By Kristen Williams
In recent years, we’ve seen a big push to include disabled people in employment.
In 2017, the Ontario government initiated a three-pronged strategy to decrease disability unemployment rates and show employers the positives of hiring disabled people.
The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion was started in 2016 by self-proclaimed “diversity and inclusion practitioners,” creating campaigns and awareness around disability-barriers to employment.
People with disabilities often rely on creativity to make our lives work, requiring outside-the-box thinking to accommodate our differences and best use our skill sets
Despite efforts like these, statistics show that unemployment rates are twice as high for disabled people when compared to our able-bodied peers. It’s unfortunate, especially when studies have shown that disabled employees, when given the chance, are loyal workers with high attendance rates.
With all these efforts and facts, it’s almost absurd then, that disability unemployment rates are astronomically high. Almost.
A little theoretical analysis provides some insight into why we can’t seem to break into the workforce and stay there. Capitalism, above all, values productivity, especially productivity if it can be easily monetized.
Creativity may occasionally be permitted, but usually only for a privileged few – e.g. tech entrepreneurs –and only when channeled in ‘proper’ directions – i.e. towards turning everything into a measurable transaction. Ultimately, capitalism values predictable responses and obedience to authority in the name of monetary gain.
In order to leverage economies of scale for efficiency and profit, production at the most common and lowest levels of the capitalist economy rely on worker conformity – the ability to treat workers as essentially interchangeable. Almost by definition, people with disabilities are not interchangeable workers. They do not fit automatically into existing capitalistic systems.
Capitalism dehumanizes at every chance, hoping to achieve efficiency, even at the expense of the people behind it.
People with disabilities on the other hand, often rely on creativity to make our lives work, requiring outside-the-box thinking to accommodate our differences and best use our skill sets. We harbour resourcefulness in the face of unpredictability. We must, in order to succeed in a world that isn’t often ready or willing to accommodate our existence.
We live interdependent lives, often utilizing the helpfulness of others for everyday tasks – perhaps the very opposite of the independence and individualism that capitalist dogma so boastingly spouts. We thrive through adaptation.
It makes sense then that disabled people have great difficulty finding and maintaining work: our values, born of necessity, fly in the face of capitalistic values and goals, through no fault of our own. To make certain everyday parts of our life work, we have to get creative, ask for help when we need it (even if that’s often), and sometimes fight for change just to get basic needs met.
The stark contrast between the exploitative nature of capitalism and values born out of living life as a disabled person suggest that even with the best efforts of the government to make disabled people employable, we will always find ourselves on the outskirts of employment.
Capitalism is inherently ableist, and until society values human life over the success of capitalism, little will change.