Advancing the Participation of People with Disabilities in the Labour Market: International Practices and Lessons

Presentation to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Knowledge Talk

12 January, 2012

Michael J. Prince
University of Victoria

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Our focus today

  • What policies act as barriers to the labour market participation of people with disabilities?
  • What policies act as facilitators of labour market integration for people with disabilities?
  • What lessons can be drawn from promising employment practices at the international level?

International sample

Anglo-liberal states

  • Australia
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

Scandinavian-European states

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Sweden


  • Prince (2006) International Best Practices In Service Delivery For People With Disabilities: Lessons from other countries and options for Service Canada
  • Prince (2007) Labour Market Participation of Canadians with Disabilities: Trends, Barriers, Facilitators, Policy Lessons and Options for Positive Outcomes
  • Prince (2010) New Strategic Directions for Active Employment Measures for Persons with Disabilities: A Literature Review and Policy Research Agenda
  • OECD (2010) Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers
  • Prince (2011) Gaining, Maintaining And Returning To Employment: A Synthesis Report On Challenges And Successes Of People With Disabilities In Canada
  • World Health Organization (2011) World Report on Disability

Active labour market programs

Active labour market programming:

  • public employment services and administration
  • training and special support for apprenticeship
  • job rotation and job sharing measures
  • employment incentives for recruitment and job maintenance
  • supported employment and rehabilitation
  • direct job creation
  • start-incentives for self-employment and micro-finance for businesses

Related measures: laws and regulations, income benefit systems, social marketing campaigns

International trends

  • The employment rate for disabled persons in most industrial countries falls within a range of between 30% to 50%
  • Employment rates of people with disability from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s declined in eight countries; remained steady in another eight countries; and increased in seven countries
  • Canada realized a moderate increase in the average annual growth on the employment rate of people with a disability as did Finland and the Netherlands, with relatively stronger growth rates in Ireland, Mexico, Spain and the UK
  • People with disabilities are more likely than people without disability to be in short-term and part-time employment, self-employment, and in the "informal economy"

Disability-related activation measures: policy types and target groups

Types Persons with Disability Employers
Incentives and supports
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Work tax credits
  • Self-employment assistance
  • Job creation partnerships
  • Skills development
  • Individual counseling
  • Employment assistance services
  • Earnings supplements
  • Wage subsidies
  • Tax reduction of social security premiums
  • Business loans
  • Workplace modification grants
  • Information sites
  • Mentoring services
  • Business training and development
  • Labour market partnerships
  • Employment service providers
  • Disability management consultants
Obligations and sanctions
  • Mandatory activity tests
  • Work capacity assessments
  • Time-limited benefits
  • Training courses
  • Job search requirements
  • Employment quotas or targets
  • Employment protection legislation
  • Accessibility standards
  • Human rights codes and anti-disability discrimination laws
  • Experience rating of employer premiums for sickness benefits

Promising practices

Encouraging practices internationally are evident in four policy approaches:

  1. Reforming assessment procedures to focus on the capacities of people and their ability to work
  2. Changing benefit structures in order to improve work incentives, such as by offering financial incentives to employers and or to the employees with partially-reduced work capacities
  3. Expanding rehabilitation and employment services to support job searches
  4. Transitioning from sheltered work to supported employment and/or social enterprises

Barriers: a striking degree of continuity

  • In policy and service delivery systems:
    • the resolve of medical assessment models
    • traditional social service approach by many community supports, e.g., segregated day programming
    • the continuance of sheltered workshops and other separated work settings
  • In employment activation measures:
    • the absence of personal supports to enable access
    • limited supply of services
    • access to employment services may be restricted to certain groups, such as new claimants versus existing clients


  • Access to education and training, and funding
  • Informed conceptions about the abilities and productive capacity of people with disability
  • Social networks of friends, confidantes and companions
  • Personalized employment counselling
  • Work-focused interviews
  • Early vocational rehabilitation measures
  • Financial incentives to assist people with disabilities with living expenses associated with their impairments
  • Employers forums on disability, financed and operated by employer groups


  • Employment services and supports:
    • Dedicated and committed staff offering services to clients
    • Tailor-made job search activities and training specifically designed to promote each client's abilities and strengths
    • Adjusting the pace at which people move towards sustained employment according to their own employability and circumstances
    • Recognizing and responding to the differing needs of people with disabilities
    • Information and advice, including implications for income benefits and services
    • Accompanying clients to job interviews
    • Job matching geared to local labour markets


  • Employer supports and services
    • Detailed job specifications from employers
    • Advice and information about assistive technologies, specialized training, supported employment, and reasonable accommodation
    • Disability management, sickness absence monitoring and return to work plans
    • Ongoing practical and emotional support for both clients and employers to help with any problems which may arise, such as through peer support and mentoring
    • Active involvement and support from partner agencies

Responsibilities of employers

  • Employment protection laws at times include exemptions for small or medium sized establishments, and exclude nonstandard forms of employment such as casual and temporary or part-time labour, all relatively important segments of work opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Mandatory employment quotas on employers to hire a certain number of people with disabilities are not a widespread policy approach
  • Evidence on employment effects of anti-discrimination legislation on people with disability is inconclusive (OECD 2007: 164)

Financial incentives for employers

  • The most common policy tool across OECD nations
  • Tax reductions of social security premiums (premium discounts), business loans, and direct grants for workplace modifications that enable the hiring and retention of persons with disabilities
  • Wage subsidies may help people with disability to increase their human capital, obtain work experience and skills which can be transferable to non-subsidized jobs
  • The take-up rate for such programs is often low
  • The impact of subsidized employment schemes is "ambiguous" for hiring people with disabilities versus retaining workers

Collaborative relationships

  • Employer forums can be effective vehicles, often at regional or sectoral levels, for input by non-governmental actors into active employment measures decision-making:
    • bringing together leading employers and employer groups
    • raising the public profile of the issue of employment of people with disability
    • providing a linkage between employers and government officials
    • linking people with disabilities with employers
    • generating inclusive workplace policies and practices

Opportunities for innovation

  • Working together to shift attitudes about people with disability and work
  • Funding to help start small businesses by people with disabilities and build capacity of social enterprises
  • Strengthening incentives and supports for employers
  • Assisting employment service providers to transition from segregated to open labour market approaches
  • Enhancing supported employment and more inclusive workplaces

Thank you

Michael J. Prince
Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy
Faculty of Human and Social Development

University of Victoria

Disabling Poverty and Enabling Citizenship CURA