Far from Fair: Payment and Employment for People with Disabilities
Finding, keeping, and enjoying work is a challenge all of us face. Yet this journey is easier for some than others. There is an inherent lack of fairness to life that we all must accept, but we have to be aware of the unfairness we can change. Statistically, people with physical or mental disabilities are less likely to find employment, and if they do, they often receive less pay and are held back from achieving higher positions. There are practices and ways of thinking that must change in order to make things fair.
The federal government has been shutting down sheltered workshops for people with developmental disabilities seeking work. Investigations have revealed that these workers have frequently been paid less than minimum wage, often barely making more than just one dollar per hour. This is justified by calling it a work experience program; employers feel they are doing these individuals a favour, and it is considered sufficient that these workers are not simply stuck at home unemployed. Conversely, studies show that Canada ranks in the top half amongst 16 peer countries when it comes to income for people with disabilities. Statistics such as these can be used to falsely justify the notion that enough is being done. However, the same research also shows that Canada is in the bottom half of those same 16 nations when it comes to employment of people with disabilities.
With Ontario phasing out the aforementioned sheltered workshops, which were often paying illegal wages, more and more disabled people are finding themselves out of work. In 2011, 79% of people aged 25 to 64 without disabilities were employed, compared to just 49% of people with disabilities in the same age group. Even qualified university graduates with disabilities were less likely to hold positions at a management level and earned lower salaries. Two troubling facts are clear: people with disabilities have more barriers to employment, and even when they find work, they are often paid less and nothing is done about it.
As more light is shed on this issue, more is likely to change. Mark Wafer, the owner of multiple Tim Hortons in Toronto, has been an advocate for this and has hired dozens of people with disabilities for his restaurants. The issue is not ability, as is clearly evident from the continuous employment of people with developmental and physical disabilities. Rather, it is greed on the part of employers and the turning of many a blind eye. This is seen in the increasing inequality between the extremely rich and the fading middle class, both nationally and worldwide. We must elect progressive politicians who will ensure fair, living wages for all workers, and support businesses that do the same by choosing to buy their goods or services instead of going to places with unfair practices.
This is not a change that will happen overnight. But it is another step in the battle against increasing inequality. When we ensure that people with disabilities are employed and earning fair wages for work they are clearly capable of doing, we encourage better wages and working conditions for everyone. Awareness is the first step. Be mindful of the stores and restaurants you choose to give your money to, and of the causes and policies that politicians champion at all levels of government. Every step towards fairness is a leap forward for all of us.
The Conference Board of Canada. “Disabled Income.” https://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/Details/society/disabled-income.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
Turcotte, Martin. “Persons with disabilities and employment.” Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2014001/article/14115-eng.htm
Ovid, Noella. “Families say minimum-wage changes are cutting jobs for people with disabilities.” The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-families-say-minimum-wage-changes-are-cutting-jobs-for-people-with/
Wafer, Mark. “People with disabilities deserve to be paid a legal wage.” The Star. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/03/30/people-with-disabilities-deserve-to-be-paid-a-legal-wage.html