Larry Carlson, Local Supported Employment Legend, is 2016 Recipient of Wiltshire Award
16 Jun 2016
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By Sydney Smith

I had the chance to speak with Regina resident Larry Carlson this week about some recent good news he received– he is the 2016 recipient of the Canadian Association for Supported Employment’s Wiltshire Award!

The Wiltshire Award is given to a deserving business, organization or individual that has “made significant contributions to the promotion of full citizenship and personal capacity for persons with disabilities through the facilitation of increased labour market participation and outcomes, within Canada.” As an individual, Larry Carlson has arguably made more contributions in this area than many businesses and organizations! Larry spent his career bridging the gap between individuals and programs, making it easier to navigate the system and receive services for individuals who are looking to work and become contributing members of our communities.

The ever-humble Larry would say that there were a lot of people he worked with to make this award happen, but we know that his leadership, guidance and warm personality have been an inspiration to those who have been lucky enough to be taught by Larry when he was a teacher, or worked alongside him in his capacity as a program manager or a volunteer board member on various national nonprofit organizations such as the Braille Society and the Brain Injury Association of Canada.

SARC nominated Larry for this award based on his tireless dedication to the sector. SARC has worked with Larry on many projects, including the Supported Employment Steering Committee (SETI).

Without further ado, here is my interview with Larry:

  1. Why is employment for people of all abilities important to you?

Everybody has skills, gifts and abilities and we need to focus on what people can do, and encourage it. At times, you have to recognize that there are some things that can be difficult, or even impossible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t move ahead and try something else. Everyone has talent and it’s important to recognize that.

  1. You have been seen as the “go-to” guy in the sector for many years – and it has now evolved into meaningful services. What was it like seeing the work you do evolve into better programs and services?

    It was wonderful, and gratifying, to see all of these amazing things happen, but a lot of it is due to the hard work of vocational specialists, job coaches and community-based organizations across the province. Mainly, it was the SARC Members that saw the capacity of people and saw that spark in people who want to work and they made it happen in their communities.

    To see people who would otherwise not be working or not encouraged to be everything they can be is what drove me to do the work I do. For example, there’s a person who works as a clerk at one of the Safeway stores in Regina. Through the job-coaching model, she was able to not only find employment, but she has worked there for years. We shop there, and I still enjoy seeing her there when we’re getting groceries.

    It’s really neat – just to see people doing a really good job when they are given the chance. In the past 20 years or so, it’s just been wonderful. There are all kinds of people not just working in the public now, but being visible too, which is very important.

  2. As an educator, what advice do you give to teachers working with people experiencing disability?

I taught at the University of Regina, and I think it was the same message there and when I was teaching young people. Let’s look at the child as an individual, and believe and encourage them to develop skills. Once in a while, it doesn’t work out but you try something else and, most importantly, you keep believing.

People who know me know that I like to collect quotations and the one that stuck with me through my entire career was a Helen Keller quote, “while they were saying amongst themselves it cannot be done, it was done.” What matters is that a person is a person no matter how different, no matter what.  Everyone needs to be treated the same.

  1. In addition to the work you’ve done with individuals, you’ve worked with all different kinds of groups like government, schools and universities, employers and unions. Why is it so important to get everyone on the same page?

As much as possible, you have to involve coworkers, and we don’t do enough with unions. They are involved in the public service, and could really make a difference. I’d like to see more involvement and more inclusion from unions.

I’ve been involved in different national groups. Originally, I was a teacher and taught kids with intellectual disabilities and visual impairment. I’ve been on the national board for the Canadian Braille Authority and the Saskatchewan and the Canadian Brain Injury Association.  I am a brain injury survivor, after a car accident in 1992. It sounds weird, but it was almost a gift. It gave me so much more insight into depression and despair but, most importantly, it encouraged me to look at the possibilities, and what I can do to help others.

  1. We always like it when someone from Saskatchewan wins a national award! Why is that important? Where are we in Saskatchewan compared to other province? Are we ahead or behind?

I think that we’re right up there. I think there are things that we still need to learn and improve on, but we do not need to apologize to anyone! We are truly community oriented people, and the best, most beautiful stories of success come from small towns in Saskatchewan. This is how community works.

  1. You have worked in this field for decades now. How has it changed? What does the future hold?

I would want to see more of the same! There’s really good things that are happening and we want to see them continue. Technology can really open up possibilities for people with disabilities in areas where they didn’t even think they can participate. I hope we can see more and more people working in the community and truly being part of the community – being respected not because of their disability but because they’re doing a good job and productive members of the community, just like anyone else.

  1. How did you feel when you found out you were the recipient of the Wiltshire Award?

I spoke with Joy McKinnon and she told me, I was absolutely blown away! I kept saying “really? Are you kidding me?” I’m so honoured, but it’s not just about me. I have been fortunate to work in a position where I’ve gotten to know incredible people and learn about their stories.

We are so lucky to have people like Larry in this province. People who recognize people’s value based on who they are and not based on which group they fit into. Larry’s vision of creating communities where everyone is treated equally is worth celebrating!  We are thrilled that Larry was this year’s recipient of the Wiltshire Award. It is absolutely well deserved.



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