Persons with disabilities and employment
by Martin Turcotte
- Overview of the study
- Lower employment rate for persons with disabilities
- Persons with disabilities are older and less-educated on average
- Employment rates similar between university graduates with a mild disability and those without a disability
- More severe disabilities are associated with lower employment rates
- Persons with disabilities more highly concentrated in sales occupations
- University graduates with disabilities and those without a disability had similar occupations
- Perceptions of employment discrimination
- Related material for this article
Start of text box
This article provides information on the labour market participation of Canadians 25 to 64 years of age with a physical or mental disability related to seeing, hearing, mobility, flexibility, dexterity, pain, learning, development, psychological/mental disorders or memory. The factors associated with the employment participation of persons with disabilities are discussed, along with their job characteristics.
- In 2011, the employment rate of Canadians aged 25 to 64 with disabilities was 49%, compared with 79% for Canadians without a disability.
- The employment rate among persons aged 25 to 64 with a mild disability was 68%, compared with 54% of those with a moderate disability, 42% of persons with a severe disability and 26% among those with a very severe disability.
- The difference in employment rates between persons with disabilities and those without a disability was lower among university graduates. This difference was non-significant in the case of university graduates who had a mild or moderate disability.
- Approximately 1 in 2 university graduates, with or without a disability, held a professional occupation. However, graduates with a disability were less likely to hold a management position and earned less than those without a disability, especially among men.
- Among Canadians with a disability, 12% reported having been refused a job in the previous five years as a result of their condition. The percentage was 33% among 25- to 34-year-olds with a severe or very severe disability.
End of text box
In Canada, hundreds of thousands of individuals are limited in their daily activities because of a physical or mental disability, but participate actively in the labour market and often hold jobs that match their qualifications. Despite numerous positive stories and experiences, persons with disabilities remain less likely than others to be employed, both in CanadaNote 1 and other parts of the world.Note 2
It is true that some persons have a disability so severe that they cannot hold a job or work in a company. However, many others who would like to have paid employment are unable to reach that goal for reasons unrelated to their condition, such as workplaces that are physically inaccessible or discriminatory hiring practices. As a result, such individuals can become unemployed or give up looking for work.
Such a situation is problematic both for persons with disabilities, and more generally for society and the economy. Individuals without a job may be deprived of the benefits of labour market participation, a key component of social integration.Note 3 In addition, society is deprived of their talent and their contribution to the economy, a situation that may represent a large opportunity cost in the context of rising retirements.Note 4
To deal with this issue, the various levels of government have implemented numerous programs and policies enabling access to employment and postsecondary education so as to foster the labour force participation of persons with disabilities and break down the social and physical barriers they face.Note 5
This study begins by looking at factors associated with a lower employment participation among persons with disabilities. A particular attention is given to the severity of the disability and level of education, which can significantly affect employment.
Secondly, this article examines the characteristics of the jobs held by persons with disabilities, in comparison with jobs held by persons without a disability—occupation, industry, hours and weeks of work, and employment income. Particular attention is paid to persons with disabilities who hold a university degree.
This article uses data from the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD) (see Data sources, methods and definitions). Given that the study examines the relationship between educational attainment and employment, the focus is on those aged 25 to 64, who have typically completed their studies.
Some additional statistics are shown, however, to shed light on the working and schooling activities of youth aged 15 to 24 with disabilities. These statistics include information on youth with disabilities who are neither studying nor employed (see Youth with disabilities and employment).
In 2012, just over 2.1 million people aged 25 to 64, or 11% of the population in this age group, reported being limited in their daily activities because of a mental or physical disability—conditions related to seeing, hearing, mobility, flexibility, dexterity, pain, learning, development, mental/psychological disorder or memory.Note 6 Because the CSD was conducted on the basis of a sample of respondents from the National Household Survey (NHS), employment issues can be examined on the basis of employment data collected by the NHS in May 2011.
