LiveWorkPlay connects employers to people with intellectual disabilities

Tara Pahwa

It’s typically still dark out when Tara Pahwa leaves her Kanata home to catch the 5:30 a.m. bus to work. Twice a week, she makes the early morning trek to her job on the 10th floor of a Gatineau office building, where she works for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED).

Ms. Pahwa sorts and organizes CDs by number, placing them in carefully labelled bins to be archived. On Thursdays, she prints out long pieces of tape and applies them to envelopes containing granted patents. Her shifts end around 1:30 p.m., when she makes her way back home to Kanata.

Ms. Pahwa joined the ISED team in the summer of 2016, when she became one of the growing number of individuals supported by LiveWorkPlay, the Ottawa-based charity that helps the community welcome people with intellectual disabilities to live, work, and play as valued citizens. Founded more than two decades ago, LiveWorkPlay began to partner with federal agencies in 2014.

“The thing that we always hear is, ‘Wow, this was so much easier than I thought it was going to be,’” says Jen Soucy, the organization’s manager of employer partnerships.

“We connect with employers and we get to learn what their needs are,” she explains. “Oftentimes, it’s either work that’s not getting done or it’s work that’s outside the scope of an existing position. We help employers maximize their time and introduce them to someone that has a really great skillset and attitude for a great match.”

In addition to pairing employers with qualified candidates, LiveWorkPlay assists with all aspects of the job. When they match an individual to a position, they offer them on-the-job support, as well as sensitivity training and training for coworkers and managers so that everything runs smoothly. They also stay in touch with both parties so they can re-engage if anything comes up in future, including changes to the position or the resolution of any issues.

For adults with intellectual disabilities, a job can bring financial independence as well as a sense of belonging they might not find elsewhere.

“I think employers should hire people with disabilities ... because I don’t want them to be left out,” says Ms. Pahwa. “There are always people out there that want to learn new skills.”

Over the organization’s 22 years, LiveWorkPlay has matched candidates to jobs ranging from restaurants to bigbox stores to funeral homes and beyond. LiveWorkPlay also recently helped an individual get a job at Shopify, the e-commerce giant located on Elgin Street. They partner with different sized businesses from across many sectors, though their fastest growing area is office work, which is relatively unheard of for the population they support.

For Ms. Pahwa, the early mornings and long bus rides to Gatineau have paid off. In November, she’ll sign a new contract to make the move from casual worker to term employee of ISED