Thank you very much for having us today. Sitting at this end of the room, I have a better sense of hearing impairment, because I have trouble hearing you. This will be a good opportunity for me to learn a little bit more about that disability.
Mark will need some help. If you're speaking, speak loudly and speak so that he can see your face. It will make it easier for all of us.
I'd like to thank you for having us here today. When we received the call from the ministers last July, all of our reactions were the same—it's an honour to serve the public. People like us don't get this chance very often, and we take it very seriously when the chance presents itself. I know all of you are serving the public, and I'd like to thank you for your leadership, because that's how things work. This was sort of a small tidbit of what we could do to serve the public.
I'd also like to thank you for having us speak before lunch. Usually we have to speak after lunch, so we tend to lose our audience. It's a pleasure to be speaking before lunch. I hope we'll have a more interactive session with you.
My intention was not to speak for long about the report. I assume all of you have read it. I read it on the plane coming up from Toronto this morning, and I have to say that I'm pretty proud of it. I'm proud of it because of how it reads. I'm proud of it because of the group I had the pleasure to work with, which was able to create something quite compelling. I feel good about it. I feel good about the report, and I hope you feel the same. This would never have been accomplished without some absolutely wonderful people, and two of them are here with me today. I'll briefly introduce them. My intention, then, is simply to open up the floor for questions so we can have a dialogue with you about what's on your mind, and maybe you can tap into what's on our minds.
Mark Wafer owns a number of Tim Hortons franchises. We had some good humour about the value of Tim Hortons coffee and Timbits over the course of our six months of working together. He's a great example. Not only does he actually hire people with disabilities, he also talks about it all the time. He gets the message across that hiring people with disabilities is good for business, and it's something he does all the time. He's a small-business owner who is doing an incredible amount on this issue, and we're extremely proud of him.
Gary Birch is a well-known person who has worked long and hard. He's the executive director of the Neil Squire Society, based in Vancouver. It goes without saying that he's the leading specialist in employment and adaptive technology for people with disabilities. Gary was a huge asset to our committee.
The one member who could not make it today is the vice president of human resources at Loblaws, Kathy Martin, who was a phenomenal addition to this. She comes from a different sector of employment, but she has experience in diversity and inclusion.
I'm general counsel with Deloitte. You might wonder how a general counsel from a professional services firm ends up chairing a panel for the ministers. It's a long story. As I said, it was an honour to be asked.
I do a lot of work on inclusion. I chair our firm's diversity council. I'm also the executive sponsor of the gay-lesbian group at Deloitte and have been involved in something called, Legal Leaders for Diversity. It is a group of over 60 general counsels across the country who are supporting inclusive behaviours and an inclusive legal profession. As I said, it's an honour to be here today with you to, more than anything, get your feedback on the report and maybe answer some questions.
I would like to read to you only one small paragraph from the report. It's in “The Challenge”. This is what we had set out to do, and I think this is what we've accomplished.
By connecting directly with employers, our panel set out to discover what can be done about the unemployment and under-employment of qualified people with disabilities in Canada. We explored the barriers – some physical and many attitudinal – but chose to focus on the positive. Our goal is to shine the light on best practices and successes among Canadian employers who have welcomed people with disabilities into their ranks. Their examples can help us learn and do better.
The important thing from our report is that hiring people with disabilities is good for business. It's good for the economy. This is an approach most people don't take on this topic. We firmly believe it's true. The evidence we were able to collect from employers proved this to us time and time again. The research work done by our friends from human resources, who are here with us today, was incredible. Again, it proved that point.
We believe we're on the cusp of something great within Canada, and that's why all of us have committed to carry on in our roles to talk about this issue, starting today with this committee.
Again, on behalf of the panel, thank you very much for your support.
Thank you very much for inviting me here. It's quite an honour.
By most people, the Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society is called IRIS, so let's go with that. It has been around for quite a while, doing work under one brand or another in the voluntary sector. An important focus of the work for the last 20 years or so has been on employment and disability.
As you know, a great many people in Canada have disabilities—more than 2.5 million working-age people, based on the participation and activity limitation survey of 2006. Depending on the survey you look at, that number is even higher. It is more than five million working-age people, based on the survey of labour and income dynamics, or SLID. So we're talking about a lot of people.
We're also talking about an employment rate that has lagged behind that of non-disabled Canadians for many years. Based on the most recent version I could get my hands on, which has data for 2010, the SLID shows that 47% or thereabouts of people with disabilities were employed full-time all year in 2010, compared with 67.2% of people without disabilities. The lag has consistently been at about three-quarters of the employment rate for people without disabilities.
While there have been some improvements over the last number of years for people with disabilities, in the very recent few years, coming out of the recession, there has actually been a fall-off in the employment rate of people with disabilities. So there is a struggle.
That struggle is particularly difficult for people with some types of disabilities. I'm thinking here of disabilities in the area of the cognitive and the emotional domains. People with developmental disability, communication disability, learning disability, or mental health issues have had very low employment rates for many years, and lots of people want jobs.