First, in 2011, the unemployment rate of persons aged 25 to 64 with disabilities was 11%, compared with 6% for people who did not report having a disability. The participation rate—the percentage of the population employed or seeking employment—was 55% for persons with disabilities, compared with 84% for persons without a disability.
The rates of unemployment and participation, however, may not be the most effective to illustrate the difficulties experienced by persons with disabilities, who are more likely to be discouraged from looking for work.Note 7 In other words, it is not because persons with disabilities are not part of the labour force that they do not want to work.Note 8
A more appropriate measure is the employment rate—defined as the number of employed people as a percentage of the total population. In 2011, this rate was 49% among individuals aged 25 to 64 who reported having a disability that limited their activity, compared with 79% among those who did not report having a disability.
However, persons with disabilities represent a diverse group—some have multiple disabilities that greatly limit all their daily activities, while others have only one disability that has less of an impact on their activities. To account for this diversity, a severity score has been developed for the survey, by taking the number of disability types, the intensity of the difficulties and the frequency of activity limitations into account.
Employment varied widely depending on the level of severity. Specifically, the employment rate among individuals aged 25 to 64 with a mild disability was 68%, compared with 54% among those with a moderate disability, 42% among those with a severe disability and 26% among those with a very severe disability.
Expressed as a distribution of the 968,000 employed Canadians who had a disability, 44% had a mild disability, 22% had a moderate disability, 20% had a severe disability, and 14% had a very severe disability.
Persons with disabilities are older than those without a disability. In 2011, more than 40% of persons with disabilities were aged 55 to 64, compared with 21% of their counterparts without a disability (Table 1). These age differences may affect employment rates, since the rates go down significantly after the age of 55.Note 9
|No disability||Mild or moderate disability||Severe or very severe disability|
|25 to 34||26.4||14.2||8.0|
|35 to 44||25.2||17.9||15.8|
|45 to 54||27.8||28.0||35.6|
|55 to 64||20.6||39.9||40.6|
|Level of education|
|Less than a high school diploma||11.3||18.9||22.1|
|High school diploma||30.8||34.0||35.9|
|Trades certificat or college diploma||31.0||29.6||33.3|
|Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012.|
Furthermore, persons with disabilities are less-educated, another factor that can be related to lack of employment. For example, 9% of persons with a severe or very severe disability held a university degree, compared with 27% of those without a disability. Lastly, persons with disabilities were more often women, for whom the employment rate is also lower.
To what extent are such differences accounting for the differences in employment rates? To answer that question, the employment rate was adjusted to account for differences related to age, sex, education and other factors (such as living arrangements, Aboriginal self-identification and province of residence). Taking all these factors into account somewhat reduced the employment rate differences, but did not eliminate them completely (Chart 1).
For example, if persons with a mild disability had had characteristics similar to the average for each factor taken into account in the model, their employment rate would have been 74% instead of 68%. Nevertheless, the rate was still lower than that of people without a disability, that is, approximately 80%.
Employment rates similar between university graduates with a mild disability and those without a disability
A higher level of education is associated with a higher employment rate. This was true for both individuals without and with disabilities, regardless of the severity of the disability. More particularly, the differences between persons with disabilities and those without a disability were significantly smaller among those who had a higher level of education.
Among university graduates, the employment rate of those with a moderate disability (adjusted for age differences) was 77%, compared with 78% among those with a mild disability and 83% among those without a disability (Chart 2). The difference between university graduates with a mild or moderate disability and those without a disability was not significant.Note 10
Conversely, the lack of a high school diploma may represent more of a barrier among those with disabilities. Among people who had not completed high school, 33% of those with a moderate disability were employed, compared with 50% of those with a mild disability and 65% of those without a disability. Lastly, 20% of individuals in this group who had a severe or very severe disability were employed.
As shown above, the more severe the disability, the lower the employment rate. This key finding still held true when only persons with disabilities were taken together in a multivariate model accounting for other variables that affect employment (such as level of education, age or province of residence).
