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The Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities became a federally incorporated non-profit in 2003.
The origins of the non-profit began when a group of professionals with disabilities felt that the voice and issues of professionals with disabilities in Canada were largely going unnoticed and not represented leading them to be under-supported, under-employed, and excluded from the workforce. This came from personal, professional, and community outreach experience (including their work in employment, disability supports, rehabilitation, education, and training for people with disabilities). They decided to form a national non-profit that would take a leadership role in addressing issues affecting professionals with disabilities.
For years before the non-profit was formed, these professionals with disabilities, as individuals, were seeking information nationally and globally on statistics, information and support solely for professionals with disabilities, but the information was meagre or non-existent, and questions posed with this topic were often met with confusion and annoyance except by professionals with disabilities who knew that their concerns were frequently going unaddressed and unrecognised. This group also realised that there was a need to provide camaraderie and support amongst professionals with disabilities, and a need for a national clearinghouse of information and support for them, no matter where they lived in Canada.
The Canadian Association of
Professionals with Disabilities is a grassroots creation. It is based
on a consumer controlled model and dedicated to social responsibility,
collaboration, innovation, diversity, and inclusion.
There has been little in the way of Canadian statistics on how professionals with disabilities are specifically doing after graduation or whenever they acquired a disability as a professional.
In Canada, according to the Statistics Canada's 2001 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS - "Disability in Canada: A 2001 Profile"), it is stated that for the core working-age adults with disabilities, age 25-54, the employment (participation) rate was at its peak with just over 51% employed compared to just over 82% for those without disabilities (a 31% difference). For older workers with disabilities, age 55-64, it is said to have been just over 27% employed compared to just over 56% for those without disabilities (a 28% difference). For youth, age 15-24, it is said to have been almost 47% employed compared to almost 57% for those without disabilities (a 10% difference). For all these age groups put together (i.e. 15-64), the employment rate for people with disabilities was almost 44% compared to just over 78% for those without disabilities (a 34% difference).
Another interesting possible employment rate indicator
comes from the Canadian Council on Social Development. If we assume
that professionals for the most part have higher education, according
to the Council, higher education benefits people with disabilities in
the labour market, but not as much as it does for people without disabilities.
For example, in 1998, it found that 51.8% of men and 41.1% of women
with disabilities who were post-secondary graduates were employed all
that year compared to 82% and 73% of their respective non-disabled counterparts
(about a respective 30% and 32% difference). When we do a cursory comparison
of these numbers to the ones above from the 2001 PALS survey, we found
that there was little difference in the employment rate of those people
with disabilities who were post-secondary graduates compared to people
with disabilities in general and their non-disabled counterparts. Such
information echoes what we all know - that is having post-secondary
education for people with disabilities is not the panacea to eliminating
the barriers to their full participation in employment even though education
helps to: garner and expand their employment opportunities (or unemployment/underemployment
opportunities as some might say) and income earning prospects; provide
them with the in-demand skills for today's jobs (and the capacity necessary
to keep their talents current, transferable, and responsive to the skills
demand of our rapidly changing economy); being able to better themselves
and their quality of life; and further enhance their independence and
influence. The Council also made a similar finding by commenting that
while education is important for people with disabilities in the labour
market, they are also encountering other labour market barriers.
It is also interesting to note that during 1998, the Council found that 30.3% of men and 40% of women with disabilities who were post-secondary graduates were not in the labour force at all that year compared to 3.1% and 10.3% of their respective non-disabled counterparts (about a respective 27% and 30% difference).
For more information, please go to
[The Canadian Council on Social Development prepared the above statistics by using Statistics Canada's Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (masterfile)].
The unemployment rate is another matter. It is difficult to measure. In Canada, some say that the real unemployment rate for people with disabilities could be at least 50% (and that excludes those who are underemployed which could bring the cumulative rates up much higher), if you take into account other factors that are hard if not impossible to measure like those people with disabilities who may be considered as being identified as the "hidden unemployed".
