I think we can all agree that finding a job should not be difficult right now. There are a lot of vacancies out there. Now, they may not all pay six figures, but there are loads of jobs and employers who, at every turn, claim “no one wants to work!” However, is there more to the story?
Did you know that, by 2017, 26.7 per cent of New Brunswick’s population aged 15 and over were persons with disabilities? That’s more than 161,500 people. Persons with disabilities are grossly under-employed, primarily due to stereotypes and stigma.
We are perceived as either unable to work (not true); a financial pitfall because if a company hires a person with a disability, they will need to put into place expensive and difficult accommodations (not true); and of course, if they hire us, that we will require way more sick time than most (also not true).
Studies have shown persons with disabilities who are able to work, even if only part-time, are the hardest working, most loyal and dedicated employees, who take minimal sick time. Also, because we have had to think outside the box far too often to survive, we are creative and innovative employees.
One would think that anyone with a disability who is able both physically and mentally to work could get a job, but no! Why is this?
First, education is a huge employment barrier for persons with disabilities. Both employers and the government need a better understanding of disability and how policies harm us. Employers need to better understand what our limits are and work with us, not against us. Working is much more than a paycheque and would help liberate — financially, physically, and mentally — so many of us. But first and foremost, antiquated government policies must change.
Another employment barrier is the health card. If you can and do work, especially for those collecting CPP-Disability, at the three year point, you lose that health coverage we need to survive. Social Development says you can get coverage through work, but this is not exactly true. Private plans will rarely cover much that has to do with disabilities under the precondition clause. Then, even if they do cover your medications, they do not cover equipment such as a wheelchair, hospital bed, ostomy supplies, etc. This fact makes it financially impossible for a person with a disability to work, especially part-time or when making $15–$20 per hour. Trying to explain all this to Social Development causes so much stress and anger, and forces people to quit and decide never to work again.
The rent subsidy offered to people with a disability is also problematic. As it is, so many apartments we are forced to live in are moldy, have radon and are not accessible. Once one starts to work, the rent subsidy continues to lower. With time, you risk losing the subsidy completely, and are punished for working as you start paying more and more for rent. It often gets to the point where you can no longer afford your rent. Before this happens, you are forced to stop working, and return to social assistance. On top of the many costs to the government, it often leaves employers in a lurch.
`Employers need to start calling on the government to amend these antiquated policies, to make it simpler for persons with a disability to work. With so many vacancies, especially at the government level, you would think the government would do whatever it could to help get us working in a way that is not punitive and does not put our physical and financial safety at risk. It is good for our health, it provides us a little more financial security, can save the taxpayers money, and fills much-needed vacant positions. It also allows us to show the next generation of persons with disabilities that we are able to work.
It is time for the government to step up and finally make these changes. Allow those who can work and who are fortunate enough to have found work in an accessible building with easy-to-catch accessible transit to and from work, to work without punishment.
It is also time to stop investing so much into third party organizations who are there to help us find work but are all too often in non accessible buildings, or not on a public transit route — or in many cases, both. If these organizations do not understand why being on a transit route is a must, then they do not understand disability and are not helping anyone but themselves.
We would be much better served if this money was put into items such as work clothing benefits or some technology retraining; and not into perpetuating the disability industrial complex.
Shelley Petit is the chair of the New Brunswick Coalition of Persons with Disabilities.