by Helen Wagle
The facts are undeniable. Women with disabilities face crushing underemployment and unemployment rates. "One-half of all disabled women (and more than 60 per cent of those unable to work) received in 1985 incomes of less than $5,000. Only four per cent of all women with disabilities had incomes of $30,000 or more" (1). Given the continuing recession, the situation of women with disabilities has, if anything, worsened.
Indeed, in 1991 the labour force participation rate of women with disabilities was calculated at 41%(2). Barriers that exclude women with disabilities from the labour market include discrimination in employment practices, negative employer attitudes, the ineffectiveness of federal employment equity and human rights legislation, and lack of access to training and educational opportunities. Combined, these barriers have meant that more than 1 in 2 working age people with disabilities are entirely without employment (3).
In fact, Canada has been identified as having the worst record of any country in the western world with regard to the employment of people with disabilities (4), and inequitable access to training programs means that women with disabilities will continue to have a very limited presence in the labour force. Over the last several years, emphasis has shifted away from general training to training exclusively for recipients of unemployment insurance (UI). Many women with disabilities have never held jobs and are therefore ineligible for UI funded training.
Furthermore, the federal government has made major cuts to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, a fund used to train people ineligible for UI. As a result, women with disabilities are further marginalized by the shrinking availability of resources. It is essential that the needs of traditionally under-served groups be adequately addressed, that specific resources be allocated for the training needs of women with disabilities who are not on UI, but are unemployed, underemployed, and social assistance recipients.
Literacy and the lack of education among the disabled women's population also presents a tremendous barrier to our participation in training programs.