Why don't they have them? Well, there are many factors external to individuals that help account for this. There is an education gap and limited access to training, which has persisted, although there have been some improvements on that front. There is a lack of the supports needed on the job, whether human support or technological support—built environmental factors, accessible transportation—and a lack of employer awareness and comfort level in dealing with disability in the workplace, whether of new recruits or of people who become disabled and need some sort of attention in order to be retained in employment.
There are problems with income security systems at the provincial level that can create real penalties for people who even consider working, such as loss of drug benefits, housing, and basic income security, which can be very difficult to achieve in a highly volatile labour market. Differences in local economies can make it hard to find jobs for anyone, especially if you have a disability. Information may not be available to people who need it in accessible formats. Community transportation may not be there. It goes on and on. It's a complex challenge to sort out, and there is no one silver bullet.
Then there are things that are internal or intrinsic to individuals, such as their age, their gender, whether they're aboriginal people or visible minorities, and the particular type of disability they may have. We can't do anything to change those factors, but those factors are definitely associated with lower than usual levels of employment.
Despite all the doom and gloom, there are lots of people who have jobs and have had them for a long time, and they make decent money. How do we account for that?
A long-standing interest of mine has been in explaining how it is that we manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat despite the obstacles to doing so. When I look at the research and listen to stories, I think there are essentially three key things being done that we need to do more of.
One is to strengthen the capacity of individuals in terms of their opportunities to participate in paid employment. If we were to look at training and education in particular—this is a huge issue and has been for a long time—although the education and training gap between those with and without disabilities has been narrowing in recent years, and that is good news, a gap persists, and there is a significant gap.
The better educated people are and the better their access to training, the more likely it is that they're going to have jobs. This suggests to me that we need to place some focus on making sure that people get those kinds of developmental opportunities to ensure not only that barriers are removed to accessing education and training but that people who are in post-secondary institutions know what they're doing with respect to disability and have the resources they need. We need skilled people, with the resources they require.
Also, at the elementary and secondary school level, often parents don't have much of a vision, and educators may not know what to do with people when they leave school and how to prepare them for that point. Parents and educators need to be engaged in good, effective transition planning that has a view to futures with employment for people.
I've spoken with provincial officials who have indicated that just getting that vision in the minds of young people is a challenge and without that vision, young people aren't going to go for it. Creating practical pathways that enable young people to achieve that vision is another area that requires priority attention.
The second major area would be strengthening the capacity of employers to hire, retain, and promote people with disabilities.
A lot of things are required in the workplace in order to make it possible for people to work, such as modified work hours, work duties, and so on. These are procedural matters, but other things can cost money. I'm thinking here of built environmental modifications, assistive technologies, ramps and all that kind of stuff. These can be real deterrents, especially for small and mid-sized employers, to not only making the outlays needed to bring more people with disabilities in as employees but also to better serve their disabled customers. Something is needed to make it possible for small to mid-sized employers to access low-hassle, low-grief financing so they can make investments in the modifications required to bring and keep people in employment who have disabilities and to do the same for their customer base of disabled people.
Employers often lack knowledge, comfort, and expertise, although there is a lot of knowledge out there among employers. So how do we employ that knowledge so that employers can network with employers and listen to the success stories and hear about how challenges were overcome? That's another area for priority attention: enable the knowledge there in our companies to get out and circulate more fluidly within the community of stakeholders who can do something to improve the employment situation of disabled people.
Third, strengthen the capacity of community organizations doing a good job on the employment front. Without my going into all the difficulties community organizations face, I'm sure you've heard more than your fair share of a lot of those. The funding for these organizations—even for very good ones—can be highly tenuous, which creates real disincentives for people to stay in the sector and to keep the brain trust alive and growing.
So how do we keep people attracted to this work, which can be very challenging? One way is to ensure that they have a job over the long term. Those funds can't be completely unconditional, and one understands that, but there are ways of reorganizing the funding so that accountability can be achieved with a measure of stability in the supply of the good quality supports that employers and disabled individuals need.
We also need to create incentives for organizations to work with people who face complex challenges in the labour market. Right now, a great many organizations find incentives to work with people who actually don't need much effort and who are fairly straightforward to place. Then they get their quotas up and everybody's funded and everybody's happy, except for people—and there are a lot of them—who have a significant level of disability and face a myriad of labour-market challenges, who get set to one side and therefore the low-employment rates continue on and on.
There are other considerations on top of those three, which probably as a federal group there is not much that can be done. Provincially, however, we can build on the successes of income security programs and social assistance programs, increase the earnings level exemptions, remove some of the penalties, and encourage and support individuals who want to make the transition from social assistance into the paid labour force.
Another measure is to extend access to health and dental benefits and those sorts of things, once people leave the social assistance system. Doing that for a few months is maybe not enough for people with complex needs.
