From an early age, Tiffany King began developing a strong work ethic. By assigning her duties around their home and hobby farm, Tiffany’s parents Toni-Anne and Lance started her on the road to productive employment – a road that eventually led to her current position as a busser at the Willowbrook Mall Food Court.
“Diligently working with Tiffany from an early age to ensure she gained the ability to be a productive citizen was one of our main goals,” says Toni-Anne. “Due to the fact we had a home-based business, we were able to offer Tiffany the opportunity to help out and continue to learn work skills. We were also able to ensure a parent was always home to offer guidance.”
As she approached adulthood, Tiffany participated in high school work programs and a variety of volunteer opportunities at diverse venues including a preschool, a children’s daycare, a seniors rest home and a café. Building upon these experiences and others, Tiffany later enrolled in a work program that secured a job at Milestones Restaurant where she worked in the kitchen pre-packaging food for the cooks for over 10 years.
Of course, employability entails more than just job skills. “We also enrolled her in organizations and programs that promote self-esteem, organization and social interaction,” Toni-Anne emphasizes. One such program was a 6-week acting intensive with a theatrical company offered through the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation, after which Tiffany was invited to join the acting company. This led to an exciting acting career that has given her the opportunity to travel to Toronto, Ottawa and Hong Kong.
A year and a half ago, Tiffany began her current position at the mall, which she obtained through a work program. Like every job, it has its ups and its downs. “I enjoy clearing tables and trays,” says Tiffany, “but I don’t like it when customers are rude.”
The latter is thankfully rare, but there have unfortunately been a couple instances when a patron has ridiculed or bullied Tiffany for her perceived ‘difference’ or ‘inability.’ She is not afraid to stand up for herself.
“It’s impactful because it’s a reminder that she is different and special and that not everyone understands that,” says Toni-Anne. “But she speaks openly and honestly about how it makes her feel. At this point in her life, it seems to affect us worse than it affects her. We are proud of the self-confidence she has developed.”
Transportation has been proved challenging at times. The family has found that the local HandiDart disability transportation service works best for them, but they still have to stay on top of it. “Tif loves the independence,” says Toni-Anne, “but we try very hard to have someone at home to be sure HandiDart shows up when they are scheduled.”
Communication is another area that has required some work, to ensure that Tiffany understands her work schedule and that it fits with the family’s plans. “We keep a very open dialogue with her employer to ensure we are aware of any issues that have occurred during her shift, so we can help her understand the issue and move forward positively. This has created stability both at work and at home. As soon as an issue comes up, we try to deal with it before it disrupts her structured life.”
The results have been very positive. “I enjoy what I do,” says Tiffany. “I enjoy being with people; I’m proud to wear a uniform and to do work.”
There’s no questioning the value that employment contributes to Tiffany’s well-being. “Working has given Tiffany a life, a reason to get up in the morning, a sense of usefulness, an opportunity to be active and much more accepted in the community. Tiffany is so proud when someone comes up to her and either thanks her for a job well done.”
Tiffany’s success is proof positive of her family’s steadfast belief that Down syndrome does not need to be a limitation. “Instil the belief in your child living with Down syndrome that they are able to contribute and be productive in their own way,” says Toni-Anne. “And then, as a parent, encourage and support their growth wherever possible. Watching Tiffany become a productive adult has been a complete family effort.”
The Inclusive Employment Success Story series is co-presented by the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation and Canadian Down Syndrome Society. Check the DSRF blog and CDSS website from June 10-20, 2019 for additional stories.