Inclusive Employment for Canadians with Disabilities

Canadians with disabilities have consistently experienced low levels of employment, as well
as barriers in the educational, economic and social spheres. They face massive obstacles in
participating in the labour market, especially those with severe disabilities or low educational
attainment. Many need work accommodations and supports.
In this IRPP study, Michael Prince analyzes the employment situation and the policy
context for working-age adults with mental or physical disabilities. He finds a disproportionate
number of them are unemployed, even if they are able and wish to participate in the
labour force. Of those who are employed, many work for below minimum wage and are not
protected by labour legislation.
While over the years governments have developed measures to enable Canadians with
disabilities to participate in the labour force, their efforts have been inconsistent. Federal,
provincial and local programs for Canadians with disabilities are, says Prince, “a disjointed
patchwork of widely varying practices and uneven accessibility, affordability and responsiveness.”
This situation is in good part the result of policy choices made by the federal government over
the past, such as the transfer — starting in the late 1990s — of the employment insurance
funds for labour market programs and services to the provinces and territories; a decrease in
spending on programs for persons with disabilities over the past decade; and neglect of the
Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities.
The federal government has committed to introduce accessibility and inclusion legislation
over the course of its mandate. Michael Prince argues that in order to eliminate systemic
barriers and deliver equality of opportunity, priorities for decision-makers should include
connecting employers and people with disabilities, and supporting employers in the provision
of work accommodations and job-related supports.
The author proposes a six-point strategy for governments to improve labour force participation
by people with disabilities: (1) renew the Canadian vision on disability and citizenship;
(2) improve transition planning for youth; (3) expand post-secondary education; (4)
foster improvement in workplace practices; (5) enhance employment services and supports;
and (6) modernize labour market agreements.
Canadians with disabilities should have access to real work for real pay, and their rights
should be protected by labour legislation and safety standards, on an equal basis with other