Hence, among persons with a mild disability, the employment probability was more than two times higher than those who had a very severe disability (predicted probabilities of 66% and 30%, Table 2).
|Probability of being employed in 2011||Workers in 2011 no longer employed in 2012|
|predicted probabilitytable2Note 1|
|Severity of disability|
|Severe||42.8table2Note *||16.5table2Note *|
|Very severe||29.5table2Note *||21.8table2Note *|
|Person with a mental or psychological disabilitytable2Note 2|
|Age at onset of disability|
|Under 25 (ref.)||48.7||9.9|
|25 or over||48.9||13.1|
|25 to 34 (ref.)||54.2||18.0|
|35 to 44||55.6||11.7|
|45 to 54||58.6||8.4table2Note *|
|55 to 64||37.1table2Note *||15.9|
|Level of education|
|Less than a high school diploma (ref.)||29.4||20.6|
|High school diploma||45.4table2Note *||10.8table2Note *|
|Trades certificat or college diploma||59.5table2Note *||12.4table2Note *|
|University degree||62.4table2Note *||10.2table2Note *|
|Adult child||33.5table2Note *||19.0|
|Not in a census family||43.8table2Note *||10.9|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||41.4||34.8table2Note *|
|Prince Edward Island||53.7||16.6table2Note *|
|Nova Scotia||47.7||14.5table2Note *|
|New Brunswick||42.0||22.5table2Note *|
|Manitoba||63.8table2Note *||14.5table2Note *|
|Saskatchewan||62.3table2Note *||14.6table2Note *|
|Alberta||62.5table2Note *||13.3table2Note *|
|British Columbia||50.7||15.1table2Note *|
Another significant factor was level of education. For example, model results indicate that the predicted probability of employment was 45% for those with a high school diploma, and 62% among those with a university degree.
Even when severity and other factors were taken into account, employment outcomes were less positive for those whose disability was mental or psychological (developmental or learning disorder; memory problem; or emotional, psychological or mental health condition). Among these, the predicted probability of employment was 10 points lower than those whose disability did not qualify as mental or psychological (predicted probabilities of 43% and 53%, respectively).
Lastly, the onset of a disability—or whether it happened more or less early in life—was not associated with the probability of employment once the other factors were taken into account (including severity).Note 11
Another important factor of labour market integration is not only the capacity to obtain a job, but also to retain it. Since employment data was also collected in 2012, it is possible to examine the proportion of employed individuals with disabilities (in 2011) who were no longer in employment a year later (in 2012), either because they quit their job, or were laid-off. This probability also varied across various socio-demographic characteristics.
According to the results of a second multivariate model (with the same explanatory factors), severity remained a determining factor. Among those who were employed in 2011, a person with a very severe disability was 2.5 times more likely than a person with a mild disability to be out of employment in the following year (probabilities of 22% and 9%, respectively). However, factors such as having a mental or psychological disability and age at the onset of disability were not related to an increased probability to see a change in employment status.
As well, disabled workers who did not have a high school diploma had a greater probability of losing or leaving their job between 2011 and 2012 (predicted probability of 21%, nearly double that of all other education groups).
Persons with disabilities are less likely to be employed, but may also differ from non-disabled individuals in their employment profile. Because of gender differences in this regard, comparisons are done separately for men and women. All of the following results have been adjusted for differences in age structure between the groups.
Among men, 16% of those with a mild or moderate disability were in the industrial, construction or equipment operation trades—a proportion similar to those without a disability (Table 3). In each group, transportation and construction workers and labourers also made up about 10% of the workforce.
