Vancouver-based Krystal Johnston, 29, has carpal tunnel syndrome. Two surgeries, one on each wrist, failed to fix the loss of feeling in her hands and arms.
Her doctor told her she is unlikely to return to ironworking, a job she loves. Whats more, she was denied her claim for workers compensation benefits, has used up her Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits, and will run out of her union disability benefits within months.
Ms. Johnston wants to work, but needs help.
Im doing it all on my own, she said. I dont know where to find support. I just never thought that if I ever got hurt I would be kicked out on the porch in the rain.
Workers like Ms. Johnston across Canada are losing their attachment to the labour force after they become injured, ill or impaired, slipping through the cracks of a disability policy system that is increasingly out of tune with the nature of todays work and workers. Many people with a broad range of disabilities not caused by work also face major challenges finding employment.
According to Statistics Canada, about 2.3 million people in Canada between the ages of 15 and 64 representing one in 10 working-age Canadians reported in 2012 that they were sometimes or often limited in their daily activity due to a long-lasting health impairment.
The Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy (CRWDP), formally launched at a Canada-wide virtual event today, Tuesday, Feb. 4, aims to develop evidence-based policy options that will allow Canadas current disability policy system to provide better income support and labour-market engagement for people when they are injured, ill or impaired. CRWDP is co-led by Drs. Emile Tompa and Ellen MacEachen, senior scientists at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto.
More and more people with health conditions or impairments are falling into the grey zone of unemployment, explained Dr. MacEachen. They can and want to work, and need help to get there, yet they do not qualify for work integration support from any one program. Working with our partners, our research will help us understand how this is happening and how our system might be improved to address it.
The centre includes regional hubs in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Drs. Stephen Bornstein and Barbara Neis, from Memorials SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research, will be leading the provincial cluster. Drs. Gordon Cooke, Faculty of Business Administration; Doreen Dawe and Sandra Small, School of Nursing; and Catherine de Boer, School of Social Work, are also engaged with this project and will investigate work disability from a variety of perspectives.
Our involvement with the newly established Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy is a very significant opportunity for Memorial University researchers to partner with organizations representing people with disabilities in this province, said Dr. Neis. The capacity for and experience with research in the
field of disability studies is not well developed at Memorial. Our engagement with this new centre in carrying out research, networking and mobilizing the research done elsewhere within the province gives us the opportunity to begin to address this serious gap.
The centre currently involves 46 partners from across the country. These partners represent disability and injured worker community organizations, provincial and federal-level disability support program providers, research institutions, labour organizations and employers. Research will be carried out at regional hubs in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Creating greater employment opportunities for persons with disabilities is not only the right thing to do; it makes good economic sense. A win/win opportunity exists and can be realized. However, it must be recognized that for this to happen, a critical element is a comprehensive policy framework which enables accommodation of peoples disability related needs and facilitates real and substantive workforce inclusion, said Marie Ryan, disability advocate and executive committee member for CRWDP.
The research centre is a seven-year initiative funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.