P.E.I. program aims to help those with intellectual disabilities and autism land jobs

·3 min read
Ryan MacNeil says he is enjoying the program and would recommended  it to others.  (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
Ryan MacNeil says he is enjoying the program and would recommended it to others. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

Inside the theatre at Kings Playhouse sit rows and rows of seats that need cleaning — 20-year-old Ryan MacNeil is on a mission to get them all.

"I help care take the building. That includes mopping the floors, cleaning the washroom, folding pamphlets and, if necessary, painting," he said.

MacNeil has never had a job but over the past few weeks he's been taking part in a new program and learning additional skills to secure work down the line.

"I'm participating in the program to get job experience for future jobs."

The project is called Let's Get to Work. It was developed by the P.E.I. Association for Community Living in hope of giving individuals who have an intellectual disability or autism the opportunity for successful employment.

Eliminating that barrier of finances for anyone is always beneficial because it allows more of them to take part. — Nat MacLeod

"These individuals are no different than any one of us and each individual is very unique on what they like and can accomplish," said Nat MacLeod, the program co-ordinator.

"Just to have that mindset and to remind people that although yes they may need a support worker and it seems like more barriers are there it is possible to have inclusive hiring practices."

'Eliminating that barrier'

MacLeod said they teamed up with both Kings Playhouse and the Farm Centre Legacy Garden in Charlottetown to make the idea reality.

At Kings Playhouse, participants learn things like upkeep and how to work at the box office. Over at the Farm Centre, they are taught about planting and cultivating.

"Some of them don't come from a lot of experience and they are really just trying to just get their foot in the door," MacLeod said.

'I have a very big passion for increasing equity and diversity and inclusion in everyday life,' says Nat MacLeod, the program co-ordinator. 'Working with this select group of individuals ... is allowing me to fulfil that passion of mine in helping make P.E.I. a better place.'
'I have a very big passion for increasing equity and diversity and inclusion in everyday life,' says Nat MacLeod, the program co-ordinator. 'Working with this select group of individuals ... is allowing me to fulfil that passion of mine in helping make P.E.I. a better place.'(Shane Hennessey)

With funding from Skills PEI the entire project is free for those interested. In fact, participants are paid minimum wage for working on-site and are also provided with a weekly transportation stipend.

"Eliminating that barrier of finances for anyone is always beneficial because it allows more of them to take part," said MacLeod.

'No end goal'

While MacLeod acknowledged this program is a step in the right direction, she said there is still work to be done.

"There really is no end goal for equity and diversity and inclusion especially with this specific population of individuals. There's always something that everyone can learn," MacLeod said.

"We should be taking those steps to really try to be inclusive and have those hiring practices."

As for MacNeil, his attention to detail is evident as he walks up and down the aisles cleaning. One day, he said he would love to be a video game designer or an artist.

MacNeil's art work sits on display inside the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown.
MacNeil's art work sits on display inside the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

For now, he's nearing the end of his time at Kings Playhouse. Next, he will go on to work at the Farm Centre, take part in resumé training and eventually get his first aid and workplace hazardous materials information system (WHMIS) certification.

After that, the job hunt begins.

"Hopefully when I'm done this program I can look for another job or if possible I could get a full-time job here."

For others presented with the opportunity to partake in a similar program, MacNeil has some advice.

"If they're nervous possibly bring a friend or a family member."

But overall he said, "I'd tell them to give it a try."

More from CBC P.E.I.