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How do people with disabilities fare in the labour market?

Finding work can be tough for people with disabilities. While the number of people with disabilities in the workforce has been rising in many countries, in part due to changing attitudes and improved legislation, if you have a disability, you’re still more likely to be out of work than a person who doesn’t.

ILOSTAT data shows how employment prospects for disabled people vary around the world. Even though the findings are limited since many nations don’t collect or publish these statistics, they highlight wide disparities in the likelihood of finding employment.

All high income countries with available data had a noticeable gap in unemployment rates between those disabled and those not. The biggest differences were found in Denmark, Portugal, Slovenia, Italy and Malta, which all showed gaps of 20 percentage points or more.

Norway reported the smallest gap between the unemployment rates of disabled and non-disabled people, at 2 percentage points. Norway’s government says it’s worked to remove barriers, including discrimination, costs and attitudes. Standing in the way can often be a lack of information about the subsidies available and ways to adapt the workplace.

Analysing such data matters since people with disabilities make up an estimated one billion, or 15% of the world’s population. One of the ILO’s longstanding commitments is to promote the right of people with disabilities to decent work. Two strands underpin this aim: one which seeks to break down barriers to work, while the other promotes inclusion of disabled people in areas like skills training.

ILOSTAT data also illustrates how women with disabilities face bigger barriers to finding employment. In two-thirds of the high income nations for which information is available, women with disabilities have a higher unemployment rate than their male counterparts.

In Cyprus, the unemployment rate for women with disabilities was 46%, more than double the rate for men. The gender gap was also significant in Greece, Slovenia, Denmark, Iceland, Italy and Sweden, at 5 percentage points or more.

This area of work from ILOSTAT also underscores how a lack of labour statistics disaggregated by disability status could be holding back progress. The database currently covers labour force figures for disabled persons for 69 countries, with especially poor coverage in low income countries.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals call for “Leaving no one behind”, with targets set for all segments of society. However, the lack of disaggregated data for vulnerable groups – including the disabled – makes this a challenge. Effective action requires a precise understanding of target populations.  Yet the collection of disaggregated data by disability status is a critical issue for the implementation of the SDGs.

For national statistics offices seeking to improve their coverage of persons with disabilities, the ILO promotes using the Washington Group questions in surveys. The ILO Statistics Department is also developing a dedicated module on persons with disabilities to be used in labour force surveys.

More comprehensive data help shape policies that foster decent work opportunities and inclusive workplaces for all, including people with disabilities. This is something to bear in mind as we observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which this year focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development.


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