Two-thirds of Albertans with developmental disabilities unemployed

The majority of Albertans with developmental disabilities are not employed, in part, because employers aren’t aware of how to properly bring in — and keep — these workers on-the-job.

By Brennan Doherty, StarMetro Calgary June 27, 2018

Unemployment rates for persons with disabilities in Canada, be they physical, intellectual, or developmental, has hovered around 50 per cent for decades. A recent study by the University of Calgary, which draws on a national survey conducted in 2012, finds the rate to be far worse for people with developmental disabilities such as autism or Down syndrome — two-thirds.

Roughly two-thirds of Albertans with developmental disabilities in 2012 were unemployed and not looking for work, a University of Calgary study finds. Elizabeth Cameron, Starmetro Calgary

The reasons for this are complex. Wade Bittle, founder of Convergent Knowledge — a social enterprise he’s working on to improve accessibility for people with complex disabilities — said part of the problem is that jobs are designed around a very narrow range of activities, without a lot of flexibility.

“There’s things everybody struggles with, right?” Bittle said. “But I think the major, major one is employers want one specific job to be done.” He has autism, and said this can be very limiting for others who identify as neurodiverse.

“It just doesn’t necessarily work for them,” Bittle said.

According to the University of Calgary study, the top three barriers to employment for workers with developmental disabilities include a lack of awareness and attitude toward disability by employers, a late introduction to the concept of workplace culture in schools, and the stigma surrounding developmental disability.

Many provincial and federal programs exist to help Albertans, the study continued, but “low workforce participation among neurodiverse Albertans indicates that existing supports are either not effective and/or sufficient.”

The results of blocking people with developmental disabilities from the workforce are bad for everyone, the study said. Unemployed workers face higher rates of financial insecurity, lower self-esteem and a lower lack of participation in their communities, while employers lose out on a pool of skilled talent.

“Educating employers about neurodiversity and incentivizing them to make accommodations in hiring practices and in the workplace would go far to reducing the number of jobless neurodiverse people,” the study reads.

Jennifer Zwicker, one of the study’s co-authors, notes it doesn’t offer any specific recommendations.

“What we were looking at was: What are the different policy levers that could be used in this space to improve some of the employment outcomes?” she said.

The study offers several suggestions including reform of the Alberta government’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program to allow continued access to health benefits — regardless of whether a worker is employed. Incentives, such as wage subsidies or tax credits to employers who hire people with developmental disabilities, are also included in the study.

The establishment of training regimes in high school to help those with developmental disabilities ease into the workplace or vocational training are also a possibility, according to the study.

But at least one IT company in Calgary is already taking the simplest route; hiring people with developmental disabilities. Meticulon, a consulting firm specializing in quality assurance, makes a point of hiring workers with autism precisely because they’re often fast, brilliant and efficient.

Most of their workers with autism have completed post-secondary education, but haven’t held jobs before.

“That has all to do with the social barriers, none to do with the performance barriers,” said Garth Johnson, CEO of Meticulon. He added that clients who hire Meticulon for testing are frequently impressed by their workers’ skill.

Workplace fit — the process of matching a worker to the best possible employer — is an important part of hiring, even for non-disabled workers.

“Those things are not about disability — those things are about workplaces, and what we can do to make workplaces good places for people to spend their time,” said Sean McEwen, executive director of Calgary Alternative Employment Services, an employment agency for people with disabilities.

McEwen pointed out the need for all sides to really put their heads together to tackle the problem of unemployment among people with disabilities.

“It will only be through collaborating and through sharing information that we move the needle on employment inclusion for Canadians with disabilities,” he said.

Brennan Doherty is a work and wealth reporter with StarMetro Calgary. Follow him on Twitter

Source StarMetro Calgary

How do we Boost Employment Outcomes for Neurodiverse Albertans? Stephanie Dunn, Krystle Wittevrongel, Jennifer D. Zwicker. SPP Communiqué. Volume 10:5 June 2018. The School of Public Policy, University of Calgary. DOI: 10.11575/sppp.v11i0.52988 PDF

Also see
Working wisdom: How workers with disabilities give companies an edge in The Globe and Mail

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