In Canada, 1997 was a pivotal year for supporting the employment of people with disabilities. A pilot project with the purpose of developing a dedicated program for this clientele was launched: the Government of Canada’s Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities (OFPD).
The establishment of the program stemmed from findings in the Scott Task Force Report in 1996, that is, the Employment Insurance (EI) Act was discriminatory towards people with disabilities.
Since support measures for finding employment or returning to work are financed by EI, people who do not qualify for EI (and do not make contributions) are excluded from access to the support measures available. At the time, it was the case for people in a handicap situation, who, as we know, are still much less represented in the labor market than people without disabilities (47% vs. 74%). Thus, they do not make contributions to EI in the same proportion.
It became necessary to set up a specific program so that people with disabilities, who were not eligible for EI, would be entitled to the same employment support as the rest of the population.
In Quebec, it was hoped that the introduction of such a program might complement existing ones by improving and avoid duplicating them. In an excellent position to lead the mandate, the Comité d’adaptation de la main-d’œuvre pour personnes handicapées (CAMO-PH) was awarded the new OFPD’s envelope share to deploy the project in Quebec.
The pilot project presented major challenges, but also offered a great deal of flexibility due to its ability to adapt to specific participant needs. A characteristic, that a few years later would be recognized abroad as the strength of the ambitious program.
A task force started working with favorable winds. It consisted of five project officers, including two current members, Executive Director, Mrs. Nancy Moreau and Associate Director, Mrs. Lyne Vincent. It was assigned the groundwork for the following: developing best case analysis practices, determining the applicability and development of support in relation to employment limitations and contexts and defining best practices in terms of duration of accompaniment, as well as identify all the tools and administrative support required. It should be noted that the current Chairman, Mr. Martin Trépanier was also a member of the CAMO-PH Board of Directors. Thus, the long association between the team and the Fund began.
To ensure that the Fund’s services in Quebec were complementary, in-depth consultation with parties already in place was a priority. This made it possible to observe and understand what was happening in the field. It was also essential to publicize the opportunities offered by the OFPD to all the parties involved and include them in offer of services. In OFPD’s early years, CAMO-PH became one of the leading organizations in Canada in the development of practices, procedures and analysis-based methodologies.
To develop further the Fund, consideration was given on how to manage it in Quebec, overseen by CAMO-PH at the time. A work committee was established to consult with the organization’s partners about the possibility of setting up an independent corporation for the operations financed by the OFPD. The partners agreed unanimously. In 2004, SPHERE (originally, SPHERE-Quebec) – Support for People with a Handicap Exploring the Road to Employment – was born.
In 2006, Mrs. Nancy Moreau, still in service, was appointed the organization’s Executive Director. In 2018, under her leadership, it has become an entity in six Canadian provinces with close to 30 employees dedicated to its mission. In 2017-2018, the organization has supported almost 30% (27.4%) of the total number of participants (1435 out of 5230) supported by all the organizations benefitting from the OFPD with an exceptional success rate of 66%.
In 2018, The Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities (OFPD) distribution process (FIPH) by the Government of Canada will ensure that SPHERE must continue to work with partners, employers and people with disabilities at a smaller geographic level, but just as significantly. It will be the time for the organization to focus on working with participants at a provincial level, but above all, rely primarily on partnerships, networks, integration activities and collaborations developed across Canada: It’s the result of eight years of work during which time SPHERE demonstrated the strength of complementarity in the success of people with disabilities from coast to coast.
SPHERE will seize the opportunity to strengthen practices and deploy them in a more beneficial way by putting this network and experience to good use. Through the continuing drive for best practices in provided support, participation in consultation activities and the deployment of the community of interest, the organization will continue to promote the connection between the Canadian provinces, for the benefit of people with disabilities, employers and partners.
Thus, SPHERE has operated since 2004, but has increased its expertise since 1997. SPHERE has assisted nearly 14,000 people with employment over this period. The organization is proud of the positive impact it’s had in the lives of thousands of people.