Unequal employment opportunities for disabled persons

Active prejudice towards disability in employment
Discrimination against the handicapped at work
Discrimination against the disabled at work
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.
They too are fully human subjects with corresponding innate, sacred and inviolable rights, and, in spite of the limitations and sufferings affecting their bodies and faculties, they point up more clearly the dignity and greatness of man. Since disabled people are subjects with all their rights, they should be helped to participate in the life of society in all its aspects and at all the levels accessible to their capacities. The disabled person is one of us and participates fully in the same humanity that we possess. It would be radically unworthy of man, and a denial of our common humanity, to admit to the life of the community, and thus admit to work, only those who are fully functional. To do so would be to practise a serious form of discrimination, that of the strong and healthy against the weak and sick. Work in the objective sense should be subordinated, in this circumstance too, to the dignity of man, to the subject of work and not to economic advantage. (Papal Encyclical, Laborem Exercens, 14 September 1981).
Equal access to work for disabled people is practically and economically impossible for most enterprises, particularly small businesses. It means making the workplace accessible, restructuring jobs, modifying equipment, and taking on a range of potential social and medical legal liabilities for which they are unprepared.
(E) Emanations of other problems