November 30, 2017 - Calgary – Sunday is World Disability Day.  A good day to see how Canada stacks up when it comes to opportunities for persons with disabilities.  It turns out Canadian adults with developmental disabilities are slipping through the cracks. Labour force participation is lowest for persons with developmental disabilities (DD) compared to any other disability in Canada, and even lower for persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many are ready, willing and able to work and for those who are employed, they often work for less than minimum wage and receive minimal protection from labour legislation. Why is this happening? 

Today, The School of Public Policy with authors Jonathan Lai, Stephanie Dunn and Jennifer Zwicker released a communique, based from a study published a few months ago in Journal Research in Developmental Disabilities . The report looks at self-reported data from the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability, focusing on adults between the ages of 15 and 64 years. The study also explores specific examples of the unmet employment, education and daily living needs of persons with two types of developmental disability: autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and cerebral palsy (CP).

According to co-author, Jennifer Zwicker, “Three in four respondents not working at the time of the survey reported that their disability presented barriers to employment. Common barriers included adverse employer attitudes, ill-suited work environments, inadequate job modifications, and unmet educational and daily living needs. There is an urgent need for policies and programs, for both potential employers and employees, to increase sustained and meaningful participation in the workforce for individuals with developmental disability. Many barriers to employment could be removed through policies targeted at the workplace (like job training programs, policies that promote accessibility and equal opportunity, employer training, and improved workplace practices) and broader policies promoting social inclusion and educational attainment. Vocational training programs like Worktopia can help improve employment success of the individual leading to greater independence and quality of life. This program, developed through a partnership between the Sinneave Family Foundation and Autism Speaks Canada, and funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities Program is a great example of a national network that enables the sharing of promising practices.”

With diagnosis of a developmental disability for those under 25 more than double that of older age groups, the need to address lifespan barriers takes on a new level of urgency.  The Sinneave Family Foundation- a Calgary based non-profit organization focused on improving education, employment and independent living outcomes for emerging adults with ASD- highlights that targeted individual skill building programs need to be supported by education, workplace and social policies.  “Preparing individuals for education and employment settings that are not in turn enabled through policy, is unlikely to bend the curve of this alarming trend. Changing the education and employment culture begins with policy leadership.” said Tanya McLeod, President of the Sinneave Family Foundation.

The paper can be downloaded at


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Morten Paulsen