Don’t Sideline Workers With Disabilities

By LEO J. DEVEAU
Wed. Jun 9 – 4:53 AM

Halifax CBC Radio listeners’ interest concerning the whereabouts of familiar host, Elizabeth Logan, was piqued recently when her co-host, Don Connolly,
interviewed her about her diagnosis of lupus. She shared how the illness has impacted her energy levels and her ability to work the hours she had regularly maintained on Information Morning.

She can be assured that CBC listeners are all rooting for her in the hope that she will find the support she needs in addressing her health and workplace
needs.

In sharing her experience, Elizabeth has brought to the fore a larger, emerging reality. Questions arose for me about the nature of disability in the Nova
Scotia workforce, as well as related support services and employer needs to address the working requirements of employees with disabilities.

On a personal level, three years ago, at the age of 51, I was told that due to a visual impairment, I could no longer drive after 35 years of doing so.
Driving was a requirement of my work, and needless to say, it was also a big piece of my personal freedom.

One can well imagine the personal adjustments required to address such an edict, both for me and for my then employer. It took some time for me to accept that this is a permanent disability and it was going to affect where I’d live and work. This is to say nothing of the emotional adjustment.

But I’ve also come to realize that thousands of Nova Scotians live this challenging reality every day. I hope Ms. Logan will be able to return to her work
under some kind of an adjusted schedule, but also that her employer will have suitable employee insurance supports and benefits in place to assist her
in this transition.

Such may not be the case for many Nova Scotians who may wake up one morning and find they have a disability that limits their ability to work. In my case, access to efficient and timely public transit came to the fore very quickly! Eventually, I had to also move from a rural community and live in central
Halifax.

With an aging workforce, Nova Scotia’s public understanding of the issue is starting to undergo a seismic shift. Some employers have well-informed employee practices and policies when it comes to supporting persons with disabilities in their workplace, while others are simply unaware.

Further, not all disabilities are visible, nor are they necessarily physical. Types of disability may incorporate individual challenges in functioning,
from hearing, seeing, speech, mobility, agility, and pain to learning, memory, developmental cognitive limitations, and psychological ones.

The degree of severity may limit one’s ability to function on a daily basis (mild, medium and severe). So does whether the disability may have occurred
at birth, was acquired later in life, and/or is episodic. These realities are challenging for individuals, and if they are able to work, they also present
challenges for their employer in creating a supportive and understanding workplace.

If you’re a person with a disability and want to work, what’s the experience like, trying to access employment opportunities in supportive workplaces? The most recent data available in Nova Scotia is the Canadian 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS). Its findings indicated that there were over 179,000 individuals, 15 years of age and over, reporting some form of disability in Nova Scotia accounting for almost 20 per cent of the population, and the highest rate in Canada.

However, when it comes to the workforce, only 53 per cent of those reporting a disability (ages 15 to 64) were actively participating, compared to the provincial average of 75 per cent.

Further, 27,920 Nova Scotians had reported that their condition limited the amount or kind of work that they could do. In this regard, consider Elizabeth
Logan’s new reality.

But a question arises: How many persons with disabilities in Nova Scotia can work, want to work, but are unemployed due to various barriers, such as possibly lacking appropriate skills, lacking available community-based supports, or facing non-receptive employers?

Estimates for the number of persons with disabilities in Nova Scotia currently able to work, but who have been unable to access various opportunities now range from 7,500 to over 11,000 individuals — this in a province with a serious labour shortage! The lived realities of persons with disabilities who want to work in the Nova Scotia, though related to health and its determinants, goes well beyond an isolated medical treatment model.

With the Department of Labour now estimating that 55,000 jobs will be available in the province over the next five years, largely due to growing retirements, increasing the successful integration of persons with disabilities more fully into the workforce is an important and necessary solution.

Government stakeholders, employers and the disability sector need to work together to facilitate the labour force participation and social inclusion of
working-age adults with a disability. If this cannot be accomplished soon, a great deal of talent in Nova Scotia will go to waste.

Leo J. Deveau is co-ordinator for the Nova Scotia Persons with Disabilities Employability Table.

Reproduced from http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/1186379.html