|No disability (ref.)||Mild or moderate disability||Severe or very severe disability||No disability (ref.)||Mild or moderate disability||Severe or very severe disability|
|Management||15.7||11.8table3Note *||10.1table3Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||10.1||7.4table3Note *||9.93894table3Note E: Use with caution|
|Professional||17.4||14table3Note *||11.5table3Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||23.5||19.3table3Note *||16.3table3Note *|
|Technical and paraprofessional||9.6||10.9||7.5Note E: Use with caution||11.5||14.5||10.1|
|Administration and administrative support||6.7||7.6Note E: Use with caution||7.1Note E: Use with caution||21.5||21.3||22.7|
|Sales||6.6||6.6||13.5table3Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||9.2||9.0||11.3|
|Personal and customer information services||8.3||13.6table3Note *||19.9Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||19.4||24table3Note *||25.7table3Note *|
|Industrial, construction and equipment operation trades||15.6||16.0||12.1Note E: Use with caution||0.4||Note F: too unreliable to be published||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Workers and labourers in transport and construction||11.0||10.1||9.2Note E: Use with caution||1.0||Note F: too unreliable to be published||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Natural resources, agriculture and related production||2.4||1.8Note E: Use with caution||2.4Note E: Use with caution||0.6||0.6Note E: Use with caution||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Manufacturing and utilities||6.8||7.6Note E: Use with caution||6.6Note E: Use with caution||2.9||2.1Note E: Use with caution||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Agriculture and natural resources||5.0||3.9table3Note *||2.8Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||1.9||1.3Note E: Use with caution||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Utilities and construction||11.9||9.9||10Note E: Use with caution||1.8||Note F: too unreliable to be published||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Manufacturing||15.0||13.8||9.6Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||5.4||4.5Note E: Use with caution||5.9Note E: Use with caution|
|Wholesale trade||5.9||5.5Note E: Use with caution||Note F: too unreliable to be published||3.1||3.6Note E: Use with caution||1.7Note E: Use with caution table3Note *|
|Retail trade||8.9||12.4table3Note *||14.2table3Note *||10.8||11.2||15.4table3Note *|
|Transportation and warehousing||7.2||8.4Note E: Use with caution||8.7Note E: Use with caution||2.6||3.8Note E: Use with caution||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Finance, insurance, real estate and rental||5.8||2.4table3Note *||3.3Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||7.3||5.4table3Note *||6.3Note E: Use with caution|
|Professional, Scientific and technical||12.4||13.3||9.7Note E: Use with caution||11.2||11.4||8.6Note E: Use with caution|
|Educational services||5.3||6.2Note E: Use with caution||Note F: too unreliable to be published||11.7||12.6||8Note E: Use with caution table3Note *|
|Health care and social assistance||4.0||6Note E: Use with caution||Note F: too unreliable to be published||21.7||21.6||20.1|
|Arts, entertainement and recreation||4.0||3.9Note E: Use with caution||5.3Note E: Use with caution||4.0||3.9Note E: Use with caution||5.7Note E: Use with caution|
|Accommodation and food services||3.2||5.2Note E: Use with caution||11.8Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||5.3||6Note E: Use with caution||10.4Note E: Use with caution table3Note *|
|Other services||4.1||3.2Note E: Use with caution||4Note E: Use with caution||5.2||4.4Note E: Use with caution||4.4Note E: Use with caution|
|Public administration||7.4||6.0||9.8Note E: Use with caution||7.8||7.9||7.8Note E: Use with caution|
|Work activity in 2011|
|Part-time, part-year||4.0||10.2Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||9.2Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||10.5||13.9table3Note *||16.3table3Note *|
|Part-time, full-year||2.5||4.5Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||12.5Note E: Use with caution table3Note *||9.7||9.5||12.1|
|Full-time, full-year||70.6||61.3table3Note *||50.8table3Note *||58.4||53.9||45.7table3Note *|
|Average employment incometable3Note 1 ($)||67,599||56,624table3Note *||49,242table3Note *||49,565||45,448table3Note *||42,688table3Note *|
E use with caution
F too unreliable to be published
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012.
Other occupational groups displayed larger differences, such as personal service and customer information service occupations. More precisely, employed men with a severe or very severe disability were at least two times more likely than their counterparts without a disability to be in one of these occupations (20% vs. 8%). This occupational group includes cleaners, chefs or cooks, and customer service representatives. Employed men with a severe or very severe disability were also more concentrated in sales occupations (14%, compared with 7% of men without a disability).
