Image Description: Grey cat in a white and green striped shirt, typing on a grey Apple Mac book. There is a beige leather couch in the background.

Working to Work

*Please note: the picture above has descriptive alt text that we wrote, but is only usable for screen readers as it is a featured image. 

As a Disabled individual it’s really difficult to find work that fits accessibility needs, time flexibility, and skill sets. It’s literally a full-time job just looking for work and applying. It’s not easy and can be downright frustrating. For Disabled people to gain and retain employment is much lower and in Canada the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is 26%, over five times higher than the 5% rate for people without disabilities. It is a very laborious process for Disabled people to get an interview and even at that it will most likely end in no employment. In many cases Disabled people need to divulge that they are disabled in the interview even if it is a nonvisible disability due to their accessibility needs. While an employer cannot out right state they are not hiring due to disability, they will often state that they feel that the Disabled person is not a good fit or something to that effect.  

There are a few misconceptions about disabled people and employment and some of them are, the fact that Disabled people are lazy, that they are not trying hard enough, that they are picky, that they are choosing to remain on the government system, and they are often uneducated. This is so often stated that most of the Disability community go into advocacy and activism to counter these remarks, and many like them. First of all, Disabled people are not lazy, they have accessibility needs in order to do the work they need to do. Disable people work hard even for an interview to find work. Also, Disabled people need to be picky about the work they choose because it needs to match their skill set and needs, just like non-disabled people. Secondly, government systems do not pay enough for a livable situation (see the ODSP link for more information). The little bit received barely covers rent. Furthermore, some people need to be on the system to help pay for the cost of medications and assistive devices that literally keeps them alive, as some medications can be over $5000 per month. Thirdly, Disabled people will often pursue post-secondary education because of their passions or to gain employment after they graduate. Disabled people are educated and will bring a breadth of knowledge to any place that will hire them.

Due to the lack of employment opportunities many Disabled people have turned to creating their own businesses that include disability awareness and practice. Some have created social media accounts to raise awareness and advocate, while others use platforms to gain work through endorsements and collaborations. Disabled people have had to become creative in their approach to gaining employment in an ableist world. However, unless these avenues are successful, the Disabled person will likely spend more money than gain in these situations, making it difficult to recoup costs and putting them into further debt. Also, many people do not want to pay for Disabled creators but will often offer volunteer work or exposure as a method of payment, which does nothing to pay for tangible items such as housing.

Disabled people will often try government funded community organizations for employment opportunities, and these help with resumes, cover letters, and interview skills, but it still is not helpful for Disabled people because often the problem is getting to the interview and translating that into employment. These programs still expect the Disabled person to look for work on their own, which is what the Disabled person has most likely already done for months before reaching out for support. This is an extremely frustrating process as it provides false hope for the person seeking services. What needs to happen here is that the program should be 6 months and they offer employment with different businesses and organizations. Then they should find a fit that works for both the employer that is part of the program and the Disabled person seeking work. As it currently stands even with financial incentives from the government to hire Disabled people, many employers still refuse to hire.

So, what is the solution to the unemployment issues that Disabled people face? Unfortunately, it requires an overhaul on the entire hiring process and system. Then hiring managers and the company needs to manage their internalized ableism and biases. It will require a lot of work and most places are not ready for that work even though they state they are equal opportunity employers. No one wants to own up to being ableist, racist, or colonialist, and capitalism keeps these practices in place. This can be seen right in the application for the job, and some examples include professional appearance, can drive, can lift twenty pounds for an office job. Professionalism is just a fancy word to have the person look a certain way which excludes Black and Indigenous folks a lot of the time, because their hair is often not considered professional. Can drive excludes people with disabilities period, as many Disabled people cannot, and lifting twenty pounds for an office job is another way how they exclude Disabled people especially those in a wheelchair. These are only small examples in how even applying for work can be tedious and near impossible for Disabled people.

Overall, the entire system needs to change, but it won’t over night and that’s why Disabled people will always need to advocate and raise awareness to fight the ableist society they live in. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and inhumane to constantly need to fight to just find work in order to afford food, housing, clothing, and other necessities.

For more information please go to the links below:

Employment for Disabled people around the world:

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Information:

AODA and Employment: