Yesterday, we celebrated Equal Pay Day, which recognizes the gendered pay gap that persists even in 2017. Canadian women generally make about 87 cents to every Canadian man’s dollar, but the gap is wider in other parts of the world. Depending upon location, career field, age, race, and other complex factors, women still make about 20% less than men overall. This pay gap feeds systemic inequality, especially when women are paid less than men for the exact same work, and takes a toll on the health of any economy.
Today, though, we’d like to place the spotlight on a different but no less meaningful wage gap that, even on Equal Pay Day, few people seemed to be discussing. People with disabilities, who form one of the largest minority groups, face a pay gap even wider than the one affecting women. Disabled Canadians make about 25% less than their nondisabled counterparts. Elsewhere, they make as little as 37% less than nondisabled workers. Since people with disabilities already deal with other employment-related barriers, such as a high unemployment rate and fewer opportunities, the pay gap is just one more roadblock to their success.
Part of the reason this pay gap exists is society’s belief that people with disabilities are automatically worth less and are less productive at work. Regardless of education level, prior experience, and personal skills, people with disabilities still find themselves proving and reasserting their competence at every career stage. Indeed, higher educational attainment doesn’t narrow the pay gap. If anything, it widens it. People with disabilities who have a master’s degree or higher make about $20,000 less than nondisabled peers annually, even when working in exactly the same positions. No matter how well-educated a person with a disability becomes, they are at risk of being deemed less worthy of a salary commensurate with their educational achievements.
The pay gap persists at all levels, however, especially in places where subminimum wages are legal. The United States has come under fire many times for an antiquated law that permits employers to pay disabled workers below the minimum wage if they are perceived to be less productive than someone without a disability. These wages can be so staggeringly low that the worker is making less than a dollar per hour. This practice is usually found in sheltered, segregated workshops, where the labour of workers with disabilities is treated as inferior and paid for with correspondingly low wages.
Unfortunately, such laws and practices are not unique to the United States. Canada has sheltered workshops of its own, which were originally intended to give disabled workers job training but eventually led to decades of underpaid, undervalued labour. Provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all have old laws on the books that allow employers to pay employees less if their “physical or mental deficiencies” are likely to disrupt productivity. These laws are rarely invoked, but one time is really too many.
Adding to the issue is that people with disabilities tend to work fewer hours annually, mirroring the plight of women, who also tend to work fewer hours per year and consequently make less money. Men with disabilities only work about 750 hours annually, while men without disabilities work about 1,280. Women with disabilities work about 556 hours annually, while women without disabilities work about 993 hours per year. Further, people with disabilities are overrepresented in lower-paying jobs, just as women are.
The two situations reflect each other so perfectly that it is a wonder more people are not speaking out about this glaring example of inequality. There is abundant research on the gendered pay gap, but far less study devoted to examining the disability pay gap. Why? Why is 20% of the world’s population being left out of the important conversation that Equal Pay Day sparks each year?
At DECSA, we work hard to uphold the dignity and success of people with disabilities. We work with them every day, and know them to be competent, educated, skilled individuals who are ready, willing, and able to work. They make up a portion of our staff and contribute just as meaningfully as our nondisabled employees. We know that the single greatest barrier between them and gainful employment is society’s attitude, so we work to change that attitude wherever we can. Please join us in acknowledging inequality, disparity, and discrimination. Help us ensure that this conversation extends beyond us and into a world that so often misunderstands and undervalues workers with disabilities. In Canada, we all have the right to work. Let’s come together to protect that right.
Dogs have been providing humans with companionship and comfort for centuries, but they have also begun to fill specific, diverse roles related to neurological and physical disabilities. There are about a hundred service dogs in Alberta alone, so it’s possible that you’ll encounter one of them in your workplace. Whether this makes you joyful or nervous, it’s important to educate yourself on the different types of service dogs, and proper etiquette when interacting with a service dog team.
Types of Service Dogs
You may picture a guide dog when you think of service animals, but the range of disabilities dogs can assist with has expanded dramatically in recent years, as has the variety of breeds that can be trained. You’re as likely to see a poodle as a retriever, and the list of suitable breeds continues to grow. In 2017, you’ll meet service dogs that are trained to do any number of tasks, from easing anxiety, to alerting handlers of seizures, to detecting changes in blood sugar for those with diabetes. Here is just a small sample of the jobs service dogs can perform:
- Hearing dogs can alert deaf and hard of hearing handlers of important sounds such as doorbells and fire alarms.
- Mobility assistance dogs are taught to retrieve dropped objects, brace handlers who may have balance difficulties, and even pull wheelchairs up ramps.
- Diabetic alert dogs are able to sense changes in blood sugar levels far sooner than their handlers, allowing them to address the situation before it becomes dangerous.
- Seizure alert dogs are sensitive to oncoming seizures, and can help their handlers find a safe place and fetch medication.
