Make work possible for more people with significant disabilities: study

February 22, 2008

(Vancouver) People living with mental illnesses, developmental
disabilities and serious conditions such as MS often find themselves in
a catch-22 - unable to take on full-time year-round employment, but
willing and able to work with the right supports and flexibility. A
study released today urges the provincial government to adopt a series
of creative recommendations that would make employment possible for
many more British Columbians with significant disabilities.

income assistance policies often discourage rather than encourage
people with disabilities to work," says Michael Goldberg, co-author of Removing Barriers to Work: Flexible Employment Options for People with Disabilities in BC and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

usually think of people as on a payroll or a welfare roll, and nowhere
in between," says Goldberg. "But many people with disabilities need a
combination of income assistance and paid work. It should be possible
for disabled workers to cycle in and out of the workforce. Part-time
workers should also be able to keep more of what they make - right now,
every dollar earned above $500 per month is clawed back."

Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance has made some positive
changes, such as allowing disabled people who work to keep medical and
dental benefits," says Winston Leckie of Opportunities through
Rehabilitation and Work Society. "The problem is, few people actually
know about them - even many front-line Ministry staff. Good policies
shouldn't just exist on paper."

"The provincial government wants
to be a leader in Canada when it comes to increasing economic security
for people with disabilities, and that's a commendable goal," says
Laney Bryenton of the BC Association for Community Living. "It can
learn from community and college programs and social enterprises right
here in BC that are modeling best practices. They have been remarkably
successful in employing people with disabilities who had previously
been considered 'unemployable.'"

"Instead of building on this
success, the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance developed an
entirely new program, the Employment Programs for People with
Disabilities (EPPD)," says Marcy Cohen, co-author of the report and a
research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
"Eighteen million dollars went into the program this year despite
placement rates of only 12.5% over past four years. "Yet community and
college-based employment programs for people with mental illnesses and
developmental disabilities achieved job placement rates between 36% and

Among the keys to success for both the community-based programs and social enterprises studied:

  • Highly individualized supports that don't have time limits;
  • Flexible work arrangements that don't penalize disabled workers for requiring time out of the workforce to manage their health;
  • Strong relationships and effective coordination between employers, agencies, and disabled workers;
  • Commitment to a long-term relationship with disabled workers that takes their ongoing needs, desires and interests seriously.

all people with disabilities can work," says Adrienne Wasik, co-author
of the report. "But for those who can, there are creative ways we could
build flexibility into their employment."

"We've been hearing a
lot recently about the need for more community-based mental health
services," says Marcy Cohen. "These are exactly the kinds of supports
that will reduce hospitalizations and homelessness. They help people to
live independently and stay out of crisis."


To arrange an interview with one of the study's authors, contact Terra Poirier at 604-801-5121 x229.

with disability advocates, people working with community-based
supportive employment programs, and local social enterprises that
employ disabled workers are also available.

The study was
produced as part of the Economic Security Project, a joint research
initiative of the CCPA and Simon Fraser University, funded primarily by
the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).