A new survey by Statistics Canada found the employment rate of working-age adults in the country was at 80 per cent in 2017 — but only 59 per cent for people with disabilities.
For one in five people with disabilities, the survey found their day-to-day lives were limited by their disability. That’s 6.2 million Canadians.
While the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability isn’t broken into the geographical location of the participants, in Victoria, the Victoria Disability Resource Centre strives to help people with disabilities who are looking for work.
“There is a very high population of persons with disabilities in Victoria, especially mobility disabilities, and it’s because the weather is so nice. We see a lot of people coming to the centre who have moved from out east to Victoria mainly because of the weather,” Wendy Cox, the executive director of the Victoria Disability Resource Centre, said.
Many of the 10,000 people who visit the VDRC annually seek information about accessible housing and jobs. The centre offers a one-on-one Working Together program. It helps with writing résumés and cover letters, as well as interview skills, and the benefits and risks of disclosing a disability. Between 100 and 200 people have taken the course in the four years it has been available in Victoria.
“It can be hard when somebody’s handed out hundreds of résumés and gone to interviews and still is not getting any jobs. It kind of breaks you down, breaks your spirit. It is hard for anybody, not just for people with disabilities, but a lot of people with disabilities go in thinking ‘Why even bother’,” Cox said. “It’s helping people get over that and build their confidence.”
The 2017 survey found that severity impacted employment, with people who have more severe disabilities two and a half times less likely to be employed. The 59 per cent rate of employment for people with disabilities fell to 31 per cent for people with very severe disabilities, and nearly one-third of those who are employed with more severe disabilities live in poverty.
For people who have been newly injured and may be re-entering the workforce with a disability, it’s important to be realistic about workloads, Cox said. They have to maintain a work-life balance to make sure they’re taking care of any new needs they may have. That might mean scaling back hours at work so the employee still has energy once they get home.
“You have to balance that because then you’re going to burn out,” she said. “Start slow and then build up.”
The main concern she hears is when someone should disclose that they have a disability. She said that decision often depends on the type and severity of the disability and what the job is.
Cox, who uses a wheelchair, said when she was looking for a job she didn’t mention her wheelchair on her resume. She’d wait until she was contacted for an interview, and then ask them about how accessible the building was and if there was an elevator.
“Just to give them a heads up, because I don’t want to roll into the interview and shock them and then have them have to make room and it’s going to be awkward,” Cox said.
For people with mental health issues or a learning disability, there might not be a need to disclose that information if it won’t affect job performance. If it will affect how someone can do their job, VRDC can help with how to present that information and offer suggestions for tools to help.
“It’s really putting forward the person’s abilities and how they can do the job rather than focusing on their disability,” Cox said. “When it comes down to it, there needs to be a change in people’s mindsets when it comes to people with disabilities and seeing them as equal counterparts in society and able to contribute just as much.”