Employment Equality for Canadians with Disabilities

Employment Equality for Canadians with Disabilities

Michael J. Prince

Dignity for All: Labour, Employment, and Poverty Summit, Ottawa, June 9-10, 2014  

Who are the disabled?

  • 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 others.”

The employment situation for Canadians with disabilities

  • 2.4 million working-age people with disabilities (aged 15-64)
  • Overall labour force participation rate is in the range of  50% (lower for people with severe disabilities)
  • Moderate increase in the annual employment rate from the mid-1990s to 2006, then has declined since through the recession of 2008-2010
  • More likely than people without disability to be in  short-term work, part-time employment, self-employment, and in the “informal economy”
  • Relatively small clientele in most active labour market programs

What employment equality means

  • Rates of labour force participation, employment, and unemployment equivalent to that of the general population
  • People with disabilities are represented in both unionized and non-unionized workplaces
  • Doing “real work for real pay” in accordance with prevailing industry or sector standards
  • Benefiting the same employment protections and labour code rights as other workers
  • Comparable employment income for comparable work at similar levels of education and skills
  • Working in employment settings that are inclusive, safe, and integrated 

Recommendation 1: increase employment opportunities and work experiences for post-secondary students with disabilities

  • New investments through Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities (LMAPDs) should be given to youth with disabilities (18-30 years of age) in transition – moving from school to work:
  • Co-operative placements and work terms
  • Summer job programs 
  • Targeted wage subsidies for youth with disabilities
  • Supported employment and job retention measures inclusive of trades

Recommendation 2: actively encourage provision of workplace accommodations

  • A new Inclusive Workplace Tax Credit for employers and self-employed to defray costs of employment-related accommodations for people with disabilities
  • Use the Enhancing Accessibility Fund to support accessible workplace buildings
  • A range of initiatives which include modifications to work hours, workstations, and longer term supports for those with more complex needs (e.g. multiple disabilities)
  • Federal government act as a model employer and champion of universal design

Recommendation 3: to the canada social transfer add a focus on inclusive learning 

  • Designate a portion of the Canada Social Transfer to the public policy objective of improving the post-secondary education participation rates of men and women with physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments
  • In collaboration with the Council of Education Ministers, Canada and disability organizations identify goals, indicators, and eligible programs and activities

Recommendation 4: promote self-employment and business development for entrepreneurs with disabilities

  • Extend the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program beyond its current scope and invest additional resources in a nation-wide program
  • The new Canadian Employer Forum should focus on expanding integration into the labour force and on enhancing innovation in workplaces. Activities could include:
  • Addressing the concerns employers may have about the costs of hiring people with disabilities
  • Providing information on how to implement reasonable accommodation
  • Sponsoring work experience programs

Recommendation 5: Expand employment incentives in national disability-related income programs

  • Increase and annualize allowable earnings exemption in CPP Disability to the amount allowed under the QPP program
  • Extend the length of trial work periods under CPP Disability
  • Link eligibility assessment of CPP Disability to earlier interventions for vocational rehabilitation services
  • Increase the value of the Working Income Tax Benefit and its Disability Supplement


Disability is a fluid and complex phenomenon as is the world of work

Employing people with disability in inclusive and rewarding work remains a large challenge and unrealized objective of economic and social policy

Employment alone is not the solution; policy actions on income benefits and personal supports, 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