,” says Craig, employee participant.

Michelle, another employee, shared the impact that meaningful and supportive work has had in her life:

“I have a disability and it’s really hard to get jobs. It’s nice to have a job that knows I have a disability and I can just be myself there. There’s a total sense of belonging. What it has done is, it’s made me less depressed. It’s made me have more confidence in myself. It’s made me less suicidal; I used to feel really suicidal. It is a huge deal. OneLight’s really important.”

Created by Inclusion Powell River in 2021 as a pilot project to test the benefits of a truly inclusive workspace, employees at OneLight create sustainable fire starters from recycled materials in a workspace that commits to having at least 60% of staff be persons with disabilities.

In their year one report, OneLight shared that of their employees, 68% had been unemployed prior to working with them, and 82% said “the best part of being involved in OneLight is participating in something meaningful.”

As of 2017, one in five (22%) of the Canadian population aged 15 or older had at least one disability (Statistics Canada). Research shows that among this group of roughly 6.2 million people, persons with disabilities are less likely to be employed with a 59% employment rate compared to 80% employment for persons without disabilities, and “as the level of severity increased, the likelihood of being employed decreased.”

Social enterprises working with disabled persons are a vital part of bringing vibrancy, economic development, and support to communities across Canada. Many enterprises have taken up this work, while providing a wide range of goods and services to purchasers.

55 years ago, Dartmouth Adult Services Centre (DASC) in Nova Scotia, was established as a non-profit social enterprise to support adults with intellectual disabilities, dual diagnosis, and/or fragile health and complex needs. They serve nearly 200 people annually through a diverse range of services including community employment, vocational skills development, life enhancement, active lifestyles, recreation and leisure, and youth programs. Revenue generated through their social enterprise from the rental of modern boardrooms, production of buttons, or business contracts such as labelling, assembly, mailing, and packaging, helps DASC provide services for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Established by the SAAAC Autism Centre, Goodness Gift trains and employs young adults with exceptionalities, who have little access to support after they are out of school to make gift boxes that can be shipped across Canada. Employees are engaged in all aspects of the Goodness Gift team, from order processing to inventory management to the packaging and delivery of goods.

Gateway Navigation CCC Limited is a unique social enterprise bringing together social innovation and for-profit sustainability. It was founded in 2017 by individuals and organizations including the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) who share a lived experience in disability and a passion to make a difference in our communities. Their social and business objective is to create a more accessible and inclusive world through applying human centred design in the use of inclusive audio-based (digital) augmented reality networks. For example, they have used lidar to map Pacific Centre Mall in Vancouver and people who are visually impaired can use this to navigate the space.

LakeCity Works in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, supports people living with mental illness to build their strengths, take on responsibilities, and access work experience, education, and employment. Running since 1972, the enterprise first began as a therapeutic woodworking facility but has since established itself as a social enterprise selling a variety of items including picnic tables, cribbage boards and other gifts, custom furniture, and more.

In Winnipeg, Polished Cleaning Services, formerly Clean Ventures, was established by Manitoba Possible. If you want to receive customized, world-class cleaning while providing meaningful work for people who face barriers to employment, Polished Cleaning Services offers a highly-trained, highly-skilled workforce from many backgrounds: people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, newcomers to Canada, and those living with disabilities.

We believe that supporting Certified Social Enterprises like those listed above is the key to creating community capital. Implement social procurement to create opportunities for persons with disabilities.

If you are a social enterprise looking to grow and expand your market opportunities, visit our Social Enterprise Certification page. To connect with or buy from a social enterprise near you, check out the Certified Social Enterprise Directory.

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