Double Discrimination Faced by Women With Disabilities in the Workplace

15 March 2010

In today’s society, disability is equated to being an illness.  Although individuals with disabilities tend to face discrimination in society, the Canadian
government acknowledges the importance of shifting away from the “stigma” and the biomedical approach when discussing disability.  Their goal is to provide individuals with disabilities with independent living, social inclusion, control and social support.  In order to achieve these goals, many changes needed to be made.   

Over the years, the issue of gender discrimination has been frequently addressed by the government and policy makers.  As a result, new laws and policies have been established in order to try and reach equality.  In today’s society, however, although policies have been established, gender discrimination still exists.  On the other hand, double discrimination faced by women with disabilities is not being addressed.  People tend to discuss gender differences but it is not very often related to disability.  It is almost as if society is not aware of the stigma that is associated with disability which is created by society.  Women in general have not reached equality in the labour force and women with disabilities have not been given justice.   

The focus on “normality” and narrow standards of beauty make it more difficult for women with disabilities to be recognized and included in society.  It
is believed that “normal” means not to be different from those who are in the able-bodied majority.  This includes having a specific body type and face,
looking young, as well as being an able-bodied individual.  Society fears difference therefore it is referred to as “not normal”.  Society also tends to
pity those who are different and establishes various assumptions regarding the capabilities of those with disabilities.  Pressure from society creates
barriers and exclusion for women with disabilities.  Women with disabilities should be looked at the same way as everyone else; there is no difference.  They should be considered based on their capabilities and not assumptions that are created by others.  Women with disabilities are capable of contributing
to society if given the opportunity.  Society fails to see the full potential of those with disabilities out of fear and thereby excludes them.  Denying
women with disabilities this opportunity is similar to trying to hide them.  Individuals with disabilities should be integrated into society rather than
trying to segregate them.   

Independence and participation are the key concepts in today’s society.  In order to be independent and able to survive, one needs to be employed or have some form of financial support.  Employment in turn provides an income that is necessary for survival but also a sense of belonging because of the ability of giving back to society.  Every individual strives towards independence but it is difficult to achieve it especially for women with disabilities.  Women with disabilities are more likely to be employed in low-status or lower paid jobs.  This in itself has an influence on achieving independence.  

Employment means connecting with other people outside of home.  Being employed allows individuals with disabilities to socialize and meet new people.  Having people around enhances the quality of life of individuals.  Many of those women with disabilities who are employed find that being employed engenders a sense of belonging, which has a positive influence on their self-esteem.  In general, being employed opens a door to many opportunities.  It is especially true for women with disabilities.   

Although North America has rules and regulations in regards to employment of individuals with disabilities, clearly it is not enough.  The unfortunate part
is that most of these women do not speak up and if and when they do, they are ignored.  In order to implement specific policies and regulations in regards to breaking down barriers for women with disabilities, these women themselves have to be involved as advocates if they have proper supports.  What is problematic though, is that most women with disabilities are excluded when it comes to decision making.  Over the years women have fought hard to be recognized in society and therefore at the present time it is hard to envision when women would be included when it comes to policy making.  It is necessary to move towards the time when it will be hard to imagine not including women with disabilities when it comes to policy making.   

Lack of accommodations and knowledge are two main components to exclusion and isolation from the labour force.  Some of the employers are not aware of the importance of accommodating employees with disabilities.  Lack of knowledge about disability and the stigma that is affiliated with it contributes to employment barriers.  Having a law such as the ‘duty to accommodate’ demonstrates that efforts are being made and Canada is shifting towards becoming an equal opportunity type country.  It was only 15 years ago when employers were not legally expected to ensure that individuals with disabilities were accommodated in their workplace. Having a law such as the ‘duty to accommodate’ can ensure that women with disabilities do not face direct or adverse effect types of discrimination.  However, in many cases, most women with disabilities have faced direct discrimination.   

Although the ‘duty to accommodate’ ensures that individuals with disabilities are provided with employment that meets their capabilities, it does not necessarily mean that the attitudes of others will go away.   When it comes to the workplace, many employers disregard these policies. Thus, the issue that needs to be fully examined is why do employers disregard legislation and what needs to be done to ensure that employers understand the importance of such laws? 

This is the issue that still needs to be carefully examined in order to fully eliminate discrimination. 

Reproduced from