AIM Conference: Embracing Ability: Making it Happen

March 5 and 6, 2014
Marriott Pinnacle Vancouver Hotel

Persons with Disabilities and Business Leaders “Making it Happen” at the 2nd Annual AIM Conference

“If you could harness the energy in this room, we wouldn’t need to talk about diversity any more”. So said one of the 160 attendees at the 2nd annual AIM Conference: Embracing Ability: Making it Happen, March 5 and 6, 2014, held at the Marriott Pinnacle Vancouver Hotel.

Representatives from business; municipal, provincial and federal government; non-profit associations and many individuals with disabilities gathered for the two day event and shared innovative ideas, heard inspiring keynote addresses and attended worthwhile workshops focused on best practices in inclusive employment.

Day one started with welcoming addresses from the Federal Minister of State for Social Development, Candice Bergen and the BC Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, Don McRae. Both outlined the importance of advancements in inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace, and the value of events such as this conference; building awareness and improving attitudes towards diversity. Representatives from the BC Centre for Ability and TD Bank, the event’s Platinum sponsor, also welcomed the delegates.

The first keynote speaker, Roxanne Sawatzky of Empowering Change spoke of the history of employment of persons with disabilities and brought into context the need to think differently about work and how we perceive a typical workplace. It set the tone for a wide variety of breakout sessions including “using business to business terms to help people with disabilities” and “easing into the working world with assistive technology”.

The first of two panel discussions was featured after lunch and provided attendees with some very interesting and diverse perspectives from the six panelists, all of whom are persons with disabilities. “Driven to Succeed: But Please Don’t Call me Inspiring” focused on society’s portrayal of persons with disabilities and perception of their success.

The day closed with an enlightening talk from Stefanie Marinich-Lee of TD Bank who has succeeded in building a robust career in law and financial services and is a person with a disability. A networking reception was held in the evening and was very well attended. Music was provided by Rolf Kempf, a talented keyboardist and vocalist from the Vancouver Adapted Music Society.

Day two opened with a keynote presentation from Debra and Sara Ruh of Ruh Global, a strategic communications & digital marketing firm helping organizations include people with disabilities. The talk featured examples of some of the innovative work they are doing with organizations worldwide. Breakout session topics ranged from “exploring difficult conversations” to “the role of trust in returning to work after injury”.

Another interactive panel discussion was featured in the afternoon. The topic “Being Proactive about Inclusion” generated a very thoughtful and impassioned discussion on how employers should approach workplace inclusion. The panel featured employers, employees with disabilities and disability advocates. Closing keynote Barry deGeest, a very successful entrepreneur and person with a disability from New Zealand, had everyone in stitches with his upfront presentation “Why Not Diversify Your Company to Include Persons with Disabilities?” The conference ended with an encore presentation of a heartfelt, energetic spoken word poem performed by Justin Figueroa of RBC that came from the admiration he has for his co-worker Courtney who is blind.

Conference attendees summed up the event best: “What a great two days of learning! Presenters were knowledgeable and engaging, panelists were straightforward and open-minded”. The conference was “way, way beyond excellent”.