These differences reflect, in part, the lower level of education of men with disabilities. These men, regardless of the severity of their disability, were less likely than men without a disability to hold management or professional occupations.
As for industry, employed men with a severe or very severe disability were more concentrated in retail trade (14%, compared with 9% for those without a disability), but less concentrated in wholesale trade, manufacturing, finance, insurance, real estate or rental industries.
Women with disabilities were also less likely to be employed in management and professional occupations, and more likely to be employed in personal service and customer information service occupations. However, as was the case for men, women with disabilities are less likely to hold a university degree. The distribution of employed women with and without a disability was more similar in the other occupational categories.
Women in general are not distributed the same way as men within the various industries—they are less likely than men to be in the goods sector, such as utilities and construction, as well as manufacturing. Nevertheless, women with a severe or very severe disability were concentrated in the same industries as their male counterparts—retail trade, and accommodation and food services. For example, in 2011, 10% of employed women with a severe or very severe disability were working in accommodation and food services, compared with 5% of women without a disability.
Lastly, differences in work activity could also be seen between people with and without a disability. Among both men and women, workers with a severe or very severe disability were less likely to have been employed full-time all year than other men and women. Among male workers with a severe or very severe disability, 13% had worked part-time all year, compared with less than 5% of those with a mild disability and less than 3% of those without a disability. It is not possible, however, to determine whether persons with disabilities are more likely to work part-time by choice.
As for the employment income of people who worked full-time all year, men with disabilities had an average income that was lower than that of men without a disability ($49,200 for those with a severe or very severe disability, $56,600 for those with a mild or moderate disability, and $67,600 for those without a disability). These differences can be attributed in part to differences both in level of education and in occupation.Note 12
According to the results above, the employment rates of university graduates with a mild or moderate disability were close to the employment rates of university graduates without a disability. However, are they in the same types of occupations as their colleagues without a disability? Because of small sample sizes, it was not possible to distinguish university graduates with a severe or very severe disability from those with a mild or moderate disability in the following analysis. The results, however, have been adjusted for differences in age structure.
There were a number of similarities between university graduates with and without a disability (Table 4). First, the proportion of university graduates with disabilities in professional occupations—or occupations usually requiring a university education—was virtually the same as that of university graduates without a disability (about 49% among men and 54% among women).
|No disability (ref.)||Disability||No disability (ref.)||Disability|
|Job skill level|
|Management||19.7||11.6Note E: Use with caution table4Note *||11.9||11.2Note E: Use with caution|
|Skill level A – Occupations that usually require a university education||48.5||48.5||54.4||54.1|
|Skill level B – Occupations that usually require a college education or an apprenticeship program||19.5||22.1Note E: Use with caution||19.4||21.2|
|Skill level C – Occupations that usually require a high school education or job-specific training||10.0||13.3Note E: Use with caution||12.0||10.8Note E: Use with caution|
|Skill level D – Occupations for which on-the-job training is usually given||2.4||Note F: too unreliable to be published||2.3||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Work activity in 2011|
|Part-time, part-year||4.5||4.4Note E: Use with caution||10.3||13.9Note E: Use with caution|
|Part-time, full-year||2.6||Note F: too unreliable to be published||8.0||8.8Note E: Use with caution|
|Full-time, part-year||22.1||15.6Note E: Use with caution table4Note *||21.4||20.5|
|Average employment incometable4Note 1 ($)||92,681||69,197table4Note *||68,041||64,503table4Note *|
E use with caution
F too unreliable to be published
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012.
What primarily distinguished university graduates with disabilities, from an occupational skill perspective, was that men with disabilities were less likely to hold management positions (12%, compared with 20% of male university graduates without a disability). Among women, there was no significant difference in this regard.
University graduates with and without a disability also had similar results with respect to work activity in 2011. Among both men and women, most university graduates worked full-time all year, regardless of whether they had a disability or not.
More noticeable differences were found with respect to employment income. In particular, there was a relatively large difference in employment income among men—$69,200 on average for male university graduates with disabilities, compared with $92,700 among those without a disability. Among women, the difference in employment income was smaller, but still significant.
