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Making more connections

Project focuses on helping people with disabilities

People with disabilities on the North Shore are finding jobs, making friends and playing sports through a communitybased program that offers one-on-one support.

ConnecTra is a not-forprofit organization that was incorporated in 1999 by former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, and is part of the Sam Sullivan Disability Foundation.

The organization and its Connecting Project is focused on connecting people with disabilities to their communities and helping them access jobs, sports and social events.

One such client from the North Shore is Bayan Azizi. The 24-year-old had a brain tumour as a child. He now uses a wheelchair and has a tracheostomy tube to help him breathe.

The Capilano University English student has written a book detailing his experience. With a preliminary edit already done, the book could be published this year. ConnecTra connected Bayan with WorkBC and a job developer who is helping him explore the possibiblity of an internship at a newspaper, as well as other job opportunities.

When asked about how the program has affected her son, Nika Azizi spoke about the challenges people with disabilities face in terms of confidence and feeling disconnected from society.

"It has given him (Bayan) further hope and confidence. Despite the challenges and obstacles, there is hope and there is tangible hope, something is happening and it's going to go further and further and give him a chance to be part of the community, part of the workforce, learning and teaching, sharing his story and making that connection with society," she said.

"One of the things with people with disabilities, is there is a possibility of becoming isolated, and there are lots of negative impacts of isolation," she added. "So having the opportunity to be out and working in the community, it offers growth."

Another client is Simon Kok, a 37-year-old who has cerebral palsy. After Kok had spent years trying to find a job, ConnecTra and WorkBC worked together to secure a job for him as an usher with Capilano University's Blueshore Financial Theatre, working alongside his aide, Adrian Marks.

Marks noted how excited Kok was about the job. "It went great. We got there early to make sure everything was good to go and there was no confusion or anything, but the whole time (Kok) was just so excited and enthusiastic about helping out," said Marks, adding he just wanted to work the entire time.

"A lot of us try to avoid work, get out of it, but this was his opportunity to contribute and he was just so enthusiastic, I think it was actually kind of contagious, the other volunteers and staff really got a kick out of how happy and enthusiastic he was."

Louisa Bridgman, the co-ordinator for ConnecTra North and West Vancouver, said that it is the one-onone relationship that helps clients achieve their goals.

"We arm (clients) with a support team that can help advocate for what they want and what they need, that's why WorkBC is taking the initiative to look at these people as viable employable people," said Bridgman.

Of the 26 clients that Bridgman personally aids, 11 are registered for work with WorkBC and nine of those 11 are currently employed. To date, 18 individuals have obtained work through the Connecting Project.

"For some reason, society seems to think that people in wheelchairs are not capable of anything," said Bridgman, who has cerebral palsy. "This program changes people's lives," said Bridgman, noting there is no other program like this out there, giving people one-on-one support, and that's what makes all the difference.

"People aren't falling through the cracks anymore."

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