Radio Transcript: Don’t-dis-my-ability Interview with Kristine Johnston

Shawn: Hello everyone, thanks for joining me this week. I’m Shawn Smith, host of Don’t-dis-my-ability on Joy FM. This week our guest is Kristine Johnson from the Neil Squire Society. How are you doing Kristine?

Kristine: I’m very well, thank you, how are you?

Shawn: Thank you a lot for joining me and I appreciate it.

Kristine: My pleasure.

Shawn: One of the questions I’d like to ask people is: how did you get involved? So how did you get involved with the Neil Squire Society?

Kristine: Well, I’ve been working in the non-profit sector for probably 10 years now, and I was always familiar with the Neil Squire Society and what they represented. And I was always interested in the assistive technology portion of it, so when an opportunity came up, for a position in the employment program, I jumped on it.

Shawn: Perfect. And I guess to preface this, you and I met a few times over the course of several years in different capacities, and also around career and disability. And right now, can you tell me about the program you’re currently facilitating?

Kristine: Sure. It’s called Working Together, so basically it’s a program that supports people with disabilities in preparing for, obtaining, and maintaining employment, so we offer some curriculums that offer career research, if someone comes to us who maybe doesn’t have a career plan or knows exactly what they want to do, we can help with that. We work with personal pledges, time management, that sort of stuff. And if someone does have a career goal in mind, what they want to do, then we can help with the job search, and that could potentially involve a wage subsidy, if we feel that’s something that might be necessary.

Shawn: Okay, wage subsidy would be something that’s offered to the employer?

Kristine: Correct. Yeah, we could offer a wage subsidy just to help with the training, say for example 3 months, we could offer three months of a wage subsidy just to help the employer and the individual just to determine if it’s a good fit and help offset that cost that the employer would have to pay.

Shawn: Okay, that’s great.

Kristine: Yeah.

Shawn: Is there a specific criteria for someone to be referred to the Working Together program?

Kristine: Yes, there is. They have to have a self-declared disability or injury, obviously entitled to work in Canada, not currently receiving EI, or haven’t received EI in the last three years, and requires assistance to prepare for, obtain and keep employment.

Shawn: Okay, and so this is cross-disability?

Kristine: That’s right.

Shawn: Okay, and how many people would you say, I guess this is the third or fourth year of the program?

Kristine: It is, it’s actually a sort of a new program, because we did facilitate this program last year and it was just the job search component last year, but now we sort of combined two programs, so we formerly had an Employ-ability program which was the classroom one-on-one, so the job readiness component, so we’ve combined both of those programs which is nice, so like I said, someone might come to us not sure, then we know where to put them in the program, and they could complete those areas of the job readiness and then go right into the job search with their job developer.

Shawn: And, can you walk me through? Because I know that, well, I guess I’ll let you answer. Who finds employment for the individuals? Is it the individual or is it with some help from the Neil Squire Society?

Kristine: It’s certainly is a group effort. We like for the individual to have some motivation to work and obviously some support there, and we do have some networking that we do with employers so that we can help make that connection. So for individuals it all depends. Some need some support, some not so much. So we can often market individuals to employers that maybe are not comfortable doing that themselves, so it really depends on the individual and their needs.

Shawn: Okay, and what types of supports might someone be able to access through the Working Together Program?

Kristine: We have an Assistive Technology department that can provide assessments should someone may need some support at work, they also do school as well. So that there’s a support that we could definitely provide. And that involves an ergonomic assessment, anything that’s related to Assistive Technology, so say for example that someone that may have some learning challenges, we could offer some voice recognition software, maybe to get their thoughts on paper, or often times a smart pen will help take notes in a classroom, at work, so some various assistive technology that’s out there that we can help with.

Shawn: Awesome. And how people are registered, or with the Working Together program currently?

Kristine: Well, this program’s just sort of starting up so we’ve just been actively doing intakes since the beginning of November, so we’re throughout New Brunswick, well not throughout New Brunswick, but we focus on Moncton, Fredericton, and St. John, where we do have our physical addresses, our offices. So as far as numbers go, like I’ve said it’s a continuous intake — we’ve got some members coming in, some leaving, so we can’t exactly necessarily say exact numbers.

Shawn: Okay. Well, maybe for the last year. I guess would you have a total of how many people?

Kristine: Oh sure, sure. Yep, over the last year we’ve served over 250 clients.

Shawn: Wow.

Kristine: Uh-hm.

Shawn: That’s wonderful.

Kristine: Uh-hm. And yep, we’ve had some really good progress with employment too so that’s been really successful.