We can't do much about changing age and gender in particular, but we can design programs that are more responsive to the needs of folks who present multiple challenges.
So a range of things can be done and are being done, where good practice is in evidence. I think we just need to roll up our sleeves and find ways of working together to do more of the good that is already being done.
I'll back up a little bit. As Cameron mentioned, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 47%. That's actually a StatsCan number. We know the real number to be much higher than that, so the significance of this problem is much greater than one may think.
There are 800,000 job-ready Canadians with disabilities looking for work right now, but if you look at the population of Canada and who has a disability, that's 16% of the population. That's the entire population of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta combined, so it's a very large number.
We know that the reason we have such a high unemployment rate is because business owners, especially larger corporations, buy into a series of misperceptions and it's those misperceptions that we have to change. They are the greatest barrier that a person with a disability faces in order to get into the workplace. For example, business owners believe that people with disabilities are going to work slower, they're going to be sick more often, they're going to take more time off, they're going to be working less productively, they're going to be less innovative, and so on.
When we subsidize workers to get into the workforce, if the business owner doesn't understand that those are actually myths, the subsidy becomes free labour and that person with a disability will work for 12 weeks, 5 weeks, 26 weeks, depending on the province, and then they're let go because they simply become a burden on that company.
The opportunities fund, which is now going to be moved up to $40 million as of 2015, is an excellent source of resources for companies that do want to hire people with disabilities, but it has to be used in a more constructive fashion. We need to be able to use that money for accommodations that could be costly and also for any extra training, because as we know, people with disabilities, even if they're Ph.D.s, quite often get into the workforce and they're lacking soft skills.
So there is extra training and extra mentoring that is required. That is an expense to a company, so we need the opportunities fund and other funds like it to take that step back from the work subsidy mentality and get into using that money in a more constructive fashion.
I'll say a few words, but I would like Mr. Wafer to comment on that because he has the first-hand experience.
When we did our consultations with companies in Canada...and some of us were fortunate to tour the Walgreens distribution centre in Connecticut, where over half of the people are people with disabilities. That's its most successful, most productive, best distribution centre, and we saw first-hand how it works. We understand the power of the business from that.
It comes down to the fact that there's a huge talent pool out there that we have not tapped into in ways that maximize the abilities these people have. We focus too much on the disabilities and barriers to them. What we learned from the great corporations in Canada—and I won't name them—is that the ones we saw that really got it right were some of our most successful businesses in Canada. We think it's quite clear that if you develop a strong strategy of inclusion within your organization, you're going to be a more successful business.
We tapped into research done, by a Canadian actually, who lives in New York. Rich Donovan has done a lot of work on that. There's actually proof now of the importance to your business of getting this right. We think it's better understood, but we need to do a better job of educating businesses in particular that this is good for your business.
In terms of the economy, whenever you have somebody working and paying taxes rather than accepting government funding to stay at home and not work, it's a no-brainer. It's good for your economy. If you add into that all of the people who support that individual who is at home not working, and the drain on society in general, it's kind of a no-brainer that everybody benefits by this if we get it right.
Mark, you have some direct experience.
Your original comment about quick service restaurants, or fast food restaurants, bringing in people from other countries through the foreign worker program is a very good one because in Alberta we do have issues. Even in my business at Tim Hortons we have problems finding staff, yet in Alberta the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 70%. It's 47% according to StatsCan, but we know the number to be much larger.
It all comes down to the same thing. What do employers believe? Either they buy into the series of myths and misperceptions, or they don't. They're enlightened. The only way they're going to do that is to have people with disabilities actually work for them. I own six Tim Hortons stores and one Cold Stone ice cream shop. In the last 18 years I've hired 85 people with disabilities. Every single one of those was in a meaningful and competitively paid position. Today 36 of my 210 employees have a disability, and that's in every department.
If you look at the benefits from my operation, first of all, I have the lowest turnover rate of any Tim Hortons operation in the GTA. I have 35% turnover rate versus 75% for anybody who is doing just as good a job as I am. It's not because I'm a great operator. I like to think I am, but it's because I hire people with disabilities.
You see the key—and this is what Walgreens really picked up on—is that I have 180 employees who do not have a disability so what happens is it changes the mindset of the other employees by being inclusive. It actually changes the way that your employees think about who they're working for, or what they're working for.
If you look at the other benefits, you have absenteeism, which we've now found to be 86% lower than for people who don't have a disability. You have innovation. I can assure you that we would not have had a police escort up to the front door of this house of Parliament today if it wasn't for this very innovative man here in a wheelchair who managed to do that. I couldn't have done that and Ken couldn't have done that, but if I have a person with a wheelchair with an innovative spirit working in one of the drive-throughs of one of my stores, I can guarantee you I am going to have more sales and I'm going to have more crowds coming through there because that innovative spirit is brought over into the workforce.
