Common wisdom states that you should never disclose a disability on a job application. In fact, one study found that 75% of respondents said the risk of not being hired was enough to prevent them from ever disclosing their disabilities. Mention disability on a job application, career advice so often says, and watch your resume slip quietly to the bottom of the slush pile.
Much as we’d like to claim otherwise, there’s a nugget of uncomfortable truth buried in this approach. One of the reasons the unemployment rate is disproportionately high among people with disabilities is that there are fewer opportunities. No law or regulation is powerful enough to change minds, and employer attitudes still act as a roadblock for prospective candidates. Organizations like DECSA are continually working to abolish harmful myths about disability in the workplace, but our reach isn’t limitless and the wider world has a long way to go before the field is truly equal.
All is not bleak, however. Positive messaging about inclusive hiring, especially from influential corporations like Starbucks and Tim Hortons is helping employers and candidates realize that disability and employment need not be treated like oil and water. Equal opportunity employers are reaping the benefits of diverse hiring practices, encouraging everyone else to take the leap.
So, given the many success stories and the widespread promotion of disability awareness, there has never been a safer time to disclose a disability early in the job application process. It may not be the best decision in every case, but disclosure should no longer be universally discouraged.
You may well ask: “Why should I take the risk? Just because it might not jeopardize my career doesn’t mean it will help, right?” James Gower, who has Cerebral Palsy, explains that in specific situations, disclosure is not only safe, but advantageous. Choosing to disclose his disability on an application form allowed him to speak freely and extensively about the disability-related skills he had learned, such as adaptive sports, which may not have been strictly job-related but certainly demonstrated his flexibility and perseverance. James also points out that desirable traits, such as self-awareness, are sometimes enhanced by the very presence of disability. In this way, people with disabilities can give themselves a competitive edge in a time when standing out in the crowd is more important than ever.
One of DECSA’s Communications Specialists describes how disclosing her visual impairment in her cover letter actually bolstered her application:
It took a tremendous amount of courage to disclose my disability before the interview. I’d never done so before, and it went against all the advice I’d ever been given. I knew DECSA was open to candidates with disabilities, though, so I used that openness to give my application a memorable touch. I referenced my own personal advocacy in the disability community, linked to my blog, and illustrated how my intimate knowledge of one of DECSA’s client groups would help me serve their organization exceptionally well. I can’t say whether this improved my chances, but it really cut down on the pre-interview jitters—how will they react when they find out, and so on—and it definitely didn’t hurt my chances, either. I had all the right credentials and great references, but I think that disclosure may have given my application particular relevance.
Pre-disclosure can serve as more than an application boost, though. There may be cases when revealing a disability before the interview stage is necessary. For example, if a learning disability will affect skills testing or any other part of the interview process, it would be imprudent not to disclose it beforehand so that proper accommodations can be made. As James Gower points out, those with physical disabilities may require special accommodations at the interview, such as a suitable chair or an accessible entrance. Failing to disclose may result in avoidable anxiety and stress for both candidates and interviewers.
Most of the time, disability is just a personal trait like any other, and has little or nothing to do with the application process. Disclosing a disability when it’s irrelevant to the job search is unnecessary and even risky, so it’s best to exercise caution when doing so. That being said, it’s time we move away from a global practice of concealment and secrecy, toward a world where disability is neither feared nor penalized. Ideally, we at DECSA would like to see an open, inclusive application process for every career path. Until then, evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis, and see where your job search takes you.
DECSA is an inclusive organization that celebrates and promotes diversity in all its forms. If you have a disability and would like assistance with your job search, contact us.
Today is Valentine’s Day—a day for the celebration of lasting love and giddy infatuation—and all across Canada, teenaged couples are indulging in a little romance. Young love has a special magic all its own. According to a survey by Michigan State University, 75% of middle schoolers have been in a relationship by the time they’ve reached eighth grade. Dating, it seems, is as popular among teens as it’s ever been.
There can be, however, a darker side to teen relationships. Inexperienced as they are, they often struggle with basic elements of a romantic relationship. They deal with the same communication problems as adult couples, but often lack the emotional intelligence to solve them. Struggling to manage strong feelings, like jealousy, can also lead to conflict in what might otherwise be an idyllic partnership. When life gets complicated, many teenaged couples are ill-equipped to handle it.
An uncomfortably common result of these issues is dating violence, which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines as “the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.” No one wants to think of young people committing violence against each other, but it’s an unfortunate reality we must all face if we wish to protect victims and prevent further violence. Since roughly 30% of teens say they’ve been a victim of dating violence, this is not an issue we can afford to ignore.