Shawn: So developing new partnerships with employers and businesses.

Kristine: Exactly. And we were fortunate last year that we had a partnership with the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce and all the Moncton and St John trade, so we were able to access employers that way as well and we have some really good marketing that way, making some good connections with the employer.

Shawn: Awesome. And so can you share some of the success stories? Because one of the things that I find challenging is that I get a lot of calls from parents, not necessarily the individuals themselves, but the parents looking for help, and part of what I do with Don’t-dis-my-ability is really work from an asset based perspective to show people that it can be done and I am wondering if you might have a success story that you might be willing to share with us?

Kristine: We do. We have an individual that was a truck driver that was not able to drive a truck anymore. He had very little education, so he came to us basically not knowing where to go, so we were able to offer him some career exploration, and determining his little skills, we looked into his interests, what was he interested, and the we focused on… he did have some computer skills and he wasn’t that comfortable with it, we offered him some computer training, which is something we do offer as well, so he was able to get some computer training, and then at that point, he decided to go back to school, so that was really a success for him, so he was able to complete an office admin program there.

Shawn: That’s great. So, you know, because he was injured or hurt, and essentially had to switch careers. And you were able to help facilitate that process.

Kristine: Right, he had a back injury. For him to do physical, with loading trucks and that sort of thing, he wasn’t to do that anymore, so we mostly helped him with identifying where he was going to go and kind of led him in the right direction.

Shawn: That’s awesome. And I’m guessing there’s quite a few stories.

Kristine: Oh, we sure do. If you look on our website, we’ve got lots of success stories there as well.

Shawn: Cool. What would you say is the most gratifying part of your job?

Kristine: The most gratifying would certainly be the success story, so we had an individual that didn’t have his own place, he lived with his parents, really wanted to move out on his own, so those are the kinds of things we see. Once we get someone hired, we still maintain contact with the client and the employer throughout, so it’s not like we just find them a job and then we’re like, ‘See you later.’

Shawn: Right.

Kristine: We sort of keep that connection there, so it was really nice to see that he was able to get out on his own, start to pay for rent, and he did very well at his job, and he was very successful —they ended up promoting him, he got employee of the month, it’s those things that are really rewarding.

Shawn: That’s awesome. And I guess, you know, parents often are looking for resources and don’t know where to turn to. Where is your office located?

Kristine: We’re located on 440 Wilsey Road, right in the industrial park, and we have an office there — suite 104. And it’s accessible. So if anybody is interested, they can give us a call. Our number is 450-7999, or certainly check out our website at

Shawn: Thanks a lot, I’ll be sure to post your information on my Facebook page as well.

Kristine: Okay thanks. If nobody’s familiar with the story of Neil Squire, it’s quite interesting. It’s about a gentleman named Neil Squire, who lived out in BC. He was 20 years old, who was in a car accident and became a tetraplegic, so basically he had no use of hands, arms, legs, and he wasn’t able to communicate. So he had an uncle who was an engineer back in the 80s who helped him communicate through a sip and puff.

Shawn: Right.

Kristine: So he helped with using Morse code, and it created letters on a computer screen, and he was able to communicate, so that’s how it kind of evolved to a society. It became a foundation, and then after he passed away in 1984, it kind of evolved from that to become a society.

Shawn: And it seems to me, I’ve heard that story and every time I hear it I get goosebumps because I’m kind of infatuated with Assistive Technology, and anytime I get to see Charles Levasseur talk, it’s always a treat to see what kind of gadgets he’s going to pull out, but really, you know, one of the things I try to explain to people is that Assistive Technology comes from a need, not a want, so a lot of the devices that exist, we’ll take for granted, like Siri or Text-to-speech, because someone with a disability required it. Everybody else just gets to take advantage of it because it exists.

Kristine: That’s right.

Shawn: But it all it evolved from somewhere, and this is an amazing story of innovation, ingenuity, and not settling for complacency and trying to push.

Kristine: And that’s what Neil Squire’s all about for sure. Technology is definitely in the forefront of what we do. We also have an AT Helpdesk that is available from 8 am to 8 pm, so anybody can call, text, email anytime for any kind of AT questions, support. Maybe they don’t know if there’s any features on their device, computer. They can offer some strategies on learning for classroom and work. So that’s available throughout New Brunswick, so anybody has any questions, there’s all kind of support there.

Shawn: Right, and again, it’s a free service?

Kristine: Yep!

Shawn: That people can call and take advantage of.

Kristine: That’s right.

Shawn: Well, that’s great. Well, I appreciate your time and thanks a lot for joining us.

Kristine: Well, you’re very welcome.

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