If you look at productivity it's a huge one because businesses believe that if they hire somebody with a disability, productivity is going to be lower. I know that productivity is at least the same, but in many cases productivity is higher. I have one particular instance that I tell everybody about because it's so profound. I have a deaf person who is working as a baker who replaced a person who was working for nine years. Her productivity is 18.4% better than the person she replaced.
There are so many benefits. There is no downside to disability employment. We have to get business owners to understand those benefits. Once they do, when they get it, believe me they're not going to go back.
I would like to answer the first question. That is, you talk about the stories and that you've heard them for many years. You have, but you haven't heard them from businesses. You've been hearing them from the sector. Business owners want to hear from business owners in a peer-to-peer fashion.
In the last 40 years the unemployment rate for people with disabilities hasn't changed. Percentage-wise, it's been at 47% to 50% since 1970. That hasn't changed. Yes, there have been a lot of reports done. Yes, there have been a lot of committees struck, but every single one of those was sector. This is the first time that the report has actually been business mandated and business driven. This is why the national strategy, when we do get it off the ground, will be business driven and business membership only. Business owners are going to listen to business owners.
I started a program four years ago called the “Rotary at work” program. I'm a Rotarian, and all I do is speak to other Rotarians about hiring people with disabilities. I speak to them as a business owner to a business owner. In the last four years we have found work for 189 people with disabilities—full-time, permanent, competitively paid, meaningful jobs.
Yes, in the past we were probably spinning our wheels. What we're seeing now is a lot more momentum by speaking from a business point of view. In fact, in Toronto, where I'm quite close to many of the community partners, the community partners come to me when they have a new business in town. They come to me as the business champion and say, “Mark, would you phone on our behalf? They'll listen to you. They won't listen to us.” That's exactly what we need to do going forward. You need business champions to step up and say, “Hey, I'm making money doing this. I'm not losing money. It's affecting my bottom line positively.” I think that's the difference now going forward.
It's my first chance to thank you personally, on the level I'd like to, regarding the report that you worked so diligently on and brought forward. It truly was an inspiration.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a motion in front of Parliament to take some next steps. I am under no illusions that we're going to change the world overnight, but we need to elevate this even further, and the opportunity is there. I'm also a 25-year business person. I owned my own company and employed 20 people before I got into politics in 2008, and I have a 26-year-old son who is intellectually challenged.
I suppose this is directed to you, Mark, more than anyone else, but anyone else, please weigh in on it. Now that you know the background, the essence of my questioning really is about the pragmatics of a business person who doesn't really understand the dynamics and understand that there is a business case for this. I'm a former Rotarian as well, so I'm aware of your work within Rotary, and the business champion model appeals very much to me, peer to peer.
Certainly government has a role to play with supports, as we are doing generally for the unemployed through, most recently, the Canada job grant that we came forward with, and possibly with some future initiatives that would enhance that for persons with disabilities. I'm not sure that's in the cards from the government's point of view, but I'm just kind of daydreaming or dreaming a bit here about how we attack this, from a government point of view.
More from the small and mid-sized business point of view, Mark, what's the importance of a mentoring program within your company? When someone arrives that you'd like to hire, that you'd like bring into your workforce, how important is it that there be someone within the company—in my case, I was in construction so it would be someone like a carpenter—who would mentor his assistant who might be a person with a disability? How important is that in practical terms?
I want to acknowledge the territorial lands of the Algonquin peoples that we share here today.
Thank you for having us.
I'm going to start with recommendations because experience has led me to believe that is the most important thing, so we'll start there and amplify from there.
DAWN Canada's specific recommendations for employment and for women with disabilities is as follows. First off, priority across all programs must give priority to women who, as you will hear today, have the highest rates of unemployment. Within our population we understand that immigrant, racialized first nations and aboriginal women are experiencing triple discrimination.
Affordable child care is an issue for every parent in this country and for women with disabilities in particular. We must address this as part of a broader national child care strategy.
Disability supports that make employment possible, including deaf interpreters, deaf readers, home supports, and attendant care must also be provided in order to support the role of women in the workplace. Income support programs for women with disabilities must be enhanced, flexible and transferable. EI sick benefits, in particular, represent a key support for women with disabilities who represent a significant majority of people suffering from episodic illness. Women with breast cancer deserve income supports throughout their treatment.
I refer you to a longer discussion of EI benefits and disabled women presented to Status of Women Canada on March 12, 2009, in which I commented and drew quite heavily on a report of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.
Finally, accessible and affordable transportation is essential to successful workplace participation.
To begin, I did take a bit of a look at some of the previous testimony and tried to also address some questions that I felt didn't, perhaps, have a full answer. One of them in particular was the definition of “disability”. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities, when they developed their bylaws, actually took the preamble and article 1, basically recognizing that people with disabilities face attitudinal barriers. That's part of the preamble. Then the piece from article 1, paragraph 2 , talks about the fact that people with disabilities have physical or mental impairments that make it difficult for them to participate in daily life. So those two together comprise what we feel is the best definition, even though no true, established definition of “disability” exists.
