Photo: CNIB participants Curtis Ruttle and Karin McArthur at the Connecting the Dots conference in Calgary.
For as long as she can remember, Tamera Froese has wanted a career where she could help people.
“I didn’t know what it would be in, but I always knew that I wanted to help people because so many people helped me,” she says.
Froese’s dream career seemed to be on track when she graduated from the University of Manitoba with a bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology, now Family Sciences, focusing on child and youth development and mental health in the context of family violence. However, when she went looking for full-time employment, she learned she needed a driver’s licence and a vehicle. Living with low vision since birth, she couldn’t get either.
It was a setback, but Froese, who said her parents taught her how to advocate for herself and be independent, isn’t giving up. Despite having 12 different eye conditions — the dominant one being cone rod dystrophy, a relatively rare, inherited retinal condition causing loss of central and peripheral vision — and some hearing loss, she is optimistic that she can build her career with the help of technology.
Froese started as an administrative assistant with CNIB in Winnipeg, but she was drawn to the organization’s Come to Work program. She first heard about the career support opportunity during her co-op education placement with the province of Manitoba’s Community Living disABILITY Services.
“Now, I am in the process of getting my human resource management certification, while working as a program coordinator in the Come to Work program,” she said.
Her ultimate goal is to return to Community Living disABILITY Services. “I want to get back there because my time there showed me how much of a difference I could make in the lives of people with varying disabilities,” Froese said.
CNIB’s Come to Work program introduces employers to an innovative talent pool of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted and provides job seekers with job-readiness workshops, technology training and mentorship opportunities, as well as full-time and part-time work, and paid internships and return-ships with partner employers. CNIB, a national organization dedicated to serving people who are blind or partially sighted since 1918, delivers free, innovative programs and advocates for people impacted by blindness, enabling them to live their dreams and tear down barriers to inclusion.
It doesn’t always take a lot of money to accommodate an employee with a physical disability. It can be something as simple as clicking a few buttons.
To support that goal, Scotiabank has committed $1.268 million to the organization and will provide an additional $90,000 as a National Sponsor for the Connecting the Dots conference, which is focused on education, technology, and employment for people with sight loss. The partnership with CNIB is a signature program within ScotiaRISE, the Bank’s 10-year, $500-million initiative to promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups.
“Tamera Froese’s career journey is a good example of how the Come to Work Program is giving people with sight loss access to networking, training and job placements to significantly improve their employment prospects,” said Meigan Terry, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability, Social Impact and Communications Officer at Scotiabank. “We are proud to support the CNIB in its efforts to improve economic inclusion of people with sight loss and help them overcome barriers to employment.”
Finding and keeping a job hasn’t been easy for anyone since the start of the pandemic, but for individuals with disabilities the challenge has been even greater. Nearly 15% of working-age Canadians with sight loss are unemployed (triple the rate of Canadians in general), according to CNIB. The organization surveyed Come to Work participants and found that 36% of them have experienced job loss (temporary or permanent) or reduced hours since March 2020, tripling the program’s talent pool to more than 1,000. They are looking for work in a variety of sectors, including account management, customer service, education, financial services, health services, human resources, information technology and retail sales.
There may, however, be a silver lining.
“With the most significant barrier, which is lack of access to transportation, being removed for many opportunities and employees having more options for where they live, we anticipate the remote model could enable more talent with sight loss to pursue employment opportunities across Canada,” says Angela Bonfanti, Chief Operating Officer, CNIB.
“But we also know that pandemic-induced isolation has negatively impacted the community we serve. Now is the time for attitudes about the abilities of people with sight loss to change, and that will only happen if more people work alongside employees who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind, both remotely and in person,” Bonfanti said.
Based on her experiences, Froese said, other than a few exceptions such as CNIB and government services, employers need to be better educated about what it means to accommodate a person with disabilities.
“It doesn’t always take a lot of money to accommodate an employee with a physical disability. It can be something as simple as clicking a few buttons,” she said.
She suggests employers reach out to CNIB or the Canadian Hearing Society, or whichever organization advocates for a specific disability, for more information, and simply ask the job applicant what is needed. Often, only small changes are needed to accommodate an employee with vision or hearing loss. For example, Froese said, most of her work is done on the computer and she only needs a magnifier tool to do that, which is standard on Windows computers.
“In the sight loss community, nine out of 10 times, it’s an easy fix,” Froese said.
One of the key things that Froese said CNIB’s Come to Work program taught her was how to present herself in an interview, particularly in relation to body language and confidence, and to understand where her transferable skills would be useful, all things that will likely help her land her next job helping other people with disabilities.