Many persons with disabilities are denied employment or given only menial and poorly remunerated jobs. This is true even though it can be demonstrated that with proper assessment, training and placement, the great majority of disabled persons can perform a large range of tasks in accordance with prevailing work norms. In time of unemployment and economic distress, disabled persons are usually the first to be discharged and the last to be hired. In some industrialized countries experiencing the effects of economic recession, the rate of unemployment among disabled job-seekers is double that of able-bodied applicants for jobs.
Programmes have been developed and measures taken in many countries to create jobs for disabled persons, including sheltered and production workshops, sheltered enclaves, designated positions, quota schemes, subsidies for employers who train and subsequently engage disabled workers, cooperatives of and for the disabled, etc; but the actual number of disabled workers employed in either regular or special establishments is far below the number of employable disabled workers. Wider application of ergonomic principles would lead to adaptation of the work place, tools, machinery and equipment at relatively little cost and thus help to widen employment opportunities for the disabled.
Many disabled persons, particularly in the developing countries, live in rural areas. When the family economy is based on agriculture or other rural occupations and when the traditional extended family exists, it may be possible for most disabled persons to be given some useful tasks to perform. As more families move from rural areas to urban centres, as agriculture becomes more mechanized and commercialized, as money transactions replace barter systems and as the institution of the extended family disintegrates, the vocational plight of disabled persons becomes more severe. For those living in urban slums, competition for employment is heavy, and other economically productive activity is scarce. Many disabled persons in such areas suffer from enforced inactivity and become dependent; others must resort to begging.
Of the 6 million disabled people in the UK in 1991, 285,000, or 22% of those who declared themselves economically active, were not in work and wanted to be. Despite a 1944 law that 3% of jobs in larger organizations should go to disabled people, the average in 1991 ranges from 0.7% in the south-east to 1.5% in Yorkshire. According to another British study, a disabled person is three times more likely to be unemployed, despite evidence that disabled employees claim fewer sick days and have a reputation for being industrious. 8 out of 10 employers rated disabled workers as just as competent, if not more competent than able-bodied workers. 6% of employers surveyed openly admitted refusal to employ disabled applicants.