Going from there on the issues facing women with disabilities in Canada, the social determinants of health have enormous impact on the economic prospects of women with disabilities. Canada lists 11 determinants of health: income and social status, social support networks, education and literacy, employment and working conditions, physical and social environment, biology, genetic endowment, personal health practices, and culture. We recommend that transportation be added as well to the determinants of health. Further to that, specific to people with disabilities, disability supports are absolutely essential for women with disabilities to maintain their health and should be added as a social determinant as well.
Much of the data available is not current because the participation and activity limitation survey, the survey of labour and income dynamics, and the long-form census data are no longer being collected. This needs to be urgently addressed in order to increase our understanding of how policies and practices are working, or often not working.
A new product has been developed but is not yet providing any data sets that inform policy, and we're not quite sure how that's going to compare backwards to the other data. The Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities provides important insights but does not provide a real strategic plan that maps our future.
By far, the highest rates of unemployment and lowest levels of income belong to women with disabilities, regardless of age, of any population in this country. It is estimated that currently more than 3 million working-age Canadians have a disability and that disability is much more common among older Canadians. Of course, women living longer means that we're more likely going to be in that aging and disabled category. I know I'm certainly looking at that as I get a little snow on the roof and notice further changes to my own disability.
There was an observation that there was a desire to fund employment, but there has also not been a consistent, sustained effort in terms of employment of people with disabilities. We notice that the BUILT Network, which was a very successful program of the National Network for Mental Health, was not funded in 2008-09. The opportunities fund also has had many cuts to it. Notably, Opportunity Works in Calgary, where I live, was not funded through regional OF funding.
Also, when DisAbled Women's Network of Canada revitalized itself in 2006, we were funded for violence against women with disabilities and for the exploration of housing. But the third strategic priority, which was employment, was also not funded. This is really important for policy decisions to come out. If there is a goal of actually sustaining employment for people with disabilities, the money has to follow those initiatives.
Basically, there are also restrictive program requirements that were referred to you. People are not eligible for EI. This was a real problem in the BUILT Network program. If people had some labour force attachment and had EI eligibility, or they had long-term disability eligibility, then they were excluded from the program. Some of those people with previous labour force attachment should have also been given some equal opportunities to build up their employability.
There are lots of programs that are only for people with intellectual disabilities, or only for people with psychiatric disabilities. Again, if the programs are restrictive, it can be hard, especially when a person has more than one disability, which might cause them to be excluded.
Even in treatment of people with disabilities, while I do not work at paid employment I was not allowed brain injury rehabilitation because I had a mental illness. I also was denied access to any rehabilitation because I had too many things wrong with me. I couldn't even get a functional assessment at Foothills hospital. That situation has not changed.
People with episodic and chronic illnesses often do not have enough time to qualify for benefits. There's a lack of flexible supports for chronic illnesses not deemed severe enough. Very often we see people who are struggling to maintain employment while undergoing cancer treatment, or they have MS and again they're struggling. If they take a lighter schedule, then their funding for their disability is cut to that lighter schedule. Other people have talked about being considered too disabled for one program or not disabled enough for another.
On the UN convention and the collective responsibility of upholding it for public, corporate, and private citizens, we also refer to article 6 on women, article 27 on work and employment, article 32 on monitoring, and 32(b) on the enhancement of community organizations to monitor.
I appreciate those comments. Ditto for much of that.
I will also echo the sentiment that we need to look at targeting those with the greatest barriers, recognizing that certain disability subgroups, such as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, face more serious and severe attitudinal and systemic barriers. Those barriers are unlikely to be overcome in a significant way if we approach the employment of people with disabilities as though they are a homogenous group. They are not. They are very different individually, but also as groups, and sometimes the groups merge and are complicated.
My experience is as a local provider, not only of employment supports but of supporting people with intellectual disabilities to live, work, and play in the Ottawa community. Part of that is helping people find employment and helping employers welcome them to their workplaces. Through that experience, I've seen a lot of what works and what doesn't work, and that's what I'd like to talk about.
I'm also a volunteer with United Way Ottawa. I'm one of the first focus-area champions. I go out and speak about the advantages of hiring people with disabilities and promoting attitudinal change in that area.
With respect to employment, I just want to bring home some of the local context, because right now, within sight of this great building, down at the Westin, one of our LiveWorkPlay members is actually at work in the accounts department. To move a little bit west on O'Connor Street, we support an individual who runs a small business, where he works with Accenture. To go south on Bank Street to The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro, we have someone there right now helping out with the lunch rush. Just to give you some local perspective, that's what we do. They're real people right here in your local community.
