While the end goal for most Humber College students is to get employed, for students enrolled in the Community Integration Through Co-operative Integration program, it’s a bit different.
They may be looking to better their social skills, to find volunteer opportunities, or to just enjoy the quintessential “college experience.”
The CICE program is a college certificate program for adults with developmental disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.
“This is an opportunity for them to come and experience post secondary life in all of its glory,” said Rosanna To, CICE program co-ordinator. “The classes, the homework…the focus of the program is the college experience.”
In the Humber CICE program students explore vocational interests by shadowing other programs around the school like journalism, hospitality or business. They learn job-hunting skills and are referred to a disability-supportive employment organization where they will be teamed with a job coach after they graduate.
Mike Adair is a classroom facilitator at one of these employment agencies called Community Living Toronto. It’s a non-profit — funded by the United Way, the government and private donations — that provides additional training to prepare people with disabilities for their specified workplace.
Adair said that choosing full-time work can be a complicated decision, not because individuals with disabilities can’t handle it, but because there may not be a safety net.
People with intellectual disabilities receive the Ontario Disabilities Support Program (ODSP) income support to pay for their cost of living. When they get a job, the amount of ODSP they receive lowers by 50 per cent of whatever they earn. Once they earn twice as much as the ODSP cheque, recipients stop getting these payments.
“In the past, it was very difficult to get back (on ODSP),” said Adair. “Getting a job meant you shouldn’t be receiving these benefits when in fact there’s such a grey area there. It used to mean, if you’re employable, you’re not disabled – the two don’t go together.”
Adair said the government system is much better now. The person’s name remains in the system and if they lose their job, they can quickly get back on ODSP. Many parents of disabled adults are wary of delays, however.
“They want that safety net (for) their son or daughter. The fear of them losing (ODSP) if they work, that’s really what pushes people not to work” said Adair.
Still, it is important that motivated individuals are able to work despite their disabilities.
“There’s all kinds of value that goes along with working,” said Adair. “The self esteem, the social aspect, it’s not just about the money it’s about feeling better about yourself, feeling like you’re contributing.”
Steven Magni, 21, is autistic. He landed a job at Humber College in the Early Childhood Education department after graduating from the CICE program last year.
“The dean from that program, he asked my mom to come and see him and then he helped me get an interview and that’s how I got the job,” said Magni.
Students need some guidance through their job search. Roseanna To said that students accepted into the CICE program are, “about a Grade 1 to Grade 3 level in terms of their academics.”
To said employers find workers with developmental disabilities to be highly motivated.
“Our students really appreciate the opportunity. They don’t take it for granted. They work 110 per cent so you end up with a really dedicated employee,” she said.
Adair agrees that people with disabilities are often harder working, stating that many studies show evidence of “their punctuality being better, and their attendance being better – they take their job more seriously,” he said.
“You’re dealing with a population that has that much trouble finding work that when they finally get a job, they tend to stick with it. For businesses the turnover rate is less and staff turnover for businesses can cost a lot of money,” Adair said.
In the ECE office, Magni helps with inventory, filing and other odd jobs.
“I’m a supporting staff – I just help the staff with what they need to be done,” he said.
Magni is enthusiastic about his experience with the CICE program that led to his current career. He said he would recommend it to any other prospective students with developmental disabilities.
“It’s the best program at Humber,” Magni said.