March 21 marks a special day for people with Down syndrome. It was chosen as World Down Syndrome Day since those diagnosed have three copies of chromosome 21, instead of the usual two.
Michael Jamieson is one of them. He is also one of 42 employees with special needs working at the Calgary International Airport, contracted through the Vecova Centre for Disability Service and Research.
“I like my job,” said Jamieson. “I get paid and I meet lots of people.”
“Vecova operates a number enterprises which are profitable businesses with a social purpose. This particular contract out at the airport is one of those,” CEO Joan Lee said. “Any supports and profitability that we provide comes back to the main organization to support our mission of building the capacity of people with disabilities, but also building the community capacity as well.”
Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder in Canada. Each year, about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome, which is about one in every 750 babies.
But as prevalent as it is, inclusion continues to be a hurdle.
“People with Down syndrome have not had the same opportunities others have had for employment,” said Kirk Crowther, executive director of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. “There certainly is a gap in the workforce now in Calgary that would be really suited for people with Down syndrome.”
“Our data talks about higher retention rates, loyalty to customers, loyalty to the company they’re working for…and also just an engaged workforce,” Lee said.
Jamieson, for example, works as a cart retriever at YYC, moving some 500 carts every day.
“I’m happy!” he said.
Jamieson’s been with the company for over 15 years.