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When Claude Castonguay applied to NAV CANADA, he had the usual pre-interview jitters, but he also had something more pressing on his mind, wondering how being a wheelchair user would impact his job chances and, eventually, success overseeing two units at the Montreal Area Control Centre (ACC) - one of the country’s busiest air traffic control centres.

“When I applied, it was the tail end of COVID,” Claude says. “We set up the interview online and there I was at my home desk with my suit on and nobody could tell that I use a wheelchair.” When he passed the first interview, Claude was invited to the offices for a conversation and a tour.

“I worried that people were too shy to ask, at first, why it took me several minutes to get from my car to the office,” Claude reminisced about his in-person interview experience. After all, it was the first time his would-be managers would see him using his wheelchair and mobility aids.

Claude was partially paralyzed when he suffered “the bends” – a serious and sometimes fatal decompression sickness experienced by SCUBA divers. While Claude’s friends and family have had 30 years to adjust to his wheelchair use, and see just how capable he is, starting a new job he admits, is always nerve wracking.

As it turns out, he was pleasantly surprised. (And, obviously, he got the job!) Even though he was nervous, Claude quickly realized that his NAV CANADA colleagues welcomed him, and his wheelchair, with open arms.

Early on in his role as a shift manager, his colleagues realized that the stand-up scrums to chat about daily operations weren’t going to work for Claude and began convening in his office instead. Later, as he began to travel offsite for meetings, they supported him by calling ahead to make sure his meeting rooms were wheelchair accessible. During his day-to-day, they support him with small but meaningful gestures like holding doors or giving a helping hand at lunch to bring his food to the table.

“Before long, everyone was not only reacting to my specific needs, they were anticipating them,” Claude says. “Just my being there made change happen.”

“It's been really inspiring to see everyone at the Montreal ACC seamlessly integrates Claude's mobility requirements and make it a priority to eliminate barriers," says Brian Lafleur, Director ACC Operations. “The facilities team has been integral in eliminating many obstacles. Simple requirements, work area and proximity door openers make a huge difference in the day to day. It's exactly the kind of culture we strive for, and I know things will improve as we move forward with our Accessibility Plan.”

After working with NAV CANADA for two years now, Claude is grateful for the support of his colleagues, but is also a firm advocate for continuous improvement – would he really be a NAV CANADA employee if this wasn’t the case?

Recently, NAV CANADA made changes to improve accessibility, including improving the accessibility of its corporate website, and updating some physical sites to have greater accessibility. The Company wants accessibility to become a priority across the organization. Also, guided by a multi-year national diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging strategy, NAV CANADA is taking action and reporting on meaningful progress. 

“No matter what we say about people in my situation or about people with disabilities, no one, absolutely no one can truly appreciate or understand the difficulties we face in our daily life,” says Claude, explaining why it’s important for people with disabilities to lead change at NAV CANADA. 

In the next five years (or before!) Claude would love to see improvements on the handicap spaces available at his facility, and his ability to move around his workplace more seamlessly without distracting his colleagues. 

But Claude understands that “big changes can’t happen overnight. They will come with time.”

When we asked for Claude’s advice for others navigating employment opportunities with a disability he said, “don’t pretend; don’t try to hide your challenges. Because people will often not ask how they can help, out of respect. And the stress level of pretending I’m ‘normal’ or attempting to hide my condition is worse than telling the person what happened. I prefer to be honest with what I’m dealing with.” 

Each year on December 3, NAV CANADA observes the International Day of Persons with DisabilitiesOpen a new window – a day to recognize challenges and celebrate the successes of those living with a disability. It’s also a day for family, friends and workplaces like NAV CANADA to reflect on the role they have in improving supports for persons with disabilities in their lives.