Many people with disabilities who long to work are
no longer part of the official systems to collect statistics on unemployment
rates, and even some of these systems have changed how they measure
making it more difficult to make longitudinal comparisons. The percentage
of people who collect employment insurance is an often-cited official
measure of who is unemployed. Frequently, persons with disabilities
find themselves in jobs that are too part time and/or too short term
to be able to contribute enough hours to be eligible for employment
insurance so they are left out in this count. Then there are people
with disabilities who have given up looking for work out of despair
of not being able to find anything. The amount of continual rejection
and roadblocks one receives when looking for work, and the toll it takes
on one emotionally, physically, socially, and financially when doing
so becomes too great especially when there seems to be no light at the
end of the tunnel and/or this process has been going on for a very long
time. Others look for work sporadically hoping things have changed,
while many cannot afford to look for work, be employed, or look like
they are employable out of fear of losing vital disability supports
if they earn any income or show that they are employable (even if it
is just volunteering but no one is actually hiring them). Countless
people with disabilities are just barely scrimping by on other often-limited
supports that are not tied to any official body that could record that
they are seeking employment. Many, for example, who want full time employment
can only get part-time and/or short-term employment yet both are considered
an employment stat. Short-term employment is especially deceiving because
the person with the disability could be relegated to unemployment the
rest of the year. Often they have long periods of unemployment. The
rate of underemployment and sporadic employment is higher for people
with disabilities than the general populous. As such, sustainable employment
is a major issue amongst people with disabilities.
Men with disabilities are more likely to be employed than women and other marginalised groups with disabilities (even though it is a sad state of affairs for all groups concerned). Furthermore, the difficulty in securing and sustaining employment is greater for those who have certain types of disabilities (i.e.: including real or perceived severity of a disability and employers'/public unease with a disability type or disfigurement). When and how one acquired a disability also has an impact on the career success of a professional with a disability. Also, not every person with a disability is treated equally in regards to employment and support issues. (This is discussed further in the sections titled, Financial Disincentives to and in Employment and Not Every Person with a Disability is Treated Equally in Terms of Income and Supports)
Unfortunately, many professionals with disabilities who can and want to work must face lives that bring them lack of sustainable livelihoods because of subsistence living incomes, poverty, unemployment, short-term employment (or contract work), intermittent employment, and/or part time employment (for those who wanted full time). Many find themselves disconnected or precariously connected to the workforce and face social, professional, and economic isolation. Countless professionals with disabilities have been living like this for decades.
Given this reality then, is it any wonder why many people will not disclose their disabilities (if they are able to hide them) or health/medical conditions to current and potential employers, colleagues, coworkers, and clients out of fear that it could damage their careers. If they do disclose, they could risk having a life of instability, uncertainty, poverty, isolation, and increased health problems (i.e. as a result of losing social, professional, and/or economic supports).
Even for working professionals with disabilities, there are still many work and quality of life issues that are not being adequately addressed. Poor or uncertain prospects, job retention concerns, low or unstable incomes, barriers to career development and advancement, training and promotion concerns, workplace issues, transportation, housing, disability supports, health care concerns, and planning for the present and future can still be problematic.
Furthermore, we live in a society where having a career is a major factor in defining who we are, how we live, and to a significant degree, how others see us.
Work impacts the ability of professionals with disabilities to have a good life, partake in life opportunities, take risks to independence, and take part in such critical aspects of life as: the ability to afford to "move out" and have a place of one's own; the choice to remain single, enter into a relationship, get married, and/or have children; the ability to live a health conscious lifestyle; the ability to socialise; the access to home ownership, transportation, and health care; the pursuit of advanced education and career development/opportunities; the planning for retirement; and the pursuit of active community involvement.
Accumulatively, the attitudinal barriers of indifference, misconceptions, discomfort, ignorance, and prejudice that many relevant stakeholders (such as employers, co-workers, service providers, government, educators, and professional associations) have towards professionals with disabilities may be their greatest barriers to finding sustainable and rewarding livelihoods.
