Blog Archives

Here a Dog, There a Dog: Service Animals in the Workplace

Dogs have been providing humans with companionship and comfort for centuries, but they have also begun to fill specific, diverse roles related to neurological and physical disabilities. There are about a hundred service dogs in Alberta alone, so it’s possible that you’ll encounter one of them in your workplace. Whether this makes you joyful or nervous, it’s important to educate yourself on the different types of service dogs, and proper etiquette when interacting with a service dog team.

Types of Service Dogs

You may picture a guide dog when you think of service animals, but the range of disabilities dogs can assist with has expanded dramatically in recent years, as has the variety of breeds that can be trained. You’re as likely to see a poodle as a retriever, and the list of suitable breeds continues to grow. In 2017, you’ll meet service dogs that are trained to do any number of tasks, from easing anxiety, to alerting handlers of seizures, to detecting changes in blood sugar for those with diabetes. Here is just a small sample of the jobs service dogs can perform:

  • Hearing dogs can alert deaf and hard of hearing handlers of important sounds such as doorbells and fire alarms.
  • Mobility assistance dogs are taught to retrieve dropped objects, brace handlers who may have balance difficulties, and even pull wheelchairs up ramps.
  • Diabetic alert dogs are able to sense changes in blood sugar levels far sooner than their handlers, allowing them to address the situation before it becomes dangerous.
  • Seizure alert dogs are sensitive to oncoming seizures, and can help their handlers find a safe place and fetch medication.
  • Psychiatric service dogs work with handlers who live with conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. They provide a general sense of safety, but are also trained to perform specific tasks like redirecting obsessive, harmful habits, or warning the handler when they begin to dissociate.
  • Allergy detection dogs will be on guard for allergens that may harm their handlers.

Workplace Etiquette

The first thing to remember is that, while accommodating a service dog team may seem a little scary at first, it’s a relatively easy and rewarding process. In Canada, employers are legally obligated to allow service dogs to accompany their handlers just about everywhere, so education and preparation are essential.

Two service dogs wait next to a fountain

Service dogs can be different breeds and serve a variety of needs. Photo provided by Please Don’t Pet Me.

When you meet a service dog team, always address the handler directly. Never approach the dog or acknowledge it without first acknowledging the handler. In fact, it’s generally unacceptable to touch, speak to, or feed the dog lest you distract it from its important work. The best course of action is to ignore the dog completely, as difficult as that may seem. If it helps, consider the dog an assistance device so that you’re less tempted to interact with it while it’s on duty. (Yes, a sleeping dog is still a working dog.)
Avoid making assumptions. If the handler’s disability is not visible, or the dog is not wearing a recognizable indicator such as a harness or vest, refrain from questioning it. Trust that your employer has done their due diligence in ensuring the service dog team is within its rights to be there. Not everyone is receptive to discussing or even disclosing their disabilities, so keep courtesy and respect in mind, always.
Finally, be proactive about disclosing any allergies or phobias you may experience. Dog handlers and employers can address environmental issues, but only if you inform them. Service animals tend to be easy to accommodate. They are highly-trained and well-mannered—so much so that you may even forget they’re there at all. Still, their presence can cause workplace issues, which must be solved as quickly as possible.

How Employers Should Accommodate

Employers must honour Albertan law and allow service dogs into their workplaces, provided they were trained at an accredited school and the employee has a bona fide disability. There are various strategies for educating other employees and dealing with potential problems, so research and consultation with the handler are vital for a smooth, successful transition.
While service dogs can usually be relied upon to behave themselves, handlers are ultimately and solely responsible for their conduct and should be expected to respond readily to behavioural issues as soon as they arise. Employers must balance the needs of their other employees with the rights afforded to all service dog teams. There may be some bumpy spots in the road, but once properly settled, a service dog can be a beneficial addition to any workplace.

Breaking the Silence: Bell Let’s Talk

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.

The Facts

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.

Bell Let's Talk Campaign: DECSA talks about mental health.

Transitions Graduation & Beatrix’s Story

Beatrix at the Transitions graduation

Beatrix at the Transitions graduation

This week, another class of participants graduated from our Transitions program, which is for males and females (including transgendered individuals) who have experienced sexual exploitation or been involved in the sex trade.

Participants receive pre-employment and life management skills with the goal of moving into mainstream employment or education.