We are a local organization with a local focus, but we try to inform our work by best practices from across the province, the country, and the world. Some of the gentlemen you had sitting here—in fact, right in this seat you had Mark Wafer, and you also had Cam Crawford—are people who I'm very familiar with. Again, I would echo many of their comments, so I'm grateful that I don't really need to bring that context. We need more Mark Wafers in Canada. Our country would be a much better place, and a better place for people with disabilities.
We also work with the Ontario Disability Employment Network. I know that Joe Dale testified here as well. We're quite aligned with those comments.
Locally, we're part of the Employment Accessibility Resource Network, hosted by United Way Ottawa. It's bringing together about 30 service providers and employers. I think it reflects well what the panel was saying in their report, not only about promoting the benefits of hiring people with disabilities but also about how to connect with people like ourselves who know these individuals, can connect with an employer, can help communicate the benefits, and can find the right job for the right person.
I see how fast time flies, so I'm going to skip ahead.
There's one thing I want to do. I know it's common to talk about best practices, but I want to talk a little bit about worst practices, because I think that's important. In these times when it's a constant dialogue of scarcity of resources, I think we can't only emphasize the positives. We have to look at where our resources are being used perhaps ineffectually or even in a regressive manner.
One of the things that certainly concerns us and our partner organizations is segregated and/or sub-minimum-wage work environments. In the field of developmental services, as it's labelled in Ontario, we see scarce government dollars continuing to flow to practices and activities that not only fail to support community inclusion but in fact create barriers and have regressive impacts. A lot of this is covered in the CACL report on achieving social and economic inclusion, where they note:
Although enrollments in sheltered workshops are slowly declining...segregated day programming and enclave based employment persist as a dominant model of support for this group in Canada. With below minimum wage compensation, they constitute a form of financial exploitation and social and economic exclusion with substantially lower quality of life outcomes....
This has certainly been our experience, having supported people who have been in these segregated situations and who perhaps have been told that it is because they do not have opportunities, a future, or a possibility in the real workforce. This has been proven wrong time and time again. The greatest barrier was in fact that message to them and to their family members that they would not have success with employment, so this segregated work-like arrangement was what's best for them.
I would note that in some ways the Government of Canada does support that practice by sometimes contracting with these agencies where basically you have a salaried staff member like myself who is supervising a bunch of people with disabilities who are being paid at a sub-minimum wage to perform a task. I would encourage looking internally at what goes on there and dealing with that, because it's wonderful that there's this talk about best practices, but I think leadership through demonstration is critically important.
Another worse practice—this is more of a fear I guess—is going forward again in a dialogue of scarcity. Sometimes there's a tendency toward one-size-fits-all. It sounds economically efficient. Let's send everybody with a disability who is looking for a job to the same place, and then we'll save on various costs.
The problem is that tends to incentivize the marginalization of those who are most difficult to serve because the metric by which performance of those career centres is usually measured is simply how many jobs. So it's not a one job equals one job situation. If you have a person with an intellectual disability who is in a group that is facing 75% or higher unemployment, and they get a job, that is a very different outcome from someone with a Ph.D. who sustained a workplace injury and has been supported to return to work. I'm not saying that is not important, just that it's very different. If you count those two things as the same outcome, then the most marginalized people are unlikely to benefit from that perspective.
Years ago a young man came to our office—actually his mother, but he was there too. She was in a rage because her son had been assessed by a career centre as having a 3 out of 100 score in employability. That is not a very good message to receive. Long story short, he has now been working for a TD bank locally here in Ottawa for more than a decade, has a full salary, pension, everything. That is obviously not the outcome nor the destination that had been determined for him through that initial assessment, so we need to be wary of that.
If we do have people going through the same door, we have to make sure through the other side that there are people who understand the particular needs of different disability groups and subpopulations because those are very specialized skills. What we do in terms of the work we do with employers and developing those relationships is not the same as helping someone prepare a resumé and look through job postings. That's one type of job support.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before the committee today to discuss the employment of persons with disabilities in Canada.
This is an important issue for our organization. It's of fundamental importance to the work that we do. Since its founding in 1986, the National Educational Association of Disabled Students has had the mandate to support full access to education and employment for post-secondary students and graduates with disabilities across Canada. We represent the more than 100,000 persons with disabilities studying in Canadian colleges and universities.
The organization is consumer-controlled and cross-disability-focused, and it responds in all the work that it does to the educational and employment needs of post-secondary students and recent graduates with disabilities, through a variety of projects, resources, research, publications, and partnerships. The organization is governed by a board of directors that represents all the provinces and territories. We are an autonomous organization, but we are also a member group of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, the CCD.
We focus on three important areas for our constituents: student debt reduction, student experience in class and on campus, and student and graduate employment both after post-secondary education and while in school. Within the mandate we have, the organization functions collaboratively with post-secondary stakeholders, other non-governmental organizations, employers, disability service providers, and the various communities that improve opportunities in higher education and the workforce for persons with disabilities.
We as an organization provide ongoing expert advice to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and to provincial and territorial governments. The association's primary activities include maintaining a website, which is fully accessible, and we have developed a financial aid portal, which is a unique resource.
Our financial aid portal includes comprehensive information on national, provincial, and territorial government funding programs offered, with around 350 disability-specific bursaries, scholarships, and awards, and on other funding sources through colleges and universities, private sector funders, and non-governmental organizations. We are trying to do our part to support information sharing on funding programs.
It is important to note that NEADS serves as a member of the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada national advisory group on student financial assistance, along with other stakeholder organizations, to advise the federal government on the Canada student loans program.
NEADS provides information referrals to hundreds of post-secondary students with disabilities through its national office each year. We also respond to requests for information and advice from employers, provincial and federal government departments, service providers, and faculty members—teachers on college and university campuses.
Since 2005, it's important to note, we have held 25 transition from school to work forums across Canada. These were first called “job search strategies” forums and were delivered through a funding partnership with BMO Capital Markets. In the last two years, we've been calling them “strategies to employment” events. These interactive conferences have included the participation of some 2,000 college and university students and graduates with disabilities, private sector employers, career professionals in the post-secondary community, employment agencies, and other non-governmental organizations.
More recently, through another private sector partnership, with Enbridge, we delivered a strategies to employment forum in Edmonton in 2012. In the last fiscal year we have also, with Service Canada funding, delivered employment or transition from school to work events in British Columbia—three events in British Columbia—and we partnered with a number of community organizations and the provincial government in Nova Scotia to help deliver the symposium on inclusive education and employment last December in Halifax, which attracted more than 300 delegates.
The other thing we're doing as an organization with respect to financial assistance is that we have our own national student awards program. It's important to note that this program, which receives funding from many private sector companies, has given out 57 scholarships of $3,000 to outstanding Canadian college and university students with disabilities in undergraduate, diploma, and graduate programs.
This program is funded by corporate supporters representing various sectors of the Canadian employment market. It is our hope that if a company gives out a scholarship to a student with a disability for outstanding academic and community achievements, that same employer may look to hire the scholarship recipient when they graduate.
In the past two years we have been engaged in a project to consult career and employment centre professionals who work at Canadian colleges and universities in order to find out how they support and accommodate students through their centres and what could be done to improve these centres as they serve the unique needs of this population. This career centres initiative has been funded by TD Canada Trust.
So we're trying to partner with a number of private sector companies and with employment agencies to do our work as an organization.
The recent federal report, “Rethinking disAbility in the Private Sector”, from the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, identified an alarming statistic:
...of the 795 000 people with disabilities who could be – but aren’t – contributing to our economy, almost half (340 000) have post-secondary education.... These qualified, capable people can play an important role in filling the forecasted two-thirds of all jobs requiring higher education.
At the same time, the overall labour force participation rate for working-age adults with disabilities is around 60%, compared with around 80% for those without disabilities. Yet, according to the 2006 participation and activity limitation survey, persons with disabilities are better educated than in the past, and their educational profile is generally similar to that of those without disabilities. We notice, however, a slight decrease in the percentage of persons with disabilities who are acquiring certificates, degrees, or diplomas. It is 3% less than for the rest of the population. As well, persons with disabilities are more likely to possess an apprenticeship or trade certificate or diploma by 4%. Of course we know that there's a demand in the economy in the skilled trades.
About 14% of persons with disabilities had a university certificate, degree, or diploma, compared with about 20% of the total population. Additionally, 23% of persons with disabilities had less than a high school education, while 23% had some post-secondary level of education, equal to the level for the total population.
I note that in their earlier presentations to this committee, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities cited a series of relevant statistics pertaining to education rate, employment, and poverty. To quote the CCD brief:
For example, 28.7% of people with disabilities who don’t have a high school graduation certificate are in low-income households, compared with 14.2% of their counterparts without disabilities. The two to one spread in low income rates between people with vs. without disabilities is similar for people with a high school graduation certificate (20.2% vs. 11.1%), trades certificate or diploma (17.8% vs. 9.2%) and a college certificate or diploma (17.0% vs. 8.3%).
However, the spread decreases where people with disabilities earn a degree, diploma or other certificate from a university. Here, 12.4% of people with disabilities and 8.2% without live on low incomes, a spread of 1.5 times instead of twice the rate of poverty.
These statistics are important.
It's important to stress as well that employment is an enshrined right through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. As Carmela Hutchison had mentioned, there are certain obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I just want to mention a couple of examples here before I go to the recommendations. As with post-secondary access, those with the most difficulties within the system and the employment market are often folks with severe physical and episodic disabilities, those with mental health conditions, and deaf individuals. The high cost of sign language interpreters on one hand may discourage an employer—particularly a small private sector company—from hiring an otherwise job-ready person who's deaf.
