December 3rd is observed around the globe as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 10% of the world’s population or approximately 650 million people live with disabilities. Their challenges range from physical, mental, psychological or emotional conditions and their signs of disability vary from being visible to invisible. With an aging population, this is certainly bound to increase exponentially over the next few decades. Nonetheless, many people display a considerable lack of understanding of people with disabilities, and governments have a tendency to be lacklustre in bringing forward meaningful programs and legislation.
Around the world, the immense difficulties that our sisters and brothers with disabilities face in schools, workplaces, and other public and private places are sometimes overwhelming to the individual and their families, particularly when resources have not been adequately channelled for appropriate accommodations.
For instance, in Canada, according to some researchers the unemployment rate is 53% higher among disabled workers; and that only represents disabled persons actively looking for work. The real unemployment rate among disabled persons may approach 30% according to some researchers. Where are the federal Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) programs to address this issue?
Disabled people are usually the last hired and the first fired in a downturn. As a result the rate of poverty among disabled persons is exceptionally higher than compared to the rest of the population. Workers with disabilities who do participate in the workforce are often discriminated against and pitted against persons without disabilities. Moreover, even when work seems stable and not so precarious, barriers to accessibility still exist.
As Canada’s most progressive and largest private-sector union, we constantly strive to provide a welcoming and barrier free environment to our sisters and brothers with disabilities at thousands of workplaces across Canada. As an inclusive union we must eliminate our own biases and move forward to accommodate the needs of workers with disabilities as laid out in the various Human Rights codes. Most importantly, we must use our collective power to effect meaningful change that is not merely lip-service but allows all in Canada to live and work with dignity and respect.