Base members get a lesson in “Disability Confidence”

Tova Sherman, CEO of reachAbility Association, was keynote speaker at an event marking the International Day for Persons with Disabilities at CFB Halifax on December 1. PTE BRENDAN GAMACHE

Base members get a lesson in “Disability Confidence”

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

The maritime signal flag with code F, or Foxtrot, was raised during CFB Halifax morning colours to recognize the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. NEIL CLARKSON

As a person who lives with disabilities, including severe ADHD, Tova Sherman is very familiar with the stigmas surrounding disability, and the difficulties that can arise due to ignorance or misunderstandings.

It’s why she and her organization, the reachAbility Association, champion the concept of “Disability Confidence” to help employers to develop cultures and hiring practices that enhance the inclusion of people with disabilities.

“I love the term Disability Confidence because it means you’re not going to avoid things, but get curious, and talk to people, so you can understand them,” Sherman said during the keynote address at the CFB Halifax event marking the International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD) on December 1 at Juno Tower.

“A lack of Disability Confidence does create discomfort when interacting or working with someone who has a disability. As a result, it often leads to disengagement. People would rather not talk to someone than be uncomfortable.”

ReachAbility Association offers programs and services aimed at employers, potential employees, and the wider community, all geared towards inclusion and equalizing the playing field for those with disabilities.

She encouraged DND to become a disability confident employer through communication, leadership and education on issues impacting people with disabilities, and policies that ensure accommodation for disabilities is the norm and a regular practice, rather than being seen as a burden or extraordinary step.

“We need to identify what’s going on with our people, and then find out how we can accommodate that,” she said.

Sherman was invited to speak by the MARLANT Chapter of the Defence Advisory Group for Persons with Disabilities (DAGPWD), which hosted the well-attended event. Other invited speakers included representatives from the Tetra Society of North America, which specializes in solutions to help people with physical disabilities overcome environmental obstacles, as well as the Province of Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Directorate.

The room also heard from members of the DAGPWD itself, including the group’s new military co-chair, Sailor 1st Class (S1) Steve Happe. Happe was involved in last year’s IDPWD event as a speaker, accompanying his partner and CNIB Community Engagement Manager Shelley Adams, and he has since become more involved. Along with working to identify issues impacting people with disabilities at the workplace, he said the group is also aiming to further connect the base with community groups like CNIB and Sherman’s reachAbility Association.

Participants in the 2023 International Day for Persons with Disabilities event at CFB Halifax. PTE BRENDAN GAMACHE

“Today is about promoting the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities at every level of society and development, and to raise awareness of the situations they face in all aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life. It’s also time to celebrate their achievements and triumphs,” S1 Happe said to kick off the day’s programming.Attendees at the event were encouraged to get involved with the DAGPWD or attend an upcoming meeting to learn more about the group’s initiatives. Civilian co-chair Al Turner said all military and civilian members across Formation Halifax are welcome. Email (DWAN only) to connect and hear about upcoming meetings.

“You absolutely do not have to be a person with a disability to join the Defence Advisory Group. We are looking forward to participation from anyone who is interested in issues that may affect persons with disabilities here at CFB Halifax,” he said.