Women with Disabilities: The Employment Connection
By Laurie Hill, MSW
Women with disabilities are more likely to be poor than are men with disabilities or men and women without disabilities. However, when given the opportunity to participate in the labour force, the gap between them narrows. This suggests that while employment alone will not put women with disabilities on the same economic level as men with disabilities or those without disabilities, it does go a long way towards improving their standard of living and level of independence. Employment (new window) is a woman’s best defense against poverty. It also provides a sense of value, status, and purpose; helps with integration and acceptance; and extends social networks.
The search for employment is often a frustrating experience for the majority of people under the best of circumstances. For women with disabilities (new window), who often face many factors interfering with their daily lives, entering the paid labour force becomes much more daunting. They stand a much higher chance of living alone or as a single parent. Many experience a surprisingly high degree of financial responsibility, caring for themselves, their children and sometimes the elderly. They also have lower levels of education (among working age women with disabilities living in low income households nearly four in ten or 38.6% have not earned a high school diploma (new window)), and limited opportunities for stable high paid employment, opportunities for promotion and for advanced training. A significantly less number of women with disabilities are known to be in the Canadian labour force (58%) compared to women without disabilities (75.3%), (PALS, 2006). Many women with disabilities are qualified but are not working and many of those who are working are under employed.
It is important to recognize that the high levels of unemployment and under employment experienced by women with disabilities also create a trickle down affect. Their children and the elderly under their care also experience these same levels of poverty. In Canada (new window) in 2006, working age women with disabilities had an average total income of only $24,000 compared to $32,100 for able bodied women, $41,200 for disabled men, and $51,000 for able bodied men, (Canadian community Health Survey, 2009).
The level of disability experienced by women is also a significant factor in the ability to undertake paid work. As disability becomes more severe, the difference between men and women’s participation rates diminishes (52.6% for men verses 51.1% for women), (PALS, 2006). The effect of gender on unemployment rates also changes with the severity of disability in that men with severe to very severe disabilities actually experience a higher rate of unemployment than do women in this same category, (PALS, 2006, Human Resources and Skills development Canada, 2011). According to the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics for women with disabilities, the participation rate in employment varied from 73% to 35% depending upon the number of years a disability was reported, (SLID, 2009).
Women with disabilities experience a range of attitudinal barriers to employment that remain very entrenched. They also experience barriers that are more physical in nature, at home, in the community, and in the work place. All of these serve to discourage and prevent them from participating in the labour force to their full potential. The loss of disability related benefits that occurs when transitioning to paid work is another huge disincentive to seeking employment. Sometimes it is just not worthwhile when the dollar value of the loss of benefits is greater than the gain in earned income.
Canada will need maximum labour force participation in the years to come. Women with disabilities who are able and willing to work need to be recognized for the contribution they can make. In order to do so, they need to have the same rights as all others with regards to employment opportunities regardless of disability status and gender. In many respects, Canada has taken some valuable steps in terms of developing provincial and federal policy and program initiatives that better enable those with disabilities to be active contributors to the labour force. However, none of these programs directly address the needs of women with disabilities. They do, however, provide some protection and opportunities for women seeking gainful employment.
All of the Neil Squire Society’s (new window) programs are available to women with disabilities. Please contact us at 604-473-9363 or 1-877-673-4636 to determine which program is the best fit for you.
Employ-Ability, aimed at preparing participants for future employment opportunities, provides a unique learning opportunity within a flexible and supportive environment.
Computer Comfort offers one-on-one computer tutoring at no cost in a supportive, client-centered environment; a refurbished donated computer for the home, if needed; and ongoing technical support. Computer Comfort is also available via Distance Learning.
Job Focus provides specialized case managed services for people with physical disabilities to help them find and maintain employment and improve employment readiness.
Literacy is designed for adults with significant physical disabilities and to other client groups where low literacy is an issue.
The Assistive Technology Evaluation Centre enables the evaluation of a wide range of alternative computer input and output devices.
Solutions provides ergonomic and assistive technology assessments for home, school, or the office for individuals with physical and other disabilities.
Laurie Hill is an independent consultant who does advocacy work on behalf of persons with disabilities. She holds several degrees including a Master of Social Work degree. Her advocacy interests center around transportation, Health, social policy and technology. She has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Neil Squire Society since 1995.