December 3, 2009 marked the International Disabled Person’s Day, when people with disabilities are honoured and recognized for the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Of all groups that fall under the category of “equity-seeking”, the difficulties faced by differently-abled workers can be the most challenging to overcome. The working world is simply not set up to meet their needs and it’s more the exception than the rule to find themselves in jobs where the employer accommodates them.
Why is this so? Why don’t we have a world that allows for all differences to be recognized, accommodated, and celebrated? Why shouldn’t a differently-abled worker have opportunities similar to any abled-bodied person? Our workplaces and the work that we do would be richer.
And there is another good reason it shouldn’t be so. The levels of under-employment, unemployment, and outright poverty faced by workers with disabilities are disgraceful.
According to Stats Canada, the percentage of disabled people aged 16 to 64 with jobs in 2003 was 61.3%. That compares to 79.3% of non-disabled people. Furthermore, less than 50% of workers who are considered “severely disabled” report stable employment.
Again, the reality of our changing demographics is that more people will suffer from some form of disability as they age. Eventually most people will have to be accommodated in some form or another, ranging from how their workstations are set up to ensuring an entire office or building is accessible to wheelchairs.
Often, just getting employers to recognize that physical structures create barriers is very difficult. Most unions, your union included, strive to make management see that removing physical barriers and making their workplaces accessible is a benefit to everyone, not just to the workers they are accommodating.
Michael D’Souza, CMG Human Rights Director, uses an apt metaphor to describe why accessibility should be the concern of everyone. “Curb cuts” is the term used to describe the ramps at the end of all sidewalks at intersections and other pathways; these were originally designed so that people in wheelchairs could move up the ramp and avoid having to be pushed over the lip of the curb. Everyone enjoys curb cuts now– people pushing strollers, delivery people using dolleys, cyclists, elderly people with canes. What was originally designed to help one group ends up being benefiting everyone.
The CMG wants to help make sure all workers have the opportunity to get and keep stable and meaningful employment. We will continue to advocate for accessibility for physically-challenged workers, to press our employers on arranging return-to-work accommodation, and to encourage the full participation and activism of differently-abled workers in the life of our union.
Terri is a CMG staff representative and is assigned to equity and human rights issues.