New research centre aims to improve workplace disability policies

Canadian Chiropractor staff
February 06, 2014
Written by Canadian Chiropractor staff
Feb. 6, 2014 — 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. What’s 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.

Johnston wants to work, but needs help.

"I’m doing it all on my own," she says. "I don’t 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 Johnston across Canada are losing their attachment to the labour force after they become injured, ill or disabled, slipping through the cracks of a disability policy system that is increasingly out of tune with the nature of today’s work and workers.

How many workers with disabilities are not getting the supports needed to enter, remain in or return to the job market, and why? What policy changes are needed to ensure that all Canadians can work, regardless of their ability, in order to make a living and contribute to Canada’s economy?

These are among the questions to be tackled by a new research centre launched recently at McMaster University. The Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy aims to develop evidence-based policy options that will allow Canada’s current disability policy system to provide better income support and labour-market engagement for people when they are injured, ill or disabled.

"Throughout my six years in office, I’ve spoken to employer groups, service clubs and community organizations around the province about the strong economic case for employing people with disabilities," David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, said last month in his new year’s message. "I’m pleased to say that I’ve witnessed some great progress, but there is still more work to do."

The new research centre is a seven-year initiative funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Co-led by Drs. Emile Tompa and Ellen MacEachen, senior scientists at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto, the centre includes regional hubs in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The centre also involves 46 partners from across the country. These partners represent disability and injured worker community organizations, provincial and federal-level disability support program providers, labour organizations and employers, and research institutions.

According to Statistics Canada, about 2.3 million people in Canada between the ages of 15 and 64 — representing one in ten working-age Canadians — reported in 2012 that they were sometimes or often limited in their daily activity due to a long-lasting health impairment.

"Taking into account all forms of disability — acute or chronic, temporary or episodic, physical or mental, coming early in life or late, work-related or otherwise — it’s not hard to see that work disability touches most people at some point in their lives," says Tompa. "We are bringing together academic talent from across the country and working closely with partners to identify a roadmap for the future of work disability policy in Canada."

"More and more people with health conditions or impairments are falling into the grey zone of unemployment," adds MacEachen. "They can and want to work, and need help to get there, yet may not qualify for work integration support from any one program. With our partners, we will do research to help us understand how this is happening and how our system might be improved to address it."

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