What to Look For
The CDC emphasizes the importance of recognizing warning signs. You’ll find that most signs are identical to those you’d notice in an abusive adult relationship. Watch for these dynamics:
- The victim loses interest in their favourite activities and suffers other symptoms of depression.
- The victim frequently apologizes and/or explains away their partner’s behaviour.
- The perpetrator frequently demeans the victim in front of their peers. The victim has unexplained injuries they’re unwilling to discuss.
- The victim has an extremely jealous partner, who exhibits controlling behaviour and monitors the victim constantly.
- The victim resorts to substance abuse and other risk-taking behaviour.
It’s not always easy to spot dating violence, because some cases are less obvious. Indeed, some teen relationships can seem outwardly perfect, especially if the perpetrator is savvy enough to refrain from abusing their partner in any noticeable way. Crystal Sanchez describes her abusive relationship in stages. First, the infatuation, the charm, and the belief that she was special. Then came the subtle abuse, which fooled her into believing “jealousy was adoration.” Finally, her partner began to physically abuse her. She was held at gunpoint, punched into unconsciousness, emotionally manipulated via suicide threats, and nearly killed multiple times because of her partner’s dangerous driving. It took her eight years to free herself, and all throughout that time, no one really suspected what was happening to her because all the abuse took place where her friends and family could not witness it.
Don’t Let Myths Mislead You
In other cases, the abuse is overlooked because several myths surround teen relationships. For example, many believe that teens who come from loving, secure homes would never tolerate abuse and would report it immediately. As one anonymous woman explains, this is far from true. Even her loving, supportive family was unable to shield her from her abusive partner, because they assumed it would never happen to her. She was a strong, confident girl who always said she’d “never let a man hit [her].” Still, she fell for a vulnerable, harmless-seeming boy who convinced her that he was in need of nurturance, and only she could provide it. By the time she realized her relationship was unhealthy, she was in too deep to report it.
The most persistent myth appears to be that victims are always female. As we’ve discussed in the past, men and boys can fall prey to violence and abuse, but rarely report out of fear and shame. For teenaged boys, image is everything, so it can be doubly difficult to come out as a victim of dating violence.
Dating violence has long-term consequences beyond bruises and humiliation. It is so often a pipeline to repeat victimization, exploitation, and substance abuse. Victims can become permanently isolated from family and friends. They tend to abandon their dreams and goals because of unwanted pregnancy, prolonged drug use, a criminal record (in the perpetrator’s case), and mental health issues. According to research conducted by Cornell University, both victims and perpetrators may also find it impossible to maintain lasting, healthy relationships, because their past has damaged their concept of love and respect.
What can be done?
It turns out that it’s not enough to be alert for warning signs. Prevention needs to be everyone’s ultimate goal. One of the best ways to do this, as Ms. Sanchez points out, is to talk about it. Discuss dating violence with young people early on, even before middle school. Give it a name, explain what it looks like, and assure teens that they are always welcome to come forward. Education isn’t just for potential victims: potential perpetrators also benefit from learning about dating violence, which they may not always understand is unacceptable. Society has a way of tacitly enabling violence, so it’s not guaranteed that they’ll be able to filter these messages effectively.
Dating is a vital part of a teen’s emotional development, and the solution is not to discourage it from occurring. Instead, we must arm them with the tools and knowledge to navigate healthy relationships and exit unhealthy ones. Teach them what to look for, guide them as they grow, and the chances of violence, and its accompanying long-term consequences, will decrease.
Have you ever been asked whether your social media profiles are resume-ready? Polishing your social media presence is a process that mostly involves common sense. For instance, the general public is aware that posting photos from the latest wild party is a risky choice. The last thing you want hiring managers to come across when Googling you—and they will Google you—is a rage-fuelled, work-related rant.
As DECSA’s Communications Specialists will be quick to tell you, though, preparing your online presence for professional scrutiny is more complicated than removing offensive content. Today, our Community Relations team will be presenting a FAQ about shaping and maintaining a professional but personalized online presence.
Do hiring managers really care about what I do with my social media profiles?
As it turns out, they care an awful lot. One study found that 93% of hiring managers do some degree of online digging before contacting interviewees. If you don’t pass this initial screening, you won’t even be considered for an interview—and as you can imagine, that will take a serious toll on your career. In this competitive job market, you have to remember that your resume might be one of dozens or even hundreds, so you have to make an exceptional first impression before you’ve even met your interviewer(s).
Where should I begin?
