People

Karen-Marie Woods

Disabled face barriers to workforce

May 1, 2008

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By Carol Thorbes

Despite B.C.’s booming economy and low unemployment rate, the number of people with disabilities moving off government assistance into the workforce has actually declined in recent years.

And a new study by a team of researchers including SFU anthropology grad students Adrienne Wasik and Karen-Marie Woods (above) has found that provincial bureaucratic barriers are mainly to blame. The study, Removing Barriers To Work: Flexible Options for People with Disabilities in B.C., which was released last month through the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, cites several impediments to employment for the disabled. They include inflexible and poorly communicated income-assistance policies and insufficient government funding for effective employment strategies.

"The population that our report addresses are those people who are able to work part-time or episodically due to the nature of their disability," says Woods. "The structure of the system often hinders rather then helps people in these kinds of situations."

The researchers compared income assistance, support and communication polices in provincial government-run employment programs with those run by eight community- and college-based employers. They also looked at seven social enterprises that hire people with disabilities and provide more on-the-job support than mainstream employers.

The study applauds the government for increasing the earning exemption in 2006 to $500 per month for people on disability benefits. But it found that only 16 per cent of those who are qualified make use of the earning exemption.

The government recently allowed people moving from disability income assistance to employment to maintain enhanced medical and dental benefits accompanying disability benefits. But the researchers found that none of the organizations and social enterprises, and reportedly none of their clients or employees in this study knew about the updated policy.

"What is the point of bringing in progressive policies like these if few can access them, or no one knows about them?" asks Wasik.

The report makes several recommendations for increasing the employment of people with disabilities. They include making sure that front-line government staff and agencies working with disabled people have clear and concise information about the ministry’s employment policies.

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