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Disability Employment Services

Breaking down barriers: the need for specialized employment services for persons with disabilities in Ontario

By May 17, 2023No Comments

A woman in a wheelchair shows a tablet to a young man.

Employment is important to an individual’s well-being and overall quality of life. It provides a sense of purpose, financial independence, and a feeling of inclusion in society. Unfortunately, there are some people that face significant barriers in finding employment, including persons with disabilities (PWD).

This is a growing concern in Ontario, where the population of PWD continues to rise. According to Statistics Canada, almost one in four people in Ontario has a disability. That’s nearly three million Ontarians!

In 2022, the employment rate for PWD in Ontario was only 48.5%, compared to 74% for individuals without a disability. This disparity is significant and highlights the need for more inclusive hiring practices, accessible training programs, and financial support programs for PWD. These initiatives will help more PWD gain the confidence, skills, and independence to secure good jobs and financial security.

Barriers to employment result in reliance on financial supports

Persons with disabilities are highly skilled, motivated, and reliable employees. However, they continue to face discrimination and exclusion when seeking employment. Even when PWD possess the necessary skills and education, they are more likely to work in low-paying jobs. This can make it challenging for PWD to achieve financial security, leading to reliance on support programs to meet basic needs.

The Ontario Works (OW) program and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) provide financial assistance and health-related benefits to eligible people in need. As of January 2023, there were approximately 886,000 beneficiaries of ODSP and OW financial supports combined. While these programs provide much-needed assistance to people in need, they don’t address the root issue of unemployment for PWD.

In fact, there are many systemic barriers that prevent PWD from finding and retaining employment. For example, many workplaces are not accessible for people with physical disabilities and there is often a lack of understanding and accommodations for individuals with mental health challenges.

Furthermore, some employers may not be willing to hire PWD due to misconceptions and biases, fear of liability (for example, if a worker with a disability is injured on the job), or outright rejection of inclusive hiring practices. As a result, PWD may struggle to find work they can truly enjoy and flourish in.

The power of individualized supports and resources

To find the best possible employment opportunities, PWD often require support in developing the skills and resources needed to become self-sufficient. This can include things like specialized job and skills training or improved access to assistive technology and transportation options. Without these resources, it can be difficult for people with disabilities to find employment that pays a living wage and provides benefits.

A person with a vision disability reading braille.

Ultimately, employment services and supports help more PWD enter, re-enter or maintain employment. Employment Ontario, for example, offers employment services and supports such as job search assistance, training, and wage subsidies for all job seekers – including those with disabilities. Similarly, the federal government’s Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities provides funding to organizations to assist PWD with obtaining employment.

Through the Opportunities Fund, organizations like The Career Foundation facilitate programs geared towards PWD, such as the Empowering Abilities Program (EAP). Offered in Hamilton, Scarborough, and West Toronto, all services and supports are tailored to the individual needs of each participant to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed in the workplace.

Many of these specialized programs also partner with employers to develop job opportunities for participants and to educate them on inclusive hiring practices.

The Career Foundation’s Empowering Abilities Program in Hamilton, for example, launched the Hamilton Disability Employment Network (HDEN) in 2020. This is a volunteer network of over 15 organizations dedicated to education, advocacy, and civic engagement for the promotion of inclusive hiring practices.

The group organizes several events and networking opportunities to help local employers broaden their hiring practices to include job seekers with disabilities. Through working groups like HDEN and the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN), other communities in Ontario now have a template to create their own disability employment network.

Benefits for businesses hiring persons with disabilities

By hiring PWD, businesses benefit from a largely untapped talent pool and ultimately increase their productivity. According to Ontario Disability Support Network, “businesses hiring people who have a disability experience a 72% increase in productivity.”

In addition, PWD often have unique perspectives and experiences that can help businesses better understand and serve their customers. For example, individuals with vision loss may have valuable insights concerning the accessibility of products, websites, communications materials, and more. Overall, companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices are more likely to have higher financial performance, increased employee satisfaction, and improved innovation.

The path to more inclusive workplaces

Employers, government programs, and community organizations must continue advancing and promoting accessible, inclusive workplaces. This can be achieved through the delivery of customized employment services and supports to ensure that every person with a disability has an equal opportunity to succeed in Ontario’s workforce.

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