The program includes financial literacy, Basic Shelf cooking program, work experience, bus passes, counselling services, relapse prevention, cultural activities, Women in Motion, impacts of prostitution, relationship and family dynamics, skills development, career development, exposure courses and further education.

Beatrix, one of the graduates, took a moment to speak about her time in the program:

Coming to this program, I still carried a lot of shame and guilt. This program helped me realize that my past and the things that I’ve experienced – prostitution, drug addiction, domestic violence – didn’t make me who I was. I’m still a human being. Transitions gave me my self-esteem back.

And I don’t live in the past anymore. I’m living in the present. My facilitator here taught us that. So that’s really helped me. At first I argued with him about it – you don’t know what I’ve been through, all that. But it really made sense because living in the past can hold you back.

There’s a lot of honesty and unconditional love and acceptance at DECSA. You walk up and down the halls – the facilitators and participants and even staff in other programs, we all see each other and smile every day. And there’s kindness and there’s gentleness and there’s no judgement.

I’ve been in a lot of programs before, but Transitions has turned my life around. I got accepted to Yellowhead Tribal College. I start tomorrow, doing upgrading for the social work program that I’m going to take. I got a scholarship. I had a lot of fear about it. I still have some fears now, but that’s normal, right? Because more and more, I’m embracing the confidence and passion.

I’m not ashamed of my past anymore. I have a voice and I’m a woman who will use my past to help in any way I can. This is what Transitions did for me – I am so grateful to DECSA. And now I’m genuinely happy. Hiy Hiy!

To enroll in the Transitions program, you do not need a referral. Call us at (780) 474-2500 or visit us at 11515 – 71 Street to take the first step away from sexual exploitation and towards a better future.

Thank you to Beatrix for contributing to this blog post.

Transitions Graduation & Mina’s Story

Last week, another class of DECSA clients graduated from our Transitions program, which is for males and females (including transgendered individuals) who have experienced sexual exploitation. Clients receive pre-employment and life management skills with the goal of moving into mainstream employment or education.

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The cake is cut as Transitions clients gather to celebrate their graduation

Mina, a current Transitions client, came down to the celebrations at Kinsmen Park to support her peers who were graduating from the program and to honour their achievements. “I’ll miss some of the group members who are going to be leaving, because we’ve made bonds,” she said.

Mina first came to Transitions after being referred to us by Alberta Health Services – Addiction and Mental Health. “I knew I was in a very bad place and I needed some help getting on a better path. Addiction and Mental Health thought the program was a really good fit, so that’s why I ended up at DECSA.”

Transitions consists of two parts: 1) pre-programming, and 2) core programming. The length of pre-programming is different for each client, and core programming lasts 20 weeks. Pre-program content includes outreach support (housing, legal, income, addictions, etc), community referrals, and bus tickets.

Mina skipped the pre-programming and jumped right into the core programming. She now has 5 weeks left. “The best part of the program is the incredible self-awareness that I’ve gained – how I behave and think, how I move through life,” she said. “And through that self-awareness, I can make shifts and changes to make my life better.”

Jason, a class facilitator, notes that the program is performance based and targets specific behaviours. “The program is intense. It’s about what you can do, what you can change in the present moment to relieve stress,” he said. “And it works.”

Portion of Transitions MuralMoney was the biggest factor in Mina’s involvement in the sex trade. “That was probably where most of the bad behaviour in my life comes from – finances or lack thereof. So that fuels me to make terrible decisions,” she said. “I found that the financial literacy program offered at DECSA was hugely impactful. I learned awareness around how I spend, why I spend, what happens to my money, budgeting, building credit, and getting things a little tighter.”

Core program content includes financial literacy, cooking program, work experience, bus passes, counselling services, relapse prevention, Women in Motion, impacts of prostitution, relationship and family dynamics, skills development, career development, and further education.

Mina is currently seeking employment, and when she graduates from the program, she plans on returning to school and pursuing a degree in fine art. “Art is something I had done my whole life,” she said. “I just hadn’t taken it seriously. I was strongly discouraged from it from my group of peers and family. It had a huge effect. If I can’t construct, I will destruct.”

Constructive versus destructive behaviour is an idea that Mina returns to time and again.

“It’s always been a battle between self-loving and self-loathing,” she said. “These two extremes needed to come to some kind of balance – and leaning more towards the self-loving acts. Recognizing the negative side and acknowledging it, but not resting there. Resting on the positive side and then moving through life in the middle ground.”

