Unemployment rate for people with disabilities at 70 per cent

Having a child with a disability can bring on many challenges. For Lori McLellan in Whitby, and her two-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, Katie, one of her concerns is what obstacles her daughter will face in the workforce when she’s older.

People with disabilities are paid less than their colleagues and there are much fewer of them working.

“I hope Katie can live independently and get a job,” says McLellan, who is disappointed myths and misconceptions about people with disabilities still exist.

In 2006, barely half the population of people with disabilities between ages 15 and 64, were in the workforce, according to the Durham Region Employment Network (DREN).
“It’s less than that now,’’ says Sarah Larock, DREN’S research officer. Larock says she isn’t sure why it’s gotten worse, but believes some explanation could come from people recognizing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety as a disability.

Mark Wafer is the owner of seven Tim Hortons across the GTA and has employed 107 people with disabilities over the past twenty years.

He says the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Canada is at 70 per cent.

“If we compare that to the Great Depression when the unemployment rate was 24 per cent, that was considered a national tragedy,” says Wafer. “So today people with disabilities live in a perpetual depression.”

Wafer, who has a hearing impairment, says he understands the struggles people with disabilities face during job interviews, which has led him to conduct his interviews differently.

“Rather than asking them questions about disabilities, we are letting them know who we are,” says Wafer. “We let them know accommodations are perfectly acceptable and give them a comfort level to let us know.”

Wafer conducts his interviews this way because 71 per cent of disabilities are unseen.

“The majority of people who apply for a job with our company who have a disability, we can’t see it, we don’t know it until they tell us,” he says.

Larock says the disclosure of disabilities can be frightening to jobseekers who do not want to reveal them.

A National Household Survey revealed that 2 per cent of people disclose to employers they have a disability when they first meet them, but 20 to 30 per cent of people said they ended up disclosing a disability later on.

“People don’t want to disclose for legitimate reasons,” says Larock. “They’re afraid of stigma.”

Wafer believes the participation rate among people with disabilities is so low because employers and businesses believe myths and misconceptions about hiring someone with a disability.

“They believe by hiring someone with a disability they will have employees that work less safe, work slower, require more supervision and be sick more often,” says Wafer. “Worst of all, businesses believe that if they have to fire someone with a disability, it’s an automatic human rights case.”

None of this is true, he says.

“The reality about being an inclusive employer means that you’ve got a more loyal workforce, you’ve got lower absenteeism and much lower turnover,” he says.

According to a 2012 report by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, men and women with disabilities earn less than men and women without disabilities. Women with disabilities make $8,853 less than their peers and men with disabilities make $9,557 less than men without.

While people with disabilities need a change in their incomes, changing the minds of employers continues to be another challenge.

Wafer says the toughest thing to change in the minds of employers is the misconceptions.

“Human beings are hard-wired, we believe what we believe,” says Wafer. “So when we are trying to change a misconception, it can be very hard work.”

Larock says advocacy is part of DREN’s methods of training employers to be more open to people with disabilities.

“In my role as research officer, I would say the frustration I see most, is the frustration on the part of jobseekers,” she says, “who are really frustrated by trying repeatedly to get those interviews, to get the work, and are finding those obstacles over and over again.”

Wafer believes the future of people with disabilities will find some solution with the looming labour shortage that is approaching.

He believes businesses are beginning to look into hiring people with disabilities to replace the baby boomers that are retiring.

Wafer says, overall, Canada has made progress in terms of supporting people with disabilities in the workforce.

“We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go,” says Wafer. “People are not prevented from getting jobs today because they are women, but people are prevented from getting jobs today because they are disabled.”