The first step is probably the lengthiest. Before you start sending out resumes, you should conduct a purge of all your social media profiles. Flag any potentially offensive or unprofessional content that is open to the public. Adjust your privacy settings to manage what people can see. It’s fine to be uncensored in private spaces, but social media is rarely as private as we’d like it to be.
Remember to Google yourself to find out what has been posted about you. While you can’t control every word that’s linked with your name, being aware of what’s out there is essential. Knowledge is power.
What kind of content could get me in trouble?
Well, there’s the obvious stuff: take down or hide any unflattering photos; employers won’t be charmed by that keg you’re posing next to. Get rid of that profanity-filled rant you published in the heat of the moment. While no one expects you to be upbeat and positive all the time, it’s a good idea to keep the outrage to a reasonable level.
We should warn you that there are innocent-seeming posts that can turn employers off very quickly. Remember that time you tweeted about how talented you are at procrastinating? How about that Facebook post describing your less-than-stellar organizational skills? Everyone is human and therefore imperfect. Hiring managers ought to keep that in mind, but broadcasting your flaws for the world to see could jeopardize your career, especially if your field depends upon organizational skills and a healthy respect for deadlines.
Even if your online presence isn’t objectively offensive, your views and behaviour may not align with company culture, and that could become a stumbling block down the line.
Would it be safer to simply delete or lock down all my accounts?
Definitely not! While we don’t advise disregarding your right to privacy—we’re ardent proponents of work-life balance—we recommend that you keep at least some of your online presence public. It’s perfectly acceptable and even wise to designate one or more of your accounts as a safe space to detach from professional matters, but it’s beneficial to dedicate an account or two to showcasing yourself as a valuable member of your industry.
Share informative material that’s relevant to your chosen field, follow influential industry leaders, and take advantage of online networking opportunities.
So you’re saying I can’t be myself online?
Actually, your personal brand will thrive if you present yourself as authentically as possible. Hiring managers are interested in more than your academic credentials and work experience. They want to select someone who will be a suitable fit for their organization, so letting your personality shine through is a significant career asset. There’s a difference between being attractive to the professional world and stifling your identity. You can have the most impressive resume around, but if you don’t come across as a cooperative, positive contributor to an organization’s culture, chances are you won’t be getting that call-back.
All of this seems really complicated. Is social media more of a threat to my career than a benefit?
Don’t be discouraged: it’s simpler than it sounds, and if you think strategically about what you post, the maintenance will seem like a breeze. In the end, you have to put social media to work. Approach your online presence like the marketing tool that it is. Establish an online portfolio, keep your LinkedIn account up-to-date, and feel free to share professional and personal accomplishments. Use social media as a space for putting yourself out there. If you make the necessary effort, you’ll certainly reap the reward. Take it from us: social media is your friend. Treat it like one.
In honour of Bell Let’s Talk day, we’d like to address mental health—a topic very dear to our vision and mission.
Despite the many public initiatives, awareness campaigns, and personal stories meant to debunk myths and celebrate acceptance, stigma and shame associated with mental illness seems to reign supreme. Canadians’ fear and anxiety, rarely justifiable as it is, erects unnecessary and intimidating barriers between those with mental illness and the treatment that could save their lives. Since mental illness affects all of us, it’s more important than ever that we show support and solidarity, today and every day.
Canada’s troubling mental health landscape can be illustrated by disturbing statistics assembled by the Canadian Mental Health Association:
• 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives.
• Roughly 50% of those dealing with mental health issues never seek medical help.
• Mental illness, treated or untreated, costs the Canadian health care system billions of dollars annually.
• Men are especially at risk, taking their own lives four times as often as women.
• 24% of deaths among youth are a result of suicide.
• A staggering 3.2 million youth in Canada have experienced a depressive episode.
There is a promising statistic, however: the CMHA claims that, when help is sought, 80% of patients will benefit significantly from treatment.
If these statistics are any indication, mental health should concern all Canadians. It’s safe to say this is a national problem, one which both government and individual citizens must work to alleviate.
Immigration and Mental Health
Canada’s Mental Health Commission addresses cultural diversity which, while being a source of enrichment for Canadian culture as a whole, can also result in an inability to pursue professional help. Recent immigrants often endure feelings of displacement and culture shock, making it difficult for them to find appropriate resources and express themselves to health care professionals who may not understand cultural context. Some immigrants’ needs can be adequately met by expanding existing services, but other groups require new services that Canada does not yet have in place. The cultivation of cultural intelligence is vital to ensuring that suitable supports are always available to immigrants who need them.