Although beyond the scope of this analysis, a number of factors may explain these differences. Examples include possible differences in occupation types and fields of study, years of experience in the labour market, productivity, or discriminatory attitudes. The CSD collected data on the respondents’ perceptions of discriminatory attitudes they may have encountered, which are discussed in the following section.
Some employers may hesitate to hire persons with disabilities for various reasons, including a lack of knowledge about disability and accommodation issues, cost-related apprehensions, and legal obligations.Note 13 Studies have also shown that numerous persons with disabilities perceived discriminatory attitudes from employers at the time of hiring or during employment.Note 14
A minority of persons with disabilities stated that they had been refused a job because of their condition (12%) over the last five years (Table 5). However, these perceptions varied by age, sex and severity of the disability.
|In the last five years, do you believe that you have been refused a job because of your condition?|
|Total, employment situation||12.0||13.7||10.5|
|Without a job||16.5table5Note *||21.9table5Note *||12.4|
|Mild or moderate disability|
|25 to 34 (ref.)||13.0||19.0||7.8|
|35 to 44||11.3||11.6||11.1|
|45 to 54||7.0Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||8.8Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||5.3|
|55 to 64||4.4Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||4.8Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||Note F: too unreliable to be published|
|Severe or very severe disability|
|25 to 34 (ref.)||32.6||37.1||29.0|
|35 to 44||23.1||27.3||20.7|
|45 to 54||16.3table5Note *||16.5Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||16.1Note E: Use with caution table5Note *|
|55 to 64||13.1Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||16.4Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||8.9Note E: Use with caution table5Note *|
|Severe or very severe, without a job|
|25 to 34 (ref.)||43.6||61.9||33.3Note E: Use with caution|
|35 to 44||24.6Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||30.5Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||21.0Note E: Use with caution|
|45 to 54||15.9Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||22.3Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||12.4Note E: Use with caution table5Note *|
|55 to 64||16.6Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||22.5Note E: Use with caution table5Note *||11.0Note E: Use with caution table5Note *|
E use with caution
F too unreliable to be published
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012.
Men with disabilities were slightly more likely to perceive employment discrimination than women (14% and 11%, respectively). If they were without a job, the difference increased significantly (22%, compared with 12% of women in the same situation).
Youth aged 25 to 34 with disabilities were also more likely to have perceived discrimination, as were those with a severe or very severe disability. Hence, 33% of persons aged 25 to 34 with a severe or very severe disability believed that they had been refused a job because of their condition. This compared with 16% of those aged 45 to 54 and 13% of those aged 55 to 64.
Among young men aged 25 to 34 who were without a job and had a severe or very severe disability, these proportions were significantly higher—nearly two-thirds of them (62%) believed that they had been refused a job in the last five years because of their condition. This was two times higher than the same result among women with the same characteristics (33%). It is important to recall that these results are based on perceptions from survey respondents.
Like earlier studies on the same topic, this study illustrate that persons with disabilities are less likely to be employed, this time on the basis of the most recent data available. However, this study also presented additional findings that shed a new light on the labour force participation of persons with disabilities, who are a target group for a number of policies that relate to employment access and labour force participation.
First, persons with disabilities were less likely than persons without a disability to be employed, even after accounting for the fact that they are generally older and proportionally less likely to have completed a university degree.
Secondly, education significantly reduces the differences between persons with a mild or moderate disability and those without a disability. Among university graduates, persons with a mild or moderate disability had employment rates that were virtually the same as those of university graduates without a disability.
Even though there were a number of differences between persons with and without a disability in terms of employment characteristics (occupation, industry and hours), these differences were smaller among university graduates. Nevertheless, some differences existed between university graduates with and without a disability, most notably in terms of employment income (especially among men). Finally, the issue of employment discrimination was on the minds of a number of persons with disabilities, as 12% of them said that they had been refused a job because of their condition in the five years preceding the survey.
Martin Turcotte is a senior analyst with the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division of Statistics Canada.
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