On the other, an employee with an episodic disability, such as multiple sclerosis, may go through periods of relative health when they can work full-time, then have a relapse. In the post-secondary setting this might lead to a reduction in course load from full-time to part-time. On the job, this person may require adapted or reduced work schedules with a capacity to work remotely from home. Persons with mental illness may also require modified work arrangements. They may be reluctant to self-identify the disability for fear of poor treatment or stigmatization in the workplace.
I'm just going to move on quickly to the recommendations. I just want to acknowledge as well that in budget 2013 the government announced the extension of the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, which we applaud, and that the opportunities fund and the enabling accessibility fund—two important programs delivered by HRSDC—have become permanent programs.
From our perspective there are a number of recommendations that we would make to the committee. The federal, provincial, and municipal governments should encourage the hiring, retention, and promotion of persons with disabilities across all sectors of the Canadian economy with the disability supports accommodations required to enable Canadians with disabilities to be successful in the workforce.
The federal government should strengthen support for post-secondary study through the Canada student loans program, particularly the Canada student grants and other measures such as repayment assistance for persons with disabilities after graduation.
The federal government should work with provincial and territorial partners to ensure that financial aid programs are working in concert to best support the post-secondary studies of students with disabilities. Such measures will increase post-secondary access and will ensure that disabled persons can compete in today's economy.
There are two more things. To reiterate a recommendation by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, there should be a specific strategic investment or investments for youth with disabilities—that is, persons 18 to 30 years old—to support the transition from school to work so they don't become permanently detached from the labour market.
Finally, to also echo the CCD advice, the Government of Canada needs to develop a five-year strategic plan to address the employment needs of persons with disabilities in this country. We support the development, as does CCD, of a technical advisory committee made up of members of the national disability community to work towards the development of a strategic plan for the government with respect to employment and persons with disabilities.
Thank you so much.
I'd like to thank our witnesses for being with us today.
Of course, hello to Ms. Brayton.
Since I never have enough time to ask all the questions I'd like, I'm going to fire them all off and then let you answer them. I'll start with Mr. Smith.
You said earlier that reducing the course load of students with disabilities allowed them to study remotely, from home. I recently spoke with a student by the name of Stacy; she is studying communications. She told me that having that option in university, to some extent, put more distance between her and the labour market. She said it was even harder for her to find a job. Stacy still doesn't have a job today. It's got nothing to do with her education, and she's incredibly smart. But it's hard for her to find the same advantages she received as a student in the labour market.
I will now go to Ms. Hutchison.
We talked about women with disabilities. We agree that they are in a difficult situation. It was said that people with disabilities offer employers many benefits, including the fact that they are hardworking. However, you raised a few issues that we should perhaps come back to.
I would simply like to know this. What would you say if you could make just one recommendation to help women with disabilities enter the labour market?
I am going to digress for a moment. We talked about episodic illnesses, but I would also like to talk about women who, at some point in their life, had some sort of accident that forced them to leave the workforce for two or three years. What happens when those women want to return to the labour market? When people have two- or three-year gaps in employment on their resumes, they have an even tougher time finding work.
I'll hand the floor over to you on that.
My question is simple. As the critic for persons with disabilities, I have the opportunity to meet with many of them, of course. Something came out during recent discussions with groups I was meeting with. People told me they were seen as good volunteers, but when they would apply for a job, it was a different story.
I'll give you an example. I met a woman who did accounting. She volunteered her accounting services for seven years. She, of course, had the skills and education necessary to do the job. When the time came to hire someone, they hired someone who was, quote unquote, normal, and I hate using that word.
She found that decision incredibly frustrating, because she had been volunteering her services. On top of not being paid, she felt as though her value was being diminished because she was good enough to volunteer but not good enough to be an employee.
And if the many organizations whose main mission is the employment of people with disabilities are anything to go by, more and more groups will make that their main focus. Have things really improved over the past few years?
Is my question clear?
Thank you very much for your question.
Yes, there are obviously many different disability subgroups. Ideally we're going to arrive at a point in our society where not only is disability not a factor—we're all just citizens—but we're not going to have these subgroups. Right now, though, you can't discuss employment of people with disabilities without realizing that you're also discussing human rights and discrimination.
There are certain groups historically that are just now approaching the start of citizenship. People with intellectual disabilities are one of those groups. They're just starting to live in our neighbourhoods. They're just starting to shop and work and travel in our communities. Within that context, it's quite different providing employment supports to such an individual. Not only will there be different attitudinal barriers, but they will have different ways of thinking about work. Most likely those entering working age have not had, for example, summer job experience, or perhaps did not even go through school with the idea that they will one day have a job.
As a provider, a lot of our work starts with that, with “Yes, you can work”, as opposed to maybe a career centre where what qualifies someone to be seeking a job is a long resumé and these sorts of things. For us, what qualifies them is “I want to work”. We operate on that basis. I think that's why you see these differences. It kind of depends on where you are on that whole developmental spectrum as a person with a disability, and on where you are in that human rights scale.
I'm sorry, what was the second aspect of your question?