If Canada`s aging population is a dark cloud, is the social

People with disabilities and employment :
If Canada’s aging population is a dark cloud,
is the social economy a silver lining?
Keynote Address to the Association of Nonprofit and Social
Economy Research
2013 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences
June 5, 2013
Objectives of my address
 To comment on disability as a concept, lived reality, and
social policy issue
 To link together current political thinking about
population aging, labour markets, and people with
disabilities in the Canadian context
 To better connect Social Economy studies and Disability
Studies with the intention of enhancing analysis on the
participation of people with disabilities in gainful and
inclusive employment
 To offer some research directions and supportive policy
Outline of my remarks
Disability is a fluid and complex phenomenon as is the
world of work and labour markets
Employing people with disability in inclusive and
rewarding work remains a large challenge and
unrealized objective of economic and social policy
A “policy window of opportunity” appears to be
opening in Canada on this issue
Non-profits and social economy organizations already
play some role in employing people with disabilities,
though at times in problematic ways
More can be done in research and in public
programming to advance the employment of disabled
What are disabilities?
 One Canadian definition is that disability refers to people
with a physical condition or mental condition or health
problem that reduces the amount or kind of activities they
can do at home, at work, school, in transportation, recreation
and leisure, or other community endeavour
 As described in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities:
“physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which
in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and
effective participation in society on an equal basis with
Canadians with disabilities
“We are women and men, boys and girls, moms and dads,
children and seniors, workers and the unemployed, students
and teachers, leaders in our communities and recipients of
services. We are long-time citizens and new Canadians, we are
members of visible minority communities and Aboriginal and
First Nations Peoples and we are people with disabilities.
Disability is an issue of concern for all Canadians. At some
point in our lives we all will use services built and designed to
make Canada more accessible and inclusive.”
Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Brief for Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance, People with
Disabilities: Getting Beyond Being the Population in Waiting, April 5, 2013
An overview of disability
 In 2006, people with disabilities made up 16.5% of the adult
population 15 years and older in Canada, or nearly 4.2 million
Some 55% of adults with disabilities are women and 45% are
men, compared with 50.7% and 49.3%, respectively, of people
without disabilities
2.4 million working-age people with disabilities (aged 15-64)
Of these working-age people with disabilities, 20.5% live below
the “poverty line” compared to 10.2% of people without
Significant number of people with disabilities across the country
rely on social assistance, the last resort public safety net program
Labour market realities
 Lower rate of labour force participation: 57.1% for people with
disabilities v. 80.5% for people without disabilities
Higher level of unemployment – 11.4% v. 7.0% in 2010
Underemployment more widespread
Fewer weeks employed in the year – 26.8 v. 39.7
Reported workplace discrimination and human rights complaints
Unmet need for job accommodations (13.5% in 2006)
Precarious employment (more likely to have part-time, shortterm work)
Lower average employment income than people without
disabilities who have similar levels of education
Segregation for some people with disabilities within community
agencies and sheltered workshops
Recent employment trends
Economic expansion: late 1990s to 2006
For people with disabilities the number of weeks worked in a year climbed from 24.1
in 1999 to 28.3 weeks in 2006
Employment rate climbed from 45.6% to 53.4% by 2006
Unemployment rate declined from 10.3% in 1999 to 8.0% in 2006
Labour force participation rate grew over this period from 50.8% to 58.1%
Major recession and fragile recovery: 2007-2010
 For persons with disabilities in employment, weeks worked in a year dropped by 2010
to 26.8 weeks (compared to the unaffected 39.7 weeks for people with no disability)
Number of hours worked also dropped reversing gains made in previous period
Employment rate dropped, and unemployment rate grew to 11.4% in 2010
Labour force participation rate declined to 57.1%
Notable regional differences: unemployment rate of 13.8% in Ontario v. 7.4% in
Manitoba and Saskatchewan
Overall, a weakening of work attachment and job security
The disability movement on work
 Issues of concern:
 Systemic long-term unemployment and poverty
 Disabling attitudes, built environments, public policies, professional practices,
and everyday actions and inactions
 High proportion of people receiving day programs or activity services that do
not offer employment support options
 Conceptions of work:
 Important source of income as for most everyone else
 Critical of volunteer placements counting as work, sheltered workshops, and
work enclaves
Approving of open/competitive employment, customized employment,
supported employment, and self-employment options
“Real work for real pay” on an equal basis with others in conditions of
acceptance, human dignity, equity, and security
Workplace as a site of contributing, earning, connecting, and belonging
Essential part of economic and social citizenship, with rights and responsibilities
The disability movement’s
employment policy reform agenda
New investments should be given to youth with disabilities (1830 years of age) in transition – moving from school to work
A range of initiatives and supports must be provided which
include longer term supports for those with more complex
needs (e.g. multiple disabilities)
Appropriate accommodations are critical to success
People with disabilities also require affirmative action programs
that create incentives to work
Research must be undertaken on the changed nature of work
and whether new barriers are being created for persons with
Government must lead by example and be a model employer
Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Brief for Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance, People
with Disabilities: Getting Beyond Being the Population in Waiting, April 5, 2013
Economic and Fiscal Implications of
Canada’s Aging Population (2012)
 Aging of Canadian population is soon to accelerate
 Share of population of working age will shrink over coming
decades, with a fall in the employment rate
 Overall labour force participation rate has already peaked and will
decline over next three decades
 Certain groups are under-represented in the labour force,
especially people with disabilities, with a participation rate in of
(57.2%) notably lower than Aboriginal peoples living off-reserves
(75.0%), recent immigrants (77.1%), and less-skilled Canadians
with high school or less (79.0%)
 These groups “represent an important resource, and increasing
their workforce participation has the potential to boost Canada’s
labour force growth and help minimize shortages in years to
Rethinking disAbility in the Private
Sector (2013)
 “...despite an aging population and looming labour skills shortage, this
significant talent pool [of people with disabilities] is being overlooked.”