Fear is a major theme in this attitudinal barrier mixture. It can range from fearing to say or do the wrong thing around people with disabilities, to how others will cope in having a workplace colleague with a disability, and to fear of being reminded of one's own mortality and vulnerability of becoming disabled when being around people with disabilities. Unfortunately, how many people handle such fear is to avoid being around people with disabilities.
There is even some backlash against people with disabilities. A few people are under the mistaken impression that people with disabilities are being given unfair advantages and special treatment in the workplace and in acquiring employment. Some assume that people with disabilities are already well "taken care" of and want for nothing and should not be asking for so much nor vie for jobs that people without disabilities want. Simply put, they believe that people with disabilities should just accept their lot in life, or if they do want to compete for jobs or keep jobs, they should not be given any type of accommodation, as that is a form of "special treatment".
Some of these detractors even wrongfully assume workplace accommodation and other disability supports means that people with disabilities are getting easier work requirements. In some cases, a few of these critics have the misconception that such supports indicate a diminished mental capacity and an increased dependency on the part of the person with a disability. They may even believe that such supports may imply that the person with a disability has other impairments that could negatively affect their other senses, character, and ability (however, a person with a disability does not need to have disability supports for some people to believe this anyway.).
With high unemployment/underemployment, great numbers of unsupported and under supported disability related concerns, widespread poverty, and generally a lower quality of life for most people with disabilities, these facts will tell you that most are not living well, nor are they reaping the benefits of improved employability because more of them are skilled and educated. All that people with disabilities want is to have an equal opportunity and a level playing field to participate in employment as well as to have full acceptance and appreciation of their skills, knowledge, and abilities in the mainstream workforce. Furthermore, if there is a need for accommodation, it is not special treatment. It supports people with disabilities to meet the same job standards and expectations as other co-workers, as it reduces the barriers to employment entry and full workforce participation.
To sum it up, as long as all these attitudinal barriers persist, relevant stakeholders can make all the disability accommodations needed in the work and community environment, but if the workplace or community culture and ethics do not accept people with disabilities, no accommodations in the world will make a difference.
A professional with a disability still portrays an atypical role for countless people and it clashes with many people's expectations of what a professional should look like. A professional means being seen as a decision maker, leader, specialist, expert, advisor, and/or manager. Many people are still not use to having people with disabilities being in such positions. There is still a misconception that they are dependent rather than independent, weak rather than strong, and that they are followers rather than leaders.
As long as others believe (or exploit the concept) that people with disabilities are burdens, inferior, helpless, tragic figures, should be pitied, and/or cannot care for themselves, those beliefs will continue to elicit doubt in the competencies of people with disabilities from others. As a result, it will make it that much harder for people with disabilities to secure and sustain employment that is commensurate with their skills, knowledge, and abilities.
After all, if so many people wrongfully assume that people with disabilities cannot care for themselves, it is harder for them to believe that people with disabilities are capable of taking care of others and carrying through on responsibilities. This is part of the reason why there is such high unemployment amongst people with disabilities as such attitudes are allowed to prevail.
Furthermore, at the other end of the spectrum, being seen as remarkable, courageous, triumphant, and inspirational (even for the most mundane things) are also damaging beliefs that many people have of people with disabilities in general. They fuel the stereotypes that people with disabilities are "different" and "special" from the rest of the population and that anything that they do is to be seen as "out of the ordinary". Furthermore, contrary to what many people may believe, people with disabilities do not go out to conquer life. Like everyone else, they simply go out to live one. Even the wrongful belief of the "super disabled person" character/label/stereotype does not encourage the acceptance of diversity, as it too implies being "different" and "special" from the rest of the population and even amongst many people with disabilities.
People with disabilities are no different from people without disabilities. They are just ordinary people. Most will not feel anymore innately inclined than people without disabilities to become such figures as accomplished world pianists and entertainers, daredevil mountain climbers and skiers, elite athletes, Nobel Peace Prize winners, revered leaders in science, or well-known sages.
