Advocates say people with disabilities 'disproportionately' impacted by unemployment amid pandemic

Inequality for people with disabilities in the job market has always been a reality, but now issues surrounding unemployment and job loss have gotten even worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a recent study by Stats Canada, 36 per cent of people with a long term condition or disability reported temporary or permanent job loss since March.

For Kevin McShan, those stats aren't particularly surprising.

"People with disabilities are disproportionately affected from an employment perspective, from a number of different categories... a lack of opportunity to a lack of, frankly, interest in education for people with disabilities as it relates to employment. So I'm really not surprised," said McShan, who is a disability advocate in Windsor.

Prior to the pandemic McShan was working for the Discover Ability Network as a regional ambassador, but like many, he now faces uncertainty when it comes to securing employment.

Before losing his contract, McShan said he was working on a program that would better connect people with disabilities to employment opportunities with local businesses. However, those opportunities may now be more challenging to find, he said.

"Business owners who are looking to restart their business because of the pandemic are just not willing to sort of go out on a limb to try and infuse more people with disabilities, because they're looking to get their business back up and running," he explained.

The study by Stats Canada highlighted particular employment issues for people with disability between the ages of 15 and 24.

Other findings revealed that more than 40 per cent of the survey's participants said the income loss they've incurred has had a major or moderate impact on their ability to get food and groceries.

"It wouldn't hurt to find a job and make some extra cash, you know," said Mohamad Nadi, who has also been on the job hunt throughout the pandemic.

While securing work has been a challenge for Nadi, he said he's more concerned for others, who may be differently-abled compared to him. He added employers willingness to accommodate their employees continues to be a huge barrier for people with disabilities who are looking for work.

Submitted by Mohamad Nadi
Submitted by Mohamad Nadi

"I'm just a small example, my cerebral palsy is barely a hassle on me. I'm focused more on the blind or the hearing impaired or the people who are wheelchair bound for life, like I can get out of my chair easily," he explained.

'More opportunities' needed

While some can access supports, such as The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), McShan and Nadi stressed that for many, that income is not enough.

"I'm able to provide for myself and my family through my ODSP, but it's not enough, you know. I'm not trying to be ungrateful, because I really appreciate ODSP and what it's done and what it's helped me with, but it's not enough," said Nadi.

McShan echoed Nadi, and said accommodating employees with disabilities is key, but that it doesn't necessarily mean expanding financially in a large way.

He said for the most part it can cost businesses less than $500 to accommodate disabled employees. He added that expanding opportunities is also a way forward.

"More opportunities need to be given in terms of showing or showcasing the abilities of people with disabilities," he said.