About 795,000 working-aged people with disabilities who are not
working and who want to work
Of these people 340,000 have post-secondary education
This report is directed at Canadian private sector employers and makes
the “business case” for employing people with disabilities: noting benefits
of an educated and talented group; improved company culture and
reputation among public; greater employee loyalty and commitment;
lower turnover rates (and thus reducing costs of training new
employees); market to customer segments of people with disabilities
Social enterprises and non-profits can be community partners in helping
Canadian businesses in their hiring strategy of people with disabilities
Harper government initiatives for
people with disabilities, 2013
 $2 million investment to support creation of a Canadian Employers
Disability Forum as recommended by the Rethinking disAbility report
$7 million to SSHRC for research on disability and work
Enabling Accessibility Fund now an ongoing program of $15 million per
year as of 2013-14 to improve physical accessibility
Opportunities Fund to be an ongoing program with $40 million per
year as of 2015-16 and reformed “to provide more demand-driven
training solutions ... and more responsive to labour market needs”
Negotiate a “new generation” of the Labour Market Agreements for
Persons with Disabilities (LMAPDs) of $222 million per year by April
2014 “to better meet the employment needs of businesses and improve
the employment prospects for people with disabilities” along with
“stronger accountability regimes in place”
Announced Government support for a private Member’s motion on
strengthening employment for Canadians with disabilities
Some policy-related observations
 On these reports:
 Framed within population aging as threat, and labour market shortage
 People with disabilities viewed as a untapped talent pool and significant
resource for the market economy
 Rethinking disAbility report perhaps first at federal level to express a “business
case” for employing disabled Canadians
 Some social policy recognition of the barriers to employment for people
with disabilities
 On the Harper government measures:
 Issue definition is on demand-side, addressing the needs of businesses and the
immediate requirements of the competitive labour market
 Goals are a mix of general ideas and specific aims
 Policy instruments are mainly procedural, symbolic and incremental
Windows of opportunity here for the
social economy?
 With these reports and recent announcements by the Harper
government, there appear to be openings for non-profits and social
enterprises to participate at various levels in processes of design and/or
delivery of:
 the Opportunities Fund
 Enabling Accessibility Fund
 LMAPDs in individual provinces
 Canadian Employers Disability Forum
 SSHRC funding of research related to labour market participation of people
with disabilities
 Questions of strategy then for disability groups and social economy
organizations: How to shape issue definitions? Which proposals to put
forward to gain attention of policy makers? Where to focus time and
energy, and how to decide which issues to influence?
A social economy case for hiring and
retaining people with disabilities
 Helps expand the employment opportunities for under-
represented groups in the competitive market economy, and
therefore boost incomes of Canadians with disabilities and
improve productivity growth
Dispel myths about the limitations and risks of hiring people with
a disability
Share experiences and “best practices” on the hiring and retention
of people with disabilities
Express values of community service and inclusion
Offer skills development and on-the-job training and mentorship
Can represent social innovation and a mission-driven business
investment approach
Research questions on social economy
 How accessible are the workplaces of non-profits and social
enterprises: physically, attitudinally, and in terms of individualized
supports such as coaching, employment assistance and counselling,
and also flexible job accommodations?
How many social economy organizations have policies on inclusive
practices concerning accessibility, disability, and equity? If so, on
what range of matters?
How do such policies actually work and are they monitored to
ensure effective implementation?
Are there agency processes for a regular review and discussion of
such policies and practices? Who participates?
What mechanisms and processes are in place (or should be) to
foster the adoption of effective inclusive policies and practices in
the sector?
Research questions on disability
 After 30 years of attempting to enhance labour force participation
for persons with disabilities, why do so many barriers and
discriminatory practices still persist today?
How is the nature of paid work changing that creates new
opportunities and/or new obstacles for disabled Canadians ?
Why is there a significant increase in the number of people with
disabilities on provincial social assistance programs?
What, for some individuals with significant impairments, are the
key factors that contribute to their successful long-term
For working-age persons with disabilities, to what extent are
social enterprises: an advance over sheltered workshops? An
inclusive and destination workplace in themselves? Or an interim
step toward employment in the competitive labour market?
Concluding thoughts
 Employment in today’s competitive labour market is not possible for all persons
with disabilities nor is it necessarily the labour market of choice for many
people with or without disability
Disability movement groups have preferences for certain labour market and
work environments along with misgivings for a few others
Non-profits and social economy organizations are an important employment
option for people with disabilities
However, the social economy is insufficiently recognized as a valuable sector or
partner in recent public policy reports and disability policy announcements by
the Harper government
Links between social economy research and activities and disability studies and
advocacy should be strengthened to mobilize on shared interests and reforms
Employment alone is not the solution; policy actions on income benefits and
personal support, among other measures, are critical for reducing the
disproportionate poverty of Canadians with disabilities
Thank you
Michael J. Prince
Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy
Faculty of Human and Social Development
University of Victoria
[email protected]

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