Working with a disability
Archive 2015 Apr 18, 2015 Jakob Schilz
Finding a job is something that most people dread. The pressure of getting ready for a job interview by wearing good clothes, making sure there isn’t any food in your teeth, stressing about how you’ll sound to an employer. Just some of the minor fears that everyone goes through right before that big moment.
But what about when there’s another barrier to getting a job?
Finding work can be extremely challenging when you have a disability that can limit your ability to work. It can affect your income and quality of life, preventing you from doing certain activities or hindering you from making ends meet.
According to a study conducted by Statistics Canada, of two million Canadians between the ages of 25 to 64, 11% reported that they were limited in their endeavours due to a disability. In addition, the employment rate among people with disabilities was 49% in 2011, as opposed to the 79% of people without disabilities that were employed.
Paul Doig, of the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) says that; “We know that many people with disabilities can and want to work. That’s why the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) employment supports are available to individuals with a disability.”
“There are two components to the ODSP program: income supports and employment supports. Income support helps people with disabilities who are in financial need pay for living expenses like food and housing. The employment supports program is based on a ‘brokerage model’, where a network of third party service providers across Ontario are funded by MCSS to deliver services and supports on behalf of ODSP.”
According to Paul, this means that select employment supports service providers across Ontario receive funding when a client is placed in a job and keeps it, adding incentive for providers to find appropriate jobs for their clients and supporting them in maintaining their jobs.
Alex Anderson is 22 years old, and was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) Autistic type at the age of 2. This means that he has a high functioning form of autism. Alex is also in the ODSP program and is currently using the employment supports from it.
But so far it has not been going well.
His mother, Dana Anderson, has been fighting for her son to have a normal life for the last twenty years. She strongly advocates that he is completely capable of working in his chosen field.
“People on the spectrum like Alex need a level of support, and with that level of support for an initial period, they can do really really well. And they can end up maintaining really productive jobs in things that they like,” says Dana,
“The difficulty with transitioning to work for Alex, and people in the spectrum like Alex, is that they don’t have the social and behavioural abilities to do that very well. They have a hard time with a lot of the constraints in most workplaces.”
One of the aspects of the ODSP is that it helps it’s clients with ’employment barriers’. According to Paul; “Employment barriers can range from attitudinal barriers of employers, to physical barriers that might make it difficult for someone with a disability to work.”
To go along with this, the study by Statistics Canada says that 33% of individuals with severe to very severe disabilities between the ages of 25 to 34 had been refused work due to their disability. The statistics among men in that age group are even more startling, with 62% having been refused a job in the last five years.
The barrier for Alex is that he would need a support worker to effectively become settled into a new position. Dana says that for him to overcome that barrier, he would need someone to accompany him for the first two to three months to get him through all the aspects of his job.
“But the only way to do that would be for my husband and I to pay for someone, a social worker, to do that with him for three months. And even then we’d need consent from the employer that when Alex comes to work, he’s going to have someone come with him.”
Alex has not had a part or full time job yet. But that’s not for lack of trying.
Dana talks about how they approached a grocery store some time ago, to inquire for a job for Alex. “While they did have the position, they don’t have the resources to have another staff member in that coaching role. They might be able to do it for a day or so, but after that the expectation is that he would independently carry that out.”
During high school, Alex had a support worker initially, but as the years progressed, he no longer needed their help and was essentially doing all of his work on his own. But that took a bit of time to get acclimatized to the environment.
“Unlike the school system where you can ask for an education assistant to be with the person, there’s no program like that for people in the employment field,” says Dana.
Another problem that people with disabilities face in the work force is the availability of specific job types. The study cites that disabled people were more likely to be employed in personal sales and service occupations. This is particularly frustrating as not everyone wants to find careers in these fields. Like Alex.
Alex himself wants to go into voice-over work for television, and has little interest in being in sales or working at a warehouse which are some of the only offered jobs.
Dana says that a lot of the work placements she’s looked into for him are very limited, sometimes only offering select hours for up to six weeks. Not conducive to building a salary or getting a stable income.
Another study by Stats Can states that persons with disabilities are statistically more likely to have a lower income because their disabilities can reduce their motivation to be a part of the labour force.
These statistics are shocking as they essentially state that people with disabilities encounter greater adversity when trying to find work that can lead to a lower standard of living or force them to rely on government help like the income supports program of the ODSP.
With all these barriers, even with the help of the ODSP, it still seems like Alex will face challenges to getting into the work force, despite his willingness to do so. Dana hopes that he will be able to maintain a high standard of living independently.
“I absolutely believe it’s possible for him, but in order to get there, there’s nothing in place that I see in the short term to even begin that.”