Halifax non-profit ensuring accessibility, inclusion during COVID-19

Halifax non-profit ensuring accessibility, inclusion during COVID-19 - image
Global News

Once a week, Global News will feature our local community partners to highlight how they are handling day-to-day operations during the coronavirus pandemic and how you can help.

How do you reach out to hundreds of clientele during a pandemic?  If you’re reachAbility, you do it the old fashioned way: by telephone.

“The first thing we did, was contact all 500 of our clients and asked them what they needed,” says reachAbility co-founder and CEO Tova Sherman. “We decided the first step was to do a needs assessment of all our clients and what we found was they require information and resources.”

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ReachAbility is a non-profit organization based out of Halifax, N.S., that provides supportive and accessible programs to individuals facing barriers to inclusion and community participation.  Their services are free and include employment, housing, mental health and wellness.

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According to a 2017 survey, more than 6 million Canadians aged 15 and over, identify as having a disability. Only 59 per cent are employed (compared to 80 per cent of Canadians without disabilities,) earn less and are more likely to live in poverty.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Federal panel aims to ensure Canadians with disabilities included in response

The staff at reachAbility knew they had to act quickly to adapt; they met via teleconferencing platform Zoom and came up with a plan to ensure they would be meeting their goals as an organization and most importantly, continue to serve their clients.  “We quickly developed a newsletter that was going to respond in real-time to deliver information and resources to our clientele,” says Sherman.

reachAbility Co-Founder and CEO, Tova Sherman.

This newsletter, Reach Up, gives users a way to learn online, communicate, share information and stay in touch with reachAbility.  It’s designed to provide up-to-date resources for managing emotions and stress through motivational videos on the importance of routine, mindfulness and gratitude with cameos from their adorable canine mascot, Frankie.

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Sherman says they came up with a clever way to keep users engaged: reward them for watching. “If they watch five shows, do a little homework after watching the videos, they receive credits. After five credits, they receive a grocery gift card worth $50.”  Sherman says it also gives their clients something to look forward to during this challenging new reality.

Click to play video: 'The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic' The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – Apr 16, 2020

“We specialize in the people that fall between the cracks; so if not us, who?

“We’re always coming up with what’s needed and we believe no one should fall into the dark.”

It’s not only food insecurity or employment that concerns reachAbility but also the mental health of their staff and those they serve.  Isolation is a growing concern, especially for seniors and those without a computer to access their newsletter.  As they consider all ideas to stay connected, one they are currently working on is connecting youth to seniors.  “I’ve got some youth interested in helping seniors. We’re working out the logistics but we may get them to start calling seniors who are shut-in, without the internet, in senior’s homes, who may be terrified right now,” Sherman says.

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READ MORE: More than half of Canadians feel lonely, isolated during coronavirus pandemic: Ipsos poll

Around this time of the year, reachAbility would be putting the finishing touches on their annual event, National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) and the Bluenose Ability Arts and Film Festival (BAAFF) scheduled for Sunday, May 31.  Unfortunately, due to the current climate, these plans have had to be rearranged.

“That week may come and go but we’re not going to let it go without some online presence,” Sherman says.  The plan is to host a pared-down version of NAAW, which celebrates the Accessible Canada Act, helping to create a barrier-free Canada. NAAW/BAAFF will shift to an online format, free for anyone who wishes to participate.

Sherman says they have reached out to a number of late-summer festivals to ask for a partnership to avoid competing for dates, locations and most importantly, attendance. ReachAbility also plans to host BAAFF in October and will include an accessible fashion show and guest speakers like Bill Wilkerson of Mental Health International and Deputy Minister Yazmine Laroche who implemented the AccessAbility Canada Act.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Canada lost 1 million jobs in March

Sherman is thankful that she hasn’t had to lay anyone off in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Her staff is working harder than ever to ensure their measurables are being met and that their clients are getting the help they need.

“I look at this as an opportunity to show that we are such a resilient agency and blaze the trail.”

“We feel strongly that we may be alone, but we are alone together.  That’s how my team has approached it and that’s how we’re approaching it for our community here in the Maritimes.”

To get involved with reachAbility or to access their resources, visit

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