Going forward, Mina wants to give back as a member of society. “I’ve learned that if you have no love inside of yourself, then you have nothing to give to anyone else. And I want to be a viable part of my community. I want to be able to give back some things that I’ve gotten, which is love and understanding and support.”

Transitions clients come to DECSA every weekday for class from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The structure is something Mina appreciates. “Routine is paramount for how I can constructively behave in this world,” she said.

To enroll in the Transitions program, you do not need a referral. Call us at (780) 474-2500 or visit us at 11515 – 71 Street to take the first step away from sexual exploitation and towards a better future.

5 Tips on Goal Setting

The clock has struck midnight, the ball has dropped, and a whole new list of New Years resolutions has been made. Whether your dreams for 2015 are big or small, here’s a list of 5 ways to ensure you achieve your goals!

1. Choose an attainable goal

We all have dreams, but some are more realistic than others. If your goal is to become a famous singer in 2015, but you have a terrible voice, you may want to reconsider your goal. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid the music industry altogether, it just means that your goal should suit your ability and talents.

2. Plan the path

The easy part is coming up with a goal; the harder part is actually getting the wheels in motion! To make it more manageable, break your resolution down into smaller goal and develop a strategy on how you will reach each step. If your long term goal is to lose thirty pounds, for example, you could start by planning on losing the weight in five pound segments, which you will achieve by going to the gym three times a week. By setting yourself mini goals along the way, not only will your final one will seems less daunting, you’ll also have a detailed path in place to keep you on track.

3. Establish a timeline

Decide when you want your dream to become a reality, and “check in” along the way. That way you can measure how close to success you are, and whether or not you need to re-evaluate some steps in your plan. You’ll become more motivated by giving yourself a deadline.

4. Create a visual reminder

Sometimes we make goals, and then forget all about them. If your goal is to save enough money for a holiday to Paris, consider keeping a photo of the Eiffel tower in your wallet. That way, every time you go to use your credit card on an impulse buy, the promise of your dream vacation is staring you in the face! You can also write your goal down, or tell a friend to help you stay accountable.

5. Don’t stress!

It’s great to have dreams and aspirations, but try not to obsess over it too much. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day so if you expect a change to happen overnight, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment!



Is a career change in the cards for you this year? DECSA offers a variety of pre-employment programs and services. We also have a Community Resource Centre available for job search. For more information, call 780-474-2500.






Fall foliage

We hope everyone had a safe and special long weekend!

Here’s what DECSA staff had to say when asked the question, “What are YOU thankful for?”

Turkey. Good Health. Happy children. Having a job. Kettle bells. Supportive family and friends. For my family. For my career. For my home. For my health. For just being me. Family, friends, my job, my mom. Having a safe, warm home. My health, my sense. Laughter, seasons, flowers. Slurpees, food, candy, chocolate. My children. My job. My health. My lovely friends. My great family! The sun shining through my windows. Health, family, education. Opportunity. To be surrounded by such bright , ambitious people. Health. Team work. Family. Security. Stability. Life, family, friends, work, co-workers, opportunities, social media, Edmonton community, natural environment (Edmonton parks), sports and recreational facilities, Winspear Centre, churches, schools, galleries, city events and festivals, the Mayfield Dinner Theatre, shopping malls, medicentres, hospitals. I am thankful fro wildlife and birds and my ability to photograph them. Being part of an awesome team. My family. My home. My job. My friends.

So much to be thankful for!

And now, we are back, open, and ready to continue serving the community!


Introduction to Our Programs Part 4 – Webinars and Women’s Financial Literacy

Part 1 — Part 2Part 3

Our employment opportunities do not end with the programs we mentioned last week! While DECSA’s resource library is always available to anyone wishing to further their knowledge of business planning and development, we also offer webinars designed to help entrepreneurs at every stage of their self-launched career. These webinars teach both the tried and true practices and the latest trends in business management, from both an educational and a real-world standpoint. Some topics covered in the webinars include marketing, networking professionally, accounting and bookkeeping, and properly estimating and managing start-up costs.

Another program DECSA offers is our Me and Money Women’s Financial Literacy Program. This program aims to help women learn how to manage their money, manage their stress, cope with difficult circumstances, repair poor credit, build assets, and set goals. This program is provided by Status of Women Canada.

For more information about these resources please contact DECSA at: 780-474-2500