- Psychiatric service dogs work with handlers who live with conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. They provide a general sense of safety, but are also trained to perform specific tasks like redirecting obsessive, harmful habits, or warning the handler when they begin to dissociate.
- Allergy detection dogs will be on guard for allergens that may harm their handlers.
The first thing to remember is that, while accommodating a service dog team may seem a little scary at first, it’s a relatively easy and rewarding process. In Canada, employers are legally obligated to allow service dogs to accompany their handlers just about everywhere, so education and preparation are essential.
When you meet a service dog team, always address the handler directly. Never approach the dog or acknowledge it without first acknowledging the handler. In fact, it’s generally unacceptable to touch, speak to, or feed the dog lest you distract it from its important work. The best course of action is to ignore the dog completely, as difficult as that may seem. If it helps, consider the dog an assistance device so that you’re less tempted to interact with it while it’s on duty. (Yes, a sleeping dog is still a working dog.)
Avoid making assumptions. If the handler’s disability is not visible, or the dog is not wearing a recognizable indicator such as a harness or vest, refrain from questioning it. Trust that your employer has done their due diligence in ensuring the service dog team is within its rights to be there. Not everyone is receptive to discussing or even disclosing their disabilities, so keep courtesy and respect in mind, always.
Finally, be proactive about disclosing any allergies or phobias you may experience. Dog handlers and employers can address environmental issues, but only if you inform them. Service animals tend to be easy to accommodate. They are highly-trained and well-mannered—so much so that you may even forget they’re there at all. Still, their presence can cause workplace issues, which must be solved as quickly as possible.
Employers must honour Albertan law and allow service dogs into their workplaces, provided they were trained at an accredited school and the employee has a bona fide disability. There are various strategies for educating other employees and dealing with potential problems, so research and consultation with the handler are vital for a smooth, successful transition.
While service dogs can usually be relied upon to behave themselves, handlers are ultimately and solely responsible for their conduct and should be expected to respond readily to behavioural issues as soon as they arise. Employers must balance the needs of their other employees with the rights afforded to all service dog teams. There may be some bumpy spots in the road, but once properly settled, a service dog can be a beneficial addition to any workplace.
Last week, the always well-dressed Edmonton entrepreneur Lawrence Bonda spoke to our Ventures class of entrepreneurs with disabilities.
Lawrence Bonda (left)
Lawrence has faced many hardships, and he has received support from Ventures. He volunteered with a real estate network for several years, then branched into marketing and web services, and he continues to branch out.
He shared many nuggets of wisdom from his time at DECSA and beyond.
Lawrence suggests that entrepreneurs master the art of negotiation and in-kind exchanges, as well as access community and online resources. For example, Lawrence has used audiovisual resources at the Edmonton Public Library, found equipment at thrift stores, and met potential partners on Kijiji. As he says:
It’s not always about the money, it’s about figuring out what people want.
Our thanks to Lawrence for sharing!
PLEASE NOTE: As of August 21, intakes for our Assets for Success program are closed for the year.
If you have a mental health condition (depression, stress, phobia, anxiety, etc) and employment is your goal, then Assets for Success is the program for you!
Am I eligible for this program?
- Albertans 18 years of age or older
- Unemployed or marginally employed (less than 20 hours per week)
- Not eligible for Employment Insurance
- Self-disclosed mental health condition
Call us at (780) 474-2500 before August 21 to enrol!
Watch our new video below for more information.
Please join us in welcoming this lovable new member to DECSA!
But first, let’s share the story of how our newest member came to be here at DECSA…
The doll was donated by Ventures client James B, who began crafting the dolls while incarcerated. Many years ago, the first prototype was a life-size replica of Mr. B himself to fill his prison bed, which enabled a crafty escape.
Since that time, many smaller versions of the doll – a combination of recycled materials, handmade garments and baby clothing – have become a symbol of Mr. B’s creativity and industriousness. He now sells the dolls alongside original poetry he composed while in prison.
In the Ventures Entrepreneurs with Disabilities program, Mr. B is free to make his business bigger and more productive through smart business planning.
This doll still needs a name, so if you have an idea, please drop by our Community Hub and add it to the list, or email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our BIG THANKS to James B for the wonderful gift and to all friends of DECSA for contributing name ideas!
Listen up! Our Ventures program will once again be running a 5-week Business Development workshop series, starting next week. Ventures serves entrepreneurs with disabilities to gain the skills, support, and tools to move forward with a concept, idea, plan or existing business. We only have a few spaces left, so if you know of anyone who would benefit from investing “time in” to an entrepreneurial pursuit, and has a documented disability, please send them our way! There is no charge to participate. The workshops will run from April 13th to May 13th, 2015 and will be held at DECSA, 11515 – 71 Street, Edmonton.
To register, contact Anne-Marie at 780-471-9655. Our TTY is: 780-471-9635
We look forward to helping others grow their business!