Of course, not all immigrants are prepared to request medical help. They often grapple with the conflicting expectations of their families, Canadian society, and themselves. Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk trumpet the value of openness, but not all cultures view mental illness with such acceptance. Disclosing a mental health condition can subject the patient to ridicule and shame. They may be accused of weakness. For example, Chinese women may not confess to feeling depressed because anything other than a cheerful disposition is regarded as a character flaw. So, some of the burden of improving mental health rests within immigrant communities. Society must welcome those who are able to come forward, showing them the warmth and understanding they may not find elsewhere.
Trauma and Substance Abuse among First Nations Communities
Health Canada’s website devotes a page to listing the specific challenges faced by First Nations people. Citing the trauma caused by the legacy of residential schools and colonial oppression, the article explains that it remains impactful and harmful today. There may be few people alive to describe the horrors they lived through, but trauma is cumulative, and is passed down to children and grandchildren. The accumulation of trauma leads to unstable mental health in Aboriginal communities.
Many First Nations people, particularly youth, turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Addiction, already prevalent in Canada, is especially common and widespread in First Nations communities. Substance abuse can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, which only adds to the troubled landscape surrounding Aboriginal people.
Hope can be found in programs that focus on addiction treatment, recovery from trauma, and reconciliation. Due to disproportionately high suicide rates, programs targeting suicide prevention, particularly among youth, are also highly effective.
Mental Health on Campus
In recent years, Canadian postsecondary institutions have had to acknowledge a growing mental health crisis among their students. A mix of increasing academic pressure, unemployment, and the inherent issues faced by all young people—for it has never been easy to be young—conspire to decrease students’ general well-being. Academic life has always been challenging, but the strain students find themselves under seems to have grown exponentially. Some educators believe that this is partially the fault of primary and secondary education, which tends to emphasize self-esteem and an “everyone is a winner” mentality that is incompatible with postsecondary standards. Students may be less resilient, and a bad grade can throw them badly off course. Minor setbacks can have devastating effects.
Compounding the problem is the coping mechanism many students choose: the use of drugs, especially stimulants, leads to problems with substance abuse and addiction.
Typically, students prefer to rely on student-led programs to guide them through the process of improving their general mental health. Peer support is an essential part of the postsecondary experience. Policies encouraging mental health awareness can also do a great deal of good.
What We Can Do
Besides advocating for policies that will make affordable, effective care available to all mentally ill Canadians, there is a lot we can do as individuals to assist those who need us most.
• Listen: active, compassionate listening is a valuable skill that can make it easier to facilitate openness and acceptance. An attentive, nonjudgmental ear can make a world of difference.
• Speak up: use your voice to promote mental health awareness, and place pressure on those in power to implement mental health strategies aimed at improving the health of all Canadians.
• Reach out: if you are dealing with mental health challenges, do not do so in isolation. Talk to loved ones, and seek medical help if necessary. Mental illness is as legitimate and serious as physical illness; you cannot afford to ignore it.
DECSA is committed to mental health advocacy, especially when it comes to preserving the right of all Albertans to work. If you or someone you know feels trapped by barriers associated with employment and education, contact us. Our doors are always open.
Whom do you picture when you hear the words “sexual exploitation?” How about “human trafficking?” “Prostitution?”
Research suggests you’re probably picturing a woman, as this is the image associated most strongly and persistently with victims of sexual exploitation. The media have been instrumental in perpetuating this stereotype, even though it silences and ostracizes an important demographic: men.
We may think of men as perpetrators of sexual exploitation far more often than as victims, except perhaps when it comes to prison culture. When society addresses sexual violence and exploitation, particularly in the trafficking industry, it’s usually addressing young women.
Besides the fact that men outnumber women in industries outside of commercial sex trafficking (such as labour trafficking), they also make up a not insignificant number of victims in the sex trade. After all, one victim is still one too many.
Focused as it is on hypermasculine ideals of manly strength and power, society’s reaction to the notion of male victimhood makes it more difficult for men to report their experiences. They may feel emasculated by what they have done and had done to them, believing their manhood has been compromised. While they generally have the same reactions women do when dealing with sexual violence, men may respond more readily with anger, and tend to turn to substance abuse to erase or at least manage the effects of trauma. As they confront these issues, they are left to do so mostly alone, with few front-line workers from schools, shelters and other social organizations available to offer support. For many front-line workers, sexual exploitation of males just isn’t on their radar.
Worse still, men can face resistance and stigma when they do choose to report. If they are believed, which is not a given, they may make themselves vulnerable to ridicule and shame. Enduring the victim-blaming typically aimed at women victims is hard enough: why didn’t they just leave? Was there any chance that they deserved to be abused? Was it really exploitation if they were “working?”
