The Pulse: Nov. 18, 2022

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  • -2°C: Sunny. Wind northwest 20 km/h gusting to 40 becoming light in the afternoon. High minus 2. Wind chill minus 16 in the morning and minus 7 in the afternoon. UV index 1 or low. (forecast)
  • Burgundy/White: The High Level Bridge will be lit burgundy and white for the 104th anniversary of Latvia's independence. (details)
  • 8pm, Nov. 19: The Edmonton Oilers (9-8-0) play the Vegas Golden Knights (13-4-0) at Rogers Place. (details)

Six happy people stand in front of an ASTech Awards banner, two of them holding award plaques

Employment program for autistic youth seeks financial sustainability

By Karen Unland

Autism CanTech! has won accolades for its efforts to help neurodiverse youth find meaningful employment. Now it needs to find the money to continue that work after its funding runs out in less than a year.

The made-in-Edmonton training program provides autistic learners between the ages of 18 and 30 with entry-level skills for the digital economy. Employers providing work experience get the opportunity to tap into the talents of these workers while enhancing accessibility and inclusion in their workplaces. It is based at NorQuest College but also delivers programming at Douglas College in Vancouver and Humber College in Toronto. About 60 students are currently pursuing training and experience in data analytics, digital asset management, and audio post-production.

The program is a way to address high rates of unemployment and underemployment in this population. But it's also a way to help employers improve and diversify their talent pool, Autism CanTech! manager Jenna Gauthier told Taproot's Bloom podcast.

"These are ... skilled young adults with a lot to give to any work environment," she said. "What the research speaks to is that bringing diversity of thought into your workplace actually produces higher-performing teams."

Autism CanTech! won a social innovation award for programs promoting neurodiversity inclusion at the 2022 ASTech Awards. The program was also one of eight around the world to receive the Higher Ed XR Innovation Grant from Unity Social Impact and Meta Immersive Learning to explore adding extended-reality training to its suite by adapting educator resources and XR courses for a neurodiverse audience. Gauthier spoke on a panel at the Unity for Humanity Summit earlier this month.

Such honours are great recognition for the team, Gauthier said. But what Autism CanTech! needs now is sustainable funding for the future. It got started with a grant from the federal Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, but that runs out next fall.

"We are working very diligently as a team on a broader sustainability plan to make sure that we have the funds required to continue to operate our program in September 2023, because we really want to continue to build on this work and serve these learners," Gauthier said, noting that the future funding model likely involves a mix of grants, philanthropy, and social enterprise.

"If people want to help us with that dream, they can absolutely talk to us now. As we know, having these kinds of discussions always takes time, and it's better to plan ahead and be able to work to operationalize things before you're down to the wire."

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Headlines: Nov. 18, 2022

By Kevin Holowack and Mariam Ibrahim

  • Some residents of Blatchford are upset over a recommendation from administration to heat some homes with natural gas in the short term because they say it strays from the neighbourhood's sustainability goals. Administration is reconsidering the original plan for Blatchford to rely on geothermal energy and a renewable sewer heat exchanger, particularly because Edmonton has received no grant assistance so far and because EPCOR predicts less sewer water will flow through Blatchford as the city grows. In a report going to the utility committee on Nov. 25, administration is recommending fast-tracking the development of natural gas centres at Blatchford, which council first approved in 2015 as a support measure during peak use times, to save money in the short-term and give the city time to develop other solutions.
  • The Edmonton Police Service released a three-year strategy to deal with guns and gangs, but said its success depends on the outcome of a request for funding through the city's four-year operating budget. Police say they have responded to 138 shootings as of Nov. 9 this year, up from 136 in the same period last year. "Like many other cities across Canada, we've seen an unacceptable trend in illegal ownership and violent use of firearms," Chief Dale McFee said in a statement.
  • Alberta Health Services has confirmed 173 cases of shigella in Edmonton as of Nov. 17, including 115 cases requiring hospitalization. Most cases are among what AHS categorizes as the "inner-city" population, which primarily includes Edmontonians who are vulnerable and unhoused. AHS has indicated that the present outbreak is the largest ever in the city. The city is making more temporary washroom facilities available and numerous community organizations are providing access to hygiene resources for people suffering from shigella, which spreads through contact with a contaminated surface and causes diarrhea, fever, nausea, and stomach cramps.
  • The Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) is one organization calling on the provincial government to officially track deaths among people experiencing homelessness. "I think the people that have the jurisdiction to act on this would probably prefer that those numbers aren't known," suggested Jim Gurnett, an activist with ECOHH. "If we don't know how bad it is, it's easier to not take any action to address it." The ECOHH's own informal count has risen from 32 in 2005 to 222 in 2021.
  • Premier Danielle Smith has scrapped the entire 12-person board of Alberta Health Services and replaced it with a single administrative role held by Dr. John Cowell, a move she said will allow the province to "accelerate all the changes we all need to see." Cowell, who was appointed to the same position after the provincial government fired the board in 2013, will serve this time for at least six months. Tony Dagnone, a former board member, believes Smith was "shooting from the hip" and that the premier "doesn't believe in being informed before making these huge, huge decisions that have an impact on the health of Albertans." Replacing the AHS board was one of Smith's UCP leadership campaign promises.
  • Six people have died during the province's influenza season so far, including a four-year-old child, according to Alberta Health data released Nov. 17. In the 2021-22 flu season, the first deaths were not reported until April 30.
  • Organizers of the Okimaw Awards are inviting Edmontonians to observe the inaugural ceremony, which takes place Nov. 18 at 11:30am in the City Room at City Hall. The awards were created to recognize Indigenous men who have contributed positively to broader society and demonstrated values of traditional Indigenous leaders and visionaries.
  • Edmonton Oilers fans visited West Edmonton Mall on Nov. 17 for a public autograph session, the first the team has done since the 2019-2020 season. Lineups appeared at WEM before mall access was granted at 6am, filled mostly with fans of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Two stilt walkers dressed in white smocks over coloured lights lean beside a lamppost

Weekend agenda: Nov. 18-20, 2022

By Debbi Serafinchon

This weekend sees an annual winter light-up, plus a gala for a rural art gallery and a Latin celebration at an urban one, a showcase for dance, a market for Métis artisans, and music for the ages.

Find even more things to do in the Arts Roundup.

Photo: The All is Bright on 124 Street marks its 10th anniversary this year. (Mack Male/Flickr)