'Everybody deserves a shot': Job offers more than a paycheque to man with Down syndrome

Brion Kurbis-Edwards knows exactly what he wants to do with the money he makes from his job clearing trays and cleaning tables at the Lonsdale Quay Market.

He wants to see his "favourite superstars" in concert: Nickelback, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.

Kurbis-Edwards has Down syndrome. And, at 24, this job marks the first time he's been paid for his work.

Kurbis-Edwards' complex medical needs and the stigmas associated with his cognitive disability made it difficult for him to find paid work. Paired with his low self-confidence — which sometimes escalates into panic attacks — it was a bumpy road to paid employment.

Until he met with Amanda Meyers.

"I think it's really important that everyone has a place in the community where they can show their strengths and abilities," said Meyers, who is Kurbis-Edwards' employment specialist at WorkBC.

CBC News/Tristan Le Rudulier

Seven months after meeting Meyers, Kurbis-Edwards was hired by the facilities management company Dexterra at Lonsdale Quay.

"Amanda helped me," said Kurbis-Edwards. "She helped me find my job."

In Canada, the employment rate for people with disabilities varies greatly depending on the severity of the condition, with 76 per cent of people with mild disabilities finding employment, according to Statistics Canada's most recent numbers. But that figure drops to 31 per cent if the disability is severe.

The path to employment

When Kurbis-Edwards first met with Meyers, she says he was shy and reserved.

"I think that's just because he faced a lot of challenges getting into the employment market," Meyers said.

The first task was to identify what type of settings and work would be a good fit for him. 

That part was easy — he loves football and has a season's pass for the BC Lions. Now he volunteers with the team, handing out programs. 

"I love the touchdowns," Kurbis-Edwards said.

CBC News/Tristan Le Rudulier

At the same time, he began trial shifts with Dexterra, where he was eventually hired.

"Now, he's more confident than ever and his sense of humour is really coming out," Meyers said.

"That's what I really love to see, when someone really finds something that's meaningful for them."

As part of the job training, Meyers coaches Kurbis-Edwards on-site. She takes him step-by-step through his responsibilities. As he becomes more comfortable and confident, Meyers will "fade out" so he no longer relies on her and can work independently.

She says this helps develop a sense of confidence and belonging.

Inclusive hiring a benefit, not a burden

In today's digital era, Meyers says the job market presents a number of hurdles for people with disabilities. Most jobs are listed online and followed up by an in-person interview, which, she says, is a process that sets up people with disabilities for failure.

"Our clients are better when they are able to show their abilities," Meyers said.

Along with the difficulties of the traditional hiring process, she says there's a stigma surrounding people with disabilities; there's a preconceived notion that they are a burden for the employer, which she says couldn't be further from the truth. 

"Inclusive hiring is really beneficial for the employer and the individual. We customize jobs to fill specific needs," said Meyers, adding that, when it's a good fit, employees with disabilities tend to stay in their jobs longer.

"Companies don't have to re-hire and re-train employees every month."

Tina Hustins, who is Kurbis-Edwards' boss at Dexterra, agrees.

Submitted by Amanda Meyers

She says his hard work, eagerness to learn and happy attitude make him a valuable hire.

"I'm ecstatic that I'm seeing him progress. You're giving someone a chance to see that they can do what other people do," said Hustins.

"Everybody deserves a shot."