In addition, they must battle questions geared more toward masculinity: why did they allow themselves to be exploited? Were they not “man enough” to find a way out? Some victims even struggle with the physiological responses of their bodies—did they secretly enjoy what was happening to them? Has their victimhood been cancelled out by physical processes beyond their control?
So, what with prescribed gender roles, societal expectations, and a misinformed public, what can be done?
The consensus seems to be that barriers between men and crucial supports need to be removed. First responders and other Front-line workers who administer help and guidance to victims of sexual exploitation need to remain aware that men are potential victims. Men must have ready and barrier-free access to support as they navigate away from exploitation and toward personal freedom. Men must be believed, validated, and empowered. Most importantly of all, sexual exploitation of men must be studied more comprehensively so that the best possible support can be provided. The field is flooded with statistics about women; it’s time more research targeted men.
One of DECSA’s main goals is to help both men and women free themselves from sexual exploitation. We run a 20-week Transitions program, open to men, women, and transgender individuals who have past or current involvement in the sex trade. In January, two groups—one for those identifying as female, the other for those identifying as male—begin their journey in the Transitions program. While women participants have already begun, the men’s group will start on January 27th.
If you wish to exit the sex trade, we encourage you to contact us to see whether you qualify for one of our program groups. We welcome the opportunity to help, so please get in touch.
The job hunt is unpredictable: there’s no way to know how long it will take or what the results will be. This unpredictability should never be used as an excuse not to conduct the most organized and efficient search possible, though. Yes, job hunting is somewhat influenced by luck, but many unsuccessful, frustrated job-seekers are going about things in entirely the wrong way.
Here are a few reasons your job search might not be going as well as you’d like, and some ways to turn it around.
If you’re reading this after having spent two hours firing off resumes from your bed, this section is for you.
There’s a reason the phrase “looking for a job is your job” is so often spoken. This piece of well-worn wisdom has solid roots. If you approach your job search as a disorganized, chance-based process, it will lead to unnecessary stress and exhaustion.
Treat your search like a new job. Set goals for yourself and stick to them. For example, decide how many resumes you want to send out in any given week, and aim to meet those expectations, just as you would in any other job. Targets, plans, and deadlines are excellent methods of organization whether you’re employed or not.
If you structure your life the way you would if you were already employed, you’ll increase motivation even more. Avoid sleeping in, lounging around in your pyjamas, and job searching from your couch. Maintain a healthy routine, and resist the urge to isolate yourself. Make sure you’re always in “productivity mode,” so you’re ready to hit the ground running once you do receive that job offer.
Good news: DECSA’s Community Hub, which is open to the public, is an ideal place to go if you need to be productive somewhere other than your kitchen. You can work in a comfortable, well-equipped environment where free coffee, expert advice, and Wi-Fi are always available. What’s not to love?
We know, we know: networking is nerve-racking, especially if you’re introverted or shy. Social anxiety and other issues can complicate the process (we have a program for that). No matter how you might feel about it or what type of job you’re looking for, networking is an unavoidable reality. You may as well resign yourself to that fact and start giving it a try.
Networking can take various forms, depending on your needs. It can be as simple as talking to people—friends, family, former classmates—about your job search and what you’re looking for. Even the most casual conversation over lunch with an acquaintance can produce a promising lead.
If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you can take your networking to the next level. Join professional organizations and mingle with people who work in the field of your interest. Getting to know these people will equip you with updated knowledge on your industry, including salary expectations and soft skills you may not realize are in demand. These professional networks can also help you tap the hidden job market, since many jobs are never advertised publicly at all.
Having a support system of some kind is a good idea on general principle. Knowing that there are people looking out for you when you struggle can be a relief in itself.
More good news: One of our strengths here at DECSA is our network. We have placed so many clients throughout the years that we’ve amassed a long, diverse list of contacts. Regardless of what you’re looking for, it’s likely we’ll know the right people.
Online job hunting is convenient, but it does come with one huge drawback: competition is fiercer than ever, and you have fewer opportunities to market yourself. It’s challenging to stand out in the crowd when you’re up against hundreds of applicants. People tend to apply for jobs they’re unqualified for, simply because online forms make it so easy to do so. Your application, no matter how relevant, can get buried, so it’s no longer optional: you must set yourself apart.
Application forms ask for standard information, which can be an obstacle when attempting to catch a hiring manager’s attention. The best strategy is to present standard information in a nonstandard way. Anyone can list a long series of job duties, so try focusing on your personal accomplishments instead. Did you go above and beyond in your last position? Which tangible targets did you surpass? In which ways did you improve the organization you worked with last? Fitting this information into the boilerplate application form will demonstrate initiative and personal achievement.
