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Horizon 21 to share the Polaris experience, and more

Polaris Enterprise program participants at the Maxi mini-market at the Wagar Adult Education Centre. (Photo, Christinne Muschi)
Montreal - Monday, May 31, 2021

Polaris Enterprise program participants at the Maxi mini-market at the Wagar Adult Education Centre. (Photo, Christinne Muschi)

By Nick Katalifos

Since I wrote about the Polaris Enterprise initiative in the last edition of Inspirations, the project has attracted a great deal of attention, both locally and nationally. An industry-based adult education and employment initiative, Polaris was designed to prepare autistic adults for employment through a collaboration including Giant Steps School and Resource and Training Centre, the Wagar Adult Education Centre of the English Montreal School Board (which serves as the base for the program), the Transforming Autism Care Consortium (TACC), and corporate partner Loblaw Companies Ltd. (Weston).

A major component of the initiative is the development and organization of a virtual conference, “Horizon 21.” Scheduled for June 11 and 12, 2021, the main focus is to share the results of the Polaris Enterprise’s first year of operations. Various stakeholders, including Polaris program participants, will share their lived experiences and best practices in preparation for the next cohort starting in August at Wagar.

 Horizon 21 will also include world-renown keynote speakers Randy Lewis (retired executive, Walgreens and autism advocate) and Wanda Deschamps (autistic Canadian, advocate and “inclusion revolutionist”). In addition, panel sessions will feature thought leaders from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and France. The panels will explore the current state of Autism-at-Work/Neurodiversity-at-Work employment initiatives. Furthermore, they will feature the latest research focused upon empowering employers to build inclusive teams and equipping autistic adults with the necessary strategies to find and maintain employment. Autistic perspectives will be a main area of focus, and current pathways to employment will be highlighted.

One of the conference’s better known panelists is also its youngest–Siena Castellon. A neurodiversity advocate, author, mentor and United Nations Young Leader for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Castellon is the founder of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, an

international campaign that aims to change the negative stereotypes about autism. The
campaign focuses upon learning differences and encourages schools to concentrate on the
strengths and talents of neurodivergent students. More than 1,400 schools and over 800,000 students from around the world have participated in the campaign.

 The virtual conference exhibit hall will feature organizations and employment programs seeking to recruit autistic individuals, service providers and several educational institutions offering various pathways to employment. Also featured will be Giant Steps’ seven-part video series “Navigate the New Normal,” a collection of video interviews during COVID-19 with people who are on the autism spectrum.

 Ultimately, the Polaris Enterprise’s virtual conference will offer an excellent variety of information and opportunities to those interested in employment for autistic individuals.

 For information, visit horizon21.vfairs.com

Nick Katalifos is the director-general of the English Montreal School Board, board member of the Transforming Autism Care Consortium and special advisor to Inspirations.