Yet, when talking about success, inspiration, exceptional, courage, and willpower, this group of people with disabilities (many of whom fall under the "hero worship" following) seem to be more profiled in the mass media than others with disabilities whose: lives may not be high profile, sell stories, and/or provide a publicly appealing image; and/or accomplishments may be more low key, subtle, selfless, challenging, and important. As many high profile people with disabilities will concur, this latter group of people with disabilities do not often get (or do not want to get) the credit and recognition that they deserve even when they may have a more profound positive affect on what they did in their lives (and others) and/or on current and future people with disabilities and society in general. Inspiring (in the truest sense of the word), achieving, and succeeding should not be measured by how big, larger than life, or well-known one is, but for many people with disabilities that may be the only "role models" they see for "successful" and "inspiring" people with disabilities.
Furthermore, stories that appeal to the public's sentimentality of people with disabilities overcoming the odds and doing astonishing things to make the public feel good (and often at the expense of marginalising people with disabilities even further) more often than not also obscure the realities people with disabilities face.
For example, a feature about a person who became a lawyer while being blind, and then a successful partner in a respected law firm is an important story, if it is presented in the right way, does not gloss over the disability related barriers to getting to where they are, and does not pander to sentimentality, stereotypes, sappiness, "feel good" sound bytes, and portraying the professional as an "iconic superhuman character" rather than as a real person that people can relate to. It is important for the public to see the capabilities of people with disabilities and for other people with disabilities to see their career options and professionals with disabilities doing them as well as learning what these professionals had to do and what barriers they had to face in order to get to where they are today.
Such positive stories must also be balanced with ones about what many professionals with disabilities still face. So many are still struggling for their basic rights, equal access to opportunities in employment, and wanting a sustainable livelihood. The public needs to have greater awareness in how they can modify their attitudes and actions in a more positive and healthy way in how they relate to and think of people with disabilities.
The Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities believes in mutual obligation and support. That is, stakeholders (such as employers, coworkers, service providers, government, educators, and professional associations) affecting a professional with a disability's career must be actively committed, supportive, and accountable to the career success of a professional with a disability as is the professional with the disability is to them. A professional with a disability's ability to succeed cannot just be solely based on their skill, willpower, and having the right, positive attitude, but also being in an environment that is truly supportive, inclusive, and accepting of them.
In the disability movement, there is much talk about empowering the person with a disability. The Canadian Association of Professionals with Disabilities recognises the importance of that, but we are also well aware that many professionals with disabilities are already empowered, and the problems facing them more so are the result of being disempowered at the same time - such as from infrastructure and employment related barriers and relevant stakeholders' damaging attitudes and expectations. As a result, the emotional response to empowerment and disempowerment are continually at odds with one another.
Society is judged by how well it treats people on the margins of society. The professional with a disability is a "canary in the mine" on how well society treats people with disabilities. If professionals with disabilities in general are still at the receiving end of being ignored, not taken seriously, dismissed, and discriminated against like so many other people with disabilities despite their education, skills, abilities, experience, career success, or status, what does that say about how far Canadians with disabilities have been truly accepted and included?
As is true for all people with disabilities, total respect for, and acceptance and inclusion of all professionals with disabilities is something that society, as a whole, must work on together.
There cannot be flavour of the week disabilities in regards to which people with disabilities should be supported in employment opportunities and which ones are good for "optics" in employment. All people with disabilities are important.
The only thing that separates a professional with a disability from one without is the disability itself.
Professionals with disabilities have the same ambitions and aspirations as any other professional. They too want to reach their potential. They are also just as likely to want positions that are rewarding and challenging as well as desire career development and advancement opportunities.
Issues affecting professionals with disabilities are about equality and social justice. Equal rights, access, and opportunities are as important to disability as they are to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age. Furthermore, providing "access" (in all its realms of interpretation) for professionals with disabilities cannot come about as token gestures of generosity, but be seen as a matter of course that accepts them as full and contributing members of society. They cannot be treated like second-class citizens.
Finally, it is so important that the issues affecting professionals with disabilities be addressed and resolved. These issues cannot be ignored nor can they receive "it is not my problem" mentality, as disability is the club that anyone at anytime can join, and most people will become members at some point in their lives.
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This page was last updated on Tuesday, March 10, 2015