The challenges facing disabled people finding employment are not just a simple matter of a discriminatory job market, it is also about the attitudes on both sides of the equation. The stats of unemployment don’t tell a lie, but neither do the realities facing disabled people, and the solution isn’t straightforward.
Almost every time I cite a statistic which shows that disabled people are clearly marginalised, particularly in the employment space, a familiar argument is made in response. The argument questions how many disabled people within these stats are able to and want to participate in employment, and/or education and training.
One person on Facebook recently raised the following with me:
With an already tight job market, they said, opportunities are limited depending on the disability and that physically disabled people couldn’t have done any of their previous physical labour jobs.
A fair and solid point raised, one I cannot question either.
This is where some of the arguments about blatant discrimination toward disabled people in the workforce begin to fall over. It isn’t as simple as what the stats suggest, the answer to solving the problem doesn’t just sit with changing the attitudes of employers and getting more disabled people into jobs. We need to look at the quality of jobs disabled people get and the market also needs to expand. But it doesn’t end there, either.
Are Disabled People Willing & Able To Fix The Employment Stats?
Last week, TVNZ revealed that many disabled people who are employed earn less than $5 per hour due to exemptions handed out by the Ministry of Business and Innovation. In one case, a person with Down Syndrome was being paid 89c for their work in the community service sector. Is this what you would call equitable employment and do we want to see it continue?
The heart of the issue sits with attitude and ability. Many, if not most disabled people, want to be treated equally and have the same employment opportunities as their non-disabled peers. In fact, one in five disabled people say that they want to employment and work as many hours as possible. But on the other side of the coin, the argument that this ambition simply isn’t possible for some, due to a variety of factors including access, geographic location, and financial benefit.
The reality for a lot of disabled people may always be that they are unable to work enough hours to ensure that employment is a better financial prospect versus getting a disability benefit each week. The Labour Market Survey for June 2017 showed that weekly income for disabled people was just under 50% less compared to non-disabled, and that disabled people were likely to receive most if not all of that weekly income from Government transfers (74% versus 26% for non-disabled).
And thus, we are still searching for a solution that doesn’t only fix the stats to make New Zealand look like a more equitable country for disabled people, but we are also wrestling with an ideology of what is possible for this diverse community. What is possible, is indeed, perhaps the most diverse reality of them all.