Disabilities and the Workforce

2 Aug

Monday on CBC radio’s Metro Morning, one of the topics was people with disabilities in the Canadian workforce – or rather the lack thereof (listen here).

People with disabilities make up about 17% of the Canadian population, and experience  higher unemployment rates  (4x the national average), and high underemployment. The main barrier that Joe Dale (the ED of the Ontario Disability Employment Network) was explaining to fill-in host Jane Hawtin are people’s myths and misconceptions.


The interview made me think about language, and how we label people – or rather how we label certain people. No one can do everything. Why then, are some of us considered “abled” and others “disabled”. It suddenly seemed a little absurd.

We don’t all do things the same way. But somehow those of us who are considered “abled” are often given leeway to arrive at the end result by our own means without someone looking over our shoulder or judging the way we got there. When we need help or are unable to do something,we are usually able to receive assistance without too much fanfare. But the level of discomfort about “accommodations” for people with disabilities can be startling.

I wonder what it would be like if we didn’t have labels like disabled and abled? Would there be more space in a workplace (school, family, community, etc) for people to exhibit their strengths and find support for the things that they found difficult? Would we be better at sharing work so that people really played to their strengths and formed collaborative teams? What if people were just people and their contributions were valued for what they are?

I know. It’s a bit Utopian, but underlying these labels and the grumbling about accommodation is, in my opinion, a definite judgment call on how things should be done, what it should look like, what types of effort it should take, how people should be, and ultimately who has value – which leaves little room for difference (and certainly less room for obvious difference), and consequently also little room for innovation and humanity.

Today that stands out as particularly sad and shortsighted.

See more.

copyright 2012 Annemarie Shrouder
Author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion.


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