Disabled Canadians Form Significant and Untapped Labour Pool

By Bill Mah, Edmonton Journal January 22, 2013 StoryPhotos ( 2 )

It’s not enough for the federal government to merely issue a report on the fact that labour-starved companies are overlooking a talented pool of disabled workers, says the head of a disabled advocacy group.
“It’s positive with respect with what employers have to say,” said Bruce Uditsky, CEO of Alberta Association for Community Living. “What’s disappointing is that there’s no actions following from the federal government with respect to what can be done to further promote and ensure greater employment of people with developmental and other disabilities.

“It’s essentially all left to the employers to figure this out.”

A government-commissioned panel found that there are almost 800,000 people with disabilities who are capable of working in Canada and almost half of them have post-secondary education. The panel of private-sector employers was assembled by the federal government last summer and was asked to figure out how to better match job openings with the skills of workers with disabilities.

Uditsky, who heads an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities find employment, says the report is encouraging, but he wants Ottawa to follow it up with concrete measures. He wants to see steps such as tax incentives for companies employing people with disabilities and providing more resources for agencies.

“We might have 40 people seeking employment and only capacity for one staffer to develop jobs given existing funding — and all of that funding basically comes provincially.”

The Alberta Association for Community Living works with 18 post-secondary institutions to help people with disabilities continue their education. It also works with Rotary Clubs, whose members use their business connections to create over 200 jobs.

It’s estimated that for people with developmental disabilities such as autism or Down’s Syndrome, less than 30 per cent hold jobs when more than 70 per cent could be employed, he said. Uditsky said people with disabilities may fly under the radar of human resources staff without the advocacy of groups like his.

“We have lots of employers who, after they’ve had the opportunity to hire somebody, talk about how beneficial it’s been to both their bottom line and their workforce but we simply don’t have the capacity to get to all the employers.”

Iris Saunders, executive director of EmployAbilities, another non-profit agency helping people with disabilities find work, said she would have liked to see more government action such as incentives.

“There needs to be more awareness and education and more promotion about abilities,” Saunders said. “I do think there is a strong business case for hiring people with disabilities. We just need to get that message out.”

Previous reports have also found that even the disabled who have jobs are often dramatically underemployed.

The Alberta government forecasts a labour shortage of up to 114,000 workers across all sectors by 2021. Other regions of the country face similar situations.

“Canada is facing skills and labour shortages in many sectors, and finding ways to get all Canadians working is key to meeting this challenge,” Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said in a statement as she and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released the report last week.

The report said that when companies hire people with disabilities, no special accommodation is required in 57 per cent of cases. When special arrangements are necessary, the average cost to the company is just $500.

“There is a strong business case to be made for businesses hiring people with disabilities,” said Kenneth Fredeen, general counsel of Deloitte and Touche and chairman of the panel.

Panel members found that there is a broad willingness to hire workers with disabilities, but that more education and training is needed for companies to figure out how to overcome barriers and put their ideas into practice.

“Tone from the top and the actions of leaders are imperative,” the report said.

The panel spoke with 70 employers and received 130 on-line submissions. Most of the companies contacted had policies and practices to accommodate existing employees with disabilities, but were not making good use of this expertise to hire more, the report added.

Mental health disabilities were found to be particularly problematic. That’s because employees have to admit to such disabilities in order to get special accommodation from employers.

“Many are reluctant to do so if the disability is hidden and/or stigmatized,” the report said. “Several companies commented that colleagues may be less understanding of mental health issues than other more visible disabilities.”

In 2006, about 14.3 per cent of Canada’s population, or 4.4 million people, reported a disability of some kind.

With files from Canadian Press

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