Alberta's minimum wage is increasing 20 cents this fall from $9.75 to $9.95 per hour. This is after a 35 cent wage hike last year. While a step in the right direction for minimum wage earners, many people still do not hold positions despite the large number of available jobs and strong economy.
The unemployment rate in Alberta is one of the lowest in Canada, but of the 350,000 individuals with one or more disabilities in Alberta, only 67% are employed. Some individuals with severe disabilities are not able to work, however, most individuals with disablities who want to work, would have the ability to do so at least part-time or part-year if the barriers they face when seeking employment were removed.
What are some barriers people with disabilities face when seeking employment?
Provincial disability benefit programs require recipients to demonstrate that their disability prevents them from working by only allowing a minimal amount of supplemental employment income. This forces these individuals to choose between maintaining their consistent, but low income benefits by not working, or being a participant in the economy with a low income due to only having the capacity to work limited hours or part of the year. Both scenarios, keep these individuals living in poverty.
For those individuals that choose to work, another barrier they must overcome is the perceived high cost to employ or accommodate persons with disabilities. But the reality is that in most cases, people with disabilities can be accommodated at no cost to their employer. And, for the minority of cases that do require special accommodation, the average cost to an employer would only be approximately $500 - $1500 per year.
The We Belong campaign run by Gateway Association is a campaign centered around this issue for individuals in Edmonton who have intellectual disabilities. Gateway Association knows that people with disabilities can live and work as important members of the community and they strive to prove it through education and raising awareness. On their website they list companies that employ people with intellectual disabilities as a resource for their clients, and to provide some much deserved recognition. On their campaign website you will also find the inspiring stories of people who have worked, or are working in throughout Edmonton with an intellectual disability. There are stories like Karen, who has been a sales associate at Winners since 2008, or Alex, who works customer service at Safeway.