Most applications will ask for a resume, even if you must also fill out a separate form. This is your moment. Make it count. There are thousands of articles out there to help you craft a customized resume that will demand the right type of attention, so we won’t get into specifics here, but rest assured that a tailored resume is a must. You may even find yourself adjusting your resume for each application, so choose a flexible format. Please, never neglect the cover letter. It’s not always required, but it’s almost always going to give you an edge.
The best news yet: did you know that here at DECSA, we have resume and cover letter writing services? If you drop by our Community Hub on week days, our expert staff will help you write a personalized resume and cover letter. You don’t need to be a DECSA client. All you have to do is visit us.
If you’re looking for a way to kick your job search up several notches, please contact us. Even if you don’t qualify for one of our specialized programs, you’re still more than welcome to make use of our extensive walk-in services, equipment, and well-stocked business library. In the meantime, browse our website for more information.
Earlier this year, I found a story about a home improvement retailer who hired a service dog user with a brain injury. This is terrific! This is corporate responsibility. This is true representation of the broader community which this retailer serves. This is hiring people with unique skills and talents to fill a role that a company sees as valuable. I took to Facebook and thanked whoever hired this man for giving him a position that he clearly desired, wishing more hiring managers and companies did the same.
I’m on the job hunt, too, and it got me to thinking. Did this company hire this man – will a company hire me? – only because it is the law to do so? Will they do so because it is the socially conscious “in thing” to do so? Or will they hire people with disabilities because they realize that we’re a huge untapped market for them? Disability not only touches those living with blindness, who are deaf, who use wheelchairs, and/or who have brain injuries (sometimes in combination), but those with invisible disabilities as well. This doesn’t even address our friends, families, and others who care about us. A Canadian organization recently launched the We Belong App. The app allows consumers to search by location for companies and organizations that hire inclusively (primarily people with developmental disabilities), giving them the opportunity to show financially that it pays to do so.
Meaningful employment is something that’s very important to me. I want to be hired at a position with a company that views me as an asset, not a liability. Unfortunately, the latter appears to be the prevailing thinking among people who’ve met me for interviews. I don’t make constant eye contact, I imply that it’s important to use words to communicate… and yet I have years of experience behind me, so that should count for something. Do I want a job? You bet your last dollar. But I want a job with a company or organization that views me as the asset that I am, with unique insights, skills, and talents to bring to the table. Things may have to be done differently, but change is a part of life; many accommodations for people with disabilities end up benefiting entire workplaces, and it’s not often realized until after the disabled employee moves on to other opportunities (personal or professional).
For those who don’t hire us because of your preconceived notions of our capabilities – not because you truly had more qualified applicants – please know that you’ve broken human rights legislation. The law is only one piece in a mosaic that fits together to include people with disabilities in society, in the classroom, in the workplace. It takes inclusive thinkers – who are unfortunately not frequently in HR – to understand that we’re more than the eyes or ears or hands or legs or brain that doesn’t work as expected. If you want to be progressive, inclusive, and innovative, hire people with unique skills, talents and insights who just happen to be disabled. Your business will benefit as much if not more than the employee you hire, because we do have friends and families and others who care about us… and they reward truly inclusive and empowering workplaces with their positive words to their friends and families and coworkers… and their consumer dollars. The bottom dollar is a motivator for many; I’d like to use some of mine to support employers who don’t discriminate. but that can only happen once pretty words on a page start becoming action, once HR managers, CEOs, and office managers view people with disabilities as unique resources and assets to business and commerce.
Oh, and if you are one of those progressive, inclusive, innovative HR managers, CEOs, or office managers, drop me a line; I’d be happy to meet you.
Everyone experiences varying levels of stress, but many of us don’t understand stress or know how to deal with it effectively. This is made more challenging by the individualized nature of stress and how we cope with it. There is no universal, one-size-fits-all strategy, so we must find our own path to managing stressful situations. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to begin this journey. Here are just a few.
Stress is constantly devalued. With headlines screaming about how to eliminate and fight stress, a very important point is being overlooked: there’s such a thing as good stress, and it’s very healthy. Positive stress is characterized by its short-term nature and ability to motivate you. Good stress is what helps you keep your energy levels high while writing an exam. It helps you evade dangerous situations, which is the original purpose of our fight-or-flight response. It helps you sharpen your focus and conquer deadlines without collapsing. In short, it helps you tackle even the most difficult tasks without burning out or giving up.
