Winnipeg Free Press: ‘A huge step’ toward quality employment for disabled

For Trina Oliver, finding a job felt like winning the lottery.

Oliver was unemployed for 10 years prior to finding work early last year at an organization that assists people with cognitive disabilities. For six of those years, she was seeking a diagnosis for back pain that left her with a physical disability.

She was ultimately diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spaces within the spine that puts pressure on nerves.

While Oliver was relieved to have a diagnosis, she thought the condition would leave her unable to work again.

That made landing a job all the more meaningful.

“It was the best feeling in the world. I was so excited,” the 58-year-old says. “It’s a place I can stay until I retire now, and they’ll accommodate my disability.”

Oliver credits Reaching E-Quality Employment Services with helping her find the job.

For more than 30 years, the organization has helped people with physical disabilities and health conditions connect with quality employment.

It offers free employment consultation services, one-on-one counselling, and workshops that help participants in a variety of areas, from assessing skills and abilities to job interview techniques.

The staff are patient and knowledgeable, Oliver says, which made working with them a fantastic experience.

“They will actually partner with you and get you through the process,” she says. “They do it with you, they don’t just tell you how to do it. For somebody that’s been out of work for a long time or for someone who’s dealing with a physical disability, that’s a huge step.

“From the people at the front desk to the counsellors to the instructors, they go the extra mile.”

The staff at Reaching E-Quality Employment Services have a unique perspective when assisting participants, says executive director Lisa Dabrowski, because all 12 of them have some form of disability or health condition.

“We are able to empathize and work with our participants because we experience some of the same conditions they do,” she says. “Each and every one of our staff members brings a passion for the work that we do and a true desire to help.”

During a typical year, the Winnipeg-based organization serves between 375 and 400 individuals. This past year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number has been reduced to about 200.

Still, even with the office closed and programs moved online, staff have helped 52 participants find employment.

“That is a huge success,” Dabrowski says.

Lori Hurtig, program co-ordinator at Reaching E-Quality Employment Services, says working at the organization has changed her perspective on what it means to assist people who have a disability or health condition.

“Everyone in life is going to need accommodations for something,” she says. “Every person will be affected by disability at some point in their life, whether it be themselves or a family member, and we need to learn to accommodate people.”

Since 2004, the organization has received regular funding from United Way Winnipeg. That funding is crucial, according to Dabrowski.

“The United Way (funding) is a huge, huge asset to the organization, and helps us launch new ideas, new innovations and new opportunities,” she says. United Way Winnipeg is currently seeking donations for its annual fundraising campaign. Visit