While people with disabilities can achieve socially integrated, financially independent lives through secure, well-paid employment, they are often trapped in low-skill jobs at high risk of automation. Emile Tompa, Daniel Samosh and Normand Boucher underscore the importance of training opportunities that are well aligned with the skills likely to be in high demand in future.

Key Takeaways

  1. Canadians with disabilities, from mild to severe, live in poverty at rates 40% to nearly 200% higher than Canadians without disabilities.
  2. Persons with disabilities are often trapped in low-skill jobs at high risk of automation.
  3. By age 40, half of Canadians will experience mental illness, and mental health disabilities are more common among women than men.

Executive Summary

One in five Canadians aged 15 years or older—about 6.2 million people—have one or more disabilities. While people with disabilities can achieve socially integrated, financially independent lives through secure, well-paid employment, they are often trapped in low-skill jobs at high risk of automation.
In Canada, persons with disabilities typically earn lower wages and are more precariously employed than the average worker. Among Canadians aged 25 to 64, the rate of poverty is 40 per cent higher for persons with mild disabilities and nearly 200 per cent higher for those with more severe disabilities, than it is for Canadians without disabilities.

Examining the reasons that people with disabilities are underemployed reveals difficulties finding work and, once employed, difficulties requesting and getting the support they need to advance to their careers. Social stigma, a lack of understanding, and a lack of supports at many life stages further compounds the challenges that persons with disabilities face.

In the future of work, these challenges will likely be exacerbated, as jobs where persons with disabilities typically find employment are often at risk of automation – namely low-skilled, low-education jobs. And while some job categories are projected to experience growth in the years to come, such as the managerial and professional categories, persons with disabilities find themselves underrepresented in these “growth” categories.

To eliminate barriers to employment for people with disabilities, employers, policymakers, healthcare workers, educators, architects, and engineers must be educated to develop “disability confidence.” Disability confident employers have the knowledge to create inclusive and accessible work environments and advocate for social change within and beyond their organizations.
Beyond that, more research is needed to understand issues around disability and employment, including how automation will affect jobs, how employers can support the transition from school to work, and which accommodation practices will help educators and employers make the future world of work more equitable and inclusive.

In particular, research suggests that the transition between school and work appears to be a major challenge for persons with disabilities. Educational institutions and employers could leverage this transition into an opportunity, providing persons with disabilities skills, competencies, and credentials (persons with mild disabilities are already well-educated) to connect into jobs in high growth industries experiencing a need for workers.

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