Bad stress, by contrast, is chronic, acute, and harmful to your overall health. Unlike positive stress, it contributes to burnout and even physical ailments like depression, cancer, heart conditions, and the natural process of aging. Once you learn to distinguish between good and bad stress, you can convert chronic, destructive stress to healthy, positive stress.
2. Change your perception
As we’ve covered already, stress does not necessarily deserve its bad reputation. So, it’s important to understand that your reactions to and perception of stress are more powerful than the feeling itself. Luckily, your brain is equipped to adapt over time, so if you practice active alteration of your thought processes, you can begin to view stress as a force to be mastered rather than an enemy to be avoided.
Remember, too, that stress is by no means inevitable. Everyone reacts differently to the same situations, which proves that we are not programmed to respond the way we do to things that frighten and stress us out. There is freedom in working to change your instinctive tendencies. When you do, you’ll begin to notice a reduction in anxiety and better control of your emotions.
Let’s face it: we all know the essential components of good health, but rarely honour them. It’s no secret that regular exercise, restful sleep, and a nutritious diet all contribute to a healthier lifestyle, but these have other benefits, too.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle has been shown to reduce negative stress and enhance the benefits of positive stress. Energy levels rise, motivation increases, and general well-being is within reach. If you do more than the bare minimum when caring for yourself, you’ll spot the difference almost immediately.
Effective planning of your day-to-day life is invaluable, not just for productivity, but also for a more relaxed, manageable life. When you don’t schedule time in an efficient way, you will suffer for it. It’s easy, really. One of the best methods you can use is to schedule leisure or relaxation time for yourself each day. You don’t have to do this for long if your timetable doesn’t permit—just take fifteen minutes or so each day to do something you love. Choose activities that require low energy, and put aside your worries for that short time. Unstructured time doesn’t have to be wasted time.
Of course, you can always employ quicker coping mechanisms throughout the day. Take a moment to do some breathing exercises. Plan your day in advance so you don’t need to worry about deadlines. Balance work-related time with family and social time. No matter how crowded your schedule becomes, it’s imperative that you set aside time for fun and social interaction.
Coping with stress may seem like a long, daunting process, but when you implement concrete, practical solutions, you’ll notice equally concrete results. Stress is not your enemy. Learn to make peace with and master it, and it becomes an advantage, not a setback.
With 2016 drawing to a close, we hosted our Christmas luncheon, an annual event that acknowledges our clients. Their hard work, dedication, and persistence are the essence of DECSA’s spirit, and for that, we’re always grateful.
Wishing to serve our clients some holiday spirit, we prepared a turkey feast with all the trimmings, and gathered them together in the Community Hub for an open mic and sing-along. For many of our clients, a holiday meal is simply out of reach. We wanted to ensure that all of our clients could enjoy our bounty with us.
Sharing a meal with our clients gave us the opportunity to reflect on their journeys thus far, and what they plan to achieve in 2017. This day was for reflection, gratitude, and celebration: our clients show incredible courage in the face of overwhelming challenges, and while there is always more work to do, we think it is important to be still for a moment and appreciate what we’ve all accomplished this year.
Musically-inclined staff and clients performed special selections for everyone, including stirring Aboriginal songs. To accompany the stories and laughter, we drew names for three food hampers, each going to one of our deserving clients. Everyone joined in for a rousing chorus of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to cap off the afternoon.
DECSA has many people to thank for getting this event off the ground. We owe Edmonton’s Food Bank many thanks, as they generously provided all the food for the luncheon. Thank you to those who donated via the GoFundMe page; your support means so much to us. We’re also grateful to the volunteers who helped us prepare such a large-scale meal in such a short time.
Finally, we thank our clients for joining us. They are our purpose and our inspiration. We look forward to standing alongside them in 2017, as they continue their journey toward a bright, successful future.
It may be difficult to fathom how prostitution could ever be considered glamourous, but in recent years, a combination of popular media and prominent sex workers has begun to change the face of prostitution. High-class call girls like Samantha X, who were fortunate enough to work for agencies that vetted clients, speak openly about the empowering nature of their work. Belle De Jour, later revealed to be a PHD student trying to make easy money, published a blog and book that painted a glossy, alluring portrait of prostitution as a get-rich quick strategy with an edgy side.
Meanwhile, the media has capitalized on the image of prostitution as a profession for sexually powerful people who love their work and, of course, make plenty of money doing it. From the fictionalized version of Belle de Jour in Secret Diary of a London Call Girl, to the student-turned-escort from The Girlfriend Experience, to the sweet-faced protagonist of Pretty Woman, the media offers palatable, seductive depictions of the world’s oldest profession, selling empowerment, agency, and a healthy side of glamour.
