By Harry Wolbert ,For the Winnipeg Sun
July 4, 2012
It has been two and a half years since writing my first commentary, “If only we’d get hired.” I thought I would revisit the issue to see what, if anything, has changed since it was written.
According to Statistics Canada, 15.9% of Canadians have a disability and a whopping 49% of adults who have a disability are not in the workforce. In Manitoba the disability rate is 15.7%. Approximately 13.3% of Manitobans with disabilities are unemployed.
People who live with a disability are still twice as likely as non-disabled Canadians to be unemployed and live in poverty.
Sadly, the welfare participation rates of persons with disabilities have climbed significantly, while increases in labour market participation have been modest. From 2005-2010 there has been a 38% increase in the participation rate of people with disabilities in social assistance programs.
I believe that having a job is best way of getting out of poverty.
More than one million Canadians with disabilities are unemployed and excluded from the labour force. The federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that we are going to have to encourage more people with disabilities to work. It has been shown that most of them could work if the appropriate workplace accommodations or an accessible environment were provided.
For someone living with a disability having a job isn’t just about “income.” In her book Disability Rights, Deborah Stienstra, a professor of disability studies at the University of Manitoba says that “Employment is one of the measurements of inclusion in Canadian society.”
Professor Stienstra adds, “Employment offers more than income; it also offers a sense of belonging, contributing and being valued.”
What is it that needs to happen in order for us to see some improvement in the employment situation for Canadians with disabilities? Governments at all levels must lead by example and be model employers. The Government of Manitoba has set a target of 7% of civil service jobs going to people with disabilities. To date, 3.9% of civil service employees have “self-identified” as having a disability.
Organizations like the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) call upon our federal government to develop a five-year strategic plan to address the employment needs of persons with disabilities.
A range of initiatives and supports must be provided. These include longer term supports for those with more complex needs (ie; multiple disabilities, Aboriginal people, women). Current accountability regimes penalize those living with complex needs. The disability community would like any future initiatives must be more “career oriented.” Persons with disabilities are far more likely than those without disabilities to be found in short-term and part-time employment, self-employment, and in the “informal economy.”
Appropriate accommodation is vital to success. But beyond that we require affirmative action programs that actually create incentives to work. Current employment equity initiatives have not improved labour force participation for people with disabilities. Accommodation and support funding must also be more flexible.
Canadians with disabilities still face numerous “barriers” to employment. All levels of government and the business community need to take action. Otherwise, we will continue to face lives of poverty, unemployment, and social exclusion.