Meet Our Members: Illumabilities

Michael Lifshitz, Founder of Illumabilities, returns as the MC for EARN’s 2019 Annual Conference – he was highly rated as the MC last year. With lived experience of disability, he has a commitment to inclusion and laughter. Michael tells us how he started his own company, pursues comedy, and how he wants to nurture future entrepreneurs with disabilities.

Interview Questions:
1. Tell us about your organization. What’s the one thing you are known for? (Think: brevity, quick overview)

  • Illumabilities recently joined EARN, and Michael is a member of the Leadership Group. Michael was also a Finalist for the 2018 Advocacy Award for Celebration of People.
  • Founder of Illumabilities, Michael’s skills are eclectic: with a background in accounting and comedy, he is also an entrepreneur and small business owner.
  • Beginning in comedy in 2006, he soon expanded, under his own moniker, to presentations, motivational speaking and conducting sensitization sessions.
  • In 2015 he re-branded as Illumabilities adding the tag line “shining light on abilities”, a play on words he really likes.
  • Illumabilities gives Michael ample opportunity to integrate comedy into all that he does, focusing his wit on the barriers that people with disabilities face, and how to remove them to promote accessibility in our community.

2. What types of positions do you recruit for on a regular basis?

  • As a small business owner Michael does not recruit employees at present.
  • A bonus for Michael: he knows how to handle the financial side of running his own business through his background in accounting.
  • What he needs help with: From time to time he outsources to bring in marketing expertise, paid on commission, based on the number of engagements secured.
  • Focus: helping people with disabilities start their own businesses, acting in the role of colleague and mentor.
  • When organizing comedy shows he reaches out to comics, including those with disabilities, to work in collaboration together.

3. How do job seekers apply for positions within your organization?

  • Michael would reach out to EARN if he were seeking someone to do commission work in marketing. Why? EARN has the talent pool.
  • Michael is someone with a physical disability himself: he uses a wheelchair and has experienced shock from employers that he is a qualified accountant.
  • He would be willing, therefore, to give opportunities to other people with disabilities; he knows well the barriers to employment many of them face.
  • To reach out to the comedy community Michael networks through contacts on social media.
  • There aren’t many accessible venues in our community and ‘Open Mic’ events are not yet accessible.
  • If anyone with a disability is interested in trying comedy Michael encourages them to get in touch with him.

4. Who is your ideal candidate? (Specifically: what skills/competencies are important to your organization; do you build some of these on the job?)

  • Marketing commission work: soft skills such as good interpersonal skills are essential.
  • Comedy shows: anyone interested – people just need to find out if comedy is right for them by giving it a try, or try it, and in Michael’s words, ‘to get it out of their system’.

5. What’s your best advice for someone who wants to build a career in your organization?

While Michael himself may not be looking to hire long term employees for Illumabilities, his advice to people looking to build their career is:

  • Persistence is an important trait to cultivate, given the stigma and barriers to employment job seekers with disabilities still face.
  • Remember the old adage: Rome wasn’t built in a day.
  • You may not get the perfect job right away. Take opportunities as they arise and learn on the job so that when the next position comes up you will have more to offer.
  • Keep learning and growing until you achieve your ‘dream job’.
  • Be willing to take risks. Even if a particular job doesn’t turn out as expected, you will have learned new skills and you can take what you’ve learned into your next role.

6. How are you committed to providing employment that includes professional development and progression for persons with disabilities?

  • As a small business owner Michael is most interested in developing entrepreneurial spirit. He wants to find ways to advise and mentor people with disabilities who want to become entrepreneurs.
  • He believes that entrepreneurship provides opportunities, especially when the economy is struggling. It can offer people with disabilities an alternate path to employment and ultimately more financial independence.

7. More broadly, what policies and practices has your organization developed to create and champion an accessible and inclusive workplace for persons with disabilities?

  • When Michael organizes an event, he ensures it is in an accessible location.
  • For example: Yuk Yuks in Ottawa isn’t accessible. Michael is able to perform in this venue because he can walk short distances, others cannot.
  • It seems odd to him to do a show about inclusion when the venue is accessed up or down a flight of stairs.
  • The location must be accessible for everyone if an event is to be inclusive.
  • Michael’s Current Interest/Aspiration: To do a comedy show in an accessible location and showcase the talents of comedians with disabilities.

We extend thanks to Michael Lifshitz, Founder of Illumabilities, for taking part in this interview. To learn more about Illumabilities visit http://illumabilities.com