DECSA’s Kathy Brown, manager of our Transitions program, tells a different story. Having
worked closely with women in the sex trade, she’s witnessed the ugly, undignified, and exploitive side of prostitution—the one both media and activists don’t necessarily discuss. Using her outreach experience among sex trade workers as a guide, she joined DECSA to make a difference to victims of sexual exploitation.
Here, she deconstructs the popular view, giving us a glimpse of the real face of prostitution.
Q: What is your background?
A: My previous job was the director of the Women’s Outreach of the Salvation Army Crossroads Church in downtown Edmonton. For the past three years, I was the volunteer team lead for the Women’s Outreach Van, which travelled through the hotspots for the sex trade in downtown Edmonton on Monday nights. A team of four or five women went out from 9 pm to 2 am to provide bag lunches, clothing and community to the homeless, addicted and/or sexually exploited on the streets.
Q: The media often presents sex workers as either drug-addled victims or icons of feminine power. Is either of those close to the truth?
A: Neither of those is a very apt description of the people I have met in the sex trade. For the most part, I have met workers who are simply doing what they have to do to get by while living in a very expensive area of the world. Just like everyone else, they have dreams and aspirations that have not come to fruition. The family and/or community of their childhood most often was broken, causing trauma that often goes unattended and unhealed. There is a deep desire for community and belonging that is often perceived to be a chasm too large to attempt to cross. They are not to be pitied or glamourized. Their resiliency, however, is admirable.
Q: What kind of women did you meet?
A: Our target population was sexually exploited women and we would see anywhere from 10 to 50 women in a night. The majority were Aboriginal and the age range was 15 to 65 years of age. Most did not have stable housing and were clearly socioeconomically disadvantaged, since they were hungry and needed clothes. Typically, women on the streets suffer with drug addiction as well.
Q: What led them to the sex trade?
A: In terms of women on the streets, we found that a common story was that most if not every one of them were sexually abused as children by someone in their immediate or extended family. Then usually by the age of 13, an older man would approach her, tell her how much he loved her, and ask if she would come with him. He might even promise they would get married. The girl would leave with the man and begin living with him. He would introduce her to drugs and she would get addicted. Then, the man would either claim he did not have enough money for rent and ask the girl to “work” to earn the necessary money, or he would tell the girl she owed him money for rent and drugs and threaten her with harm if she did not go “work”.
Q: The media and pro-prostitution activists talk a lot about choice. Do you think sex work can ever be a real, informed choice?
A: This is difficult to answer as there are many different opinions, even among those who work in the sex trade. One of the most impactful events I have been involved in was at City Council when they were deciding whether or not to lift the moratorium on body rub parlours earlier this year. I was there to tell the story of one body rub parlour worker who was working minimally in the parlour to earn enough money to get diapers and formula. I brought her diapers and formula the following week, and she exited the business. She entered school to train to be an aide in the health care field.
At the same City council meeting, there was a body rub parlour owner who spoke as well. This owner claimed that those working in the parlours made an informed choice, but she said that, of course, no one wants to work in the sex trade.
Q: So, what proportion of the women you’ve worked with want to exit the sex trade?
Q: If they want to leave so badly, why do they stay?
A: When I think of the young woman in the story above, and others that I know, I believe that most do not have marketable skills and are unable to find alternative employment. I also believe that many simply don’t know how to go about getting into mainstream employment and education. There is often a great deal of healing that needs to happen in the person’s life, along with life skills, understanding the trauma that they have often been subject to, and assistance in becoming employment/education ready. The employment climate in Edmonton is dismal right now and we do not have sufficient affordable housing and transportation, in particular, to inspire this population of women to make a choice to leave their current work.
Q: Would you say that the public view of the sex trade is inaccurate?
A: When I was recruiting volunteers to minister on the street, the most common misconception they had was that women working in the sex trade would be glamourous like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. They were quite surprised when women would sit and talk and be dressed just like most of the volunteers were dressed. I remember the first time one of my friends came out with me – she thought there would be lots of drama and fighting among the women. She ended up in tears most of the night as she realized how different the reality was from her misconceptions.
I would like the public to know that most if not all sex workers arrived at this point not through a series of choices, but through a series of traumas.
DECSA’s Transitions program, which has been running for over fifteen years, aims to bridge the gap between sex work and conventional employment. The program helps clients learn life and employment skills so that they can begin to rebuild their lives, adopt healthier lifestyles, and find employment that will lift them out of poverty. Meanwhile, we help our clients work through trauma, understand their worth, and free themselves from sexual exploitation.
If you or someone you know needs assistance exiting the sex trade, contact us. We are here to help.