We are all temporarily able-bodied. As we grow older, the likelihood increases that we will develop some form of disability from hearing loss, poor eyesight and back problems to the more debilitating forms of disability such as asthma, heart disease and cancer.
Persons with disabilities, and women with disabilities especially, are far more likely than the able-bodied to be unemployed and under-employed. Of the more than 1.9 million women with disabilities in Canada, three-quarters or 75 per cent are unemployed. For many women and men with disabilities the tragic result is often a life of poverty.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. People with disabilities want to work – all they want is the opportunity to do so. Often, we have preconceived notions about what a person with a disability can and cannot do. It is not the disability itself but rather societal misperceptions, negative attitudes and discriminatory treatment of persons with disabilities that contribute to their economic marginalization.
Discrimination on the basis of disability is against the law. It is illegal for an employer or local union to discriminate against someone because she or he has some form of disability. What this means is that employers and unions have a legal obligation or duty to ensure that persons with disabilities are accommodated at work. This principle is known as the “duty to accommodate” and it should be part of the collective agreement.