Career People

A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out: Empowering Canada’s Disabled Community

The Disability Channel (TDC) is a media entity and employment platform for persons with disabilities, showcasing their abilities. Matthew Ochal sat down to talk with its founder, Jay Stoyan, to discuss TDC and the need for further support and awareness.

Approximately 22% of Canadians have one or more disabilities (statCan). “We need society to realize that this has been needed forever, and this is the most vulnerable part of the community,” said Jay. “However, those who are impacted by severe and limiting disabilities need help, and in our endless march towards the social change, we need to make sure that this minority is not left behind”.

Nick Herd, host of Keeping it Real With Nick, with CTVs Andria Case
Nick Herd, host of Keeping it Real With Nick, with CTVs Andria Case Photo Credit: The Disability Channel

While growing up, disabilities were never discussed in Jay’s experience. If someone had a disability, they hoped they could go without telling anybody. If it was obvious, people wished it was not. As a result, Jay told very few people about his own disability even into adulthood. It was the type of thing that just didn’t need to be shared with society. It stayed that way through multiple career shifts; climbing the corporate ladder, running nightclubs, working in film and entertainment. At least, until the founding of The Disability Channel in 2013, which was done as a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision.

TDC has two main focuses: employment and representation. As an Ontario certified employment program, TDC connects with agencies such as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and directly with case workers to find people interested in media employment. These people are given a paid internship, which provides education and experience in the media field. From video editing, to writing, sales, and administration, the interns receive experience in the entire field of video production.

The Disability Channel team members gather for a meeting
The Disability Channel team members gather for a meeting Photo Credit: The Disability Channel

At the same time, TDC operates as the first 24/7 content network about people with disabilities, made by people with disabilities. Their content provides media representation for those with disabilities and raises awareness for those who do not.

He summarizes the model as “Teach, Employ, Showcase,” which aims to help people develop the skills needed to get them off of government assistance and into paid work. It is not about getting something for nothing, it’s about getting the skills and opportunity that society never provided. “We want a hand up,” he insists, “not a hand out.”

There was nothing impulsive about getting the company up and running. Jay spent years pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, slowly expanding, until recently when the organization began to get the support that they deserve. Their long list of supporters stretches from William F. Whites International, to the city of Burlington, to Q107.

Jay Stoyan hosts a press conference at Queens Park on behalf of The Disability Channel
Jay Stoyan hosts a press conference at Queens Park on behalf of The Disability Channel Photo Credit: The Disability Channel

With recently increased financial support from the Ontario government, TDC is extending their operations into Peel, Halton, and Hamilton. “I’ve been knocking on their door for four years,” Jay says, “they have finally answered”. This expansion is the first step in his much larger goal of expanding their programs across both Canada and the United States.

For a long time, the disabled community has been a forgotten and ignored. But Jay Stoyan is working hard to change that, and he fully intends to succeed. “I’m very persistent,” he tells me as our interview comes to a close.

Writer(s)

  • Matthew is currently a student at Ryerson University, where he is finishing up a BFA in Film with a minor in Philosophy. Aiming to eventually work as a writer and producer, he is currently a commercial production assistant. Matthew hopes to use writing to explore and share unique and interesting experiences.

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