International Day of Persons with Disabilities: How disability affects labour market outcomes

People with disabilities make up 15 per cent of the global population according to the World Report on Disability published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank in 2011. Yet, they are far from adequately represented in labour markets around the world.

People with disabilities are less likely to participate in the labour force, experience higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of employment on the whole than people without disabilities. Additionally, they face lower rates of paid employment that provides financial security or social benefits. More disability-friendly policies are clearly needed to support them and promote their involvement in the labour market.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2006, establishes, in Article 27 (on work and employment), “the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others”. This means that they should enjoy the same access to employment opportunities, remuneration and labour rights as people without disabilities.

Similarly, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all United Nations Member States in December 2015, identifies people with disabilities as one of several groups of vulnerable people who must be empowered. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contained in the 2030 Agenda make explicit reference to disability in a number of labour market-related targets and their associated indicators.

However, despite the significant attention paid to issues of disability in the world of work, not least on 3 December, International Day of Persons with Disabilities …

… A lot still remains to be done …

… before the objectives of full and productive employment and decent work can be achieved for people with disabilities.

People with disabilities are far more likely to be outside the labour force

People with disabilities are less likely to participate in the labour force: almost two thirds of those who are of working age are outside the labour force.

In most countries, people with disabilities face higher rates of unemployment

In about two thirds of the countries for which data are available, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is higher than for those without. While the unemployment rate among the former is higher in most of the developed countries, in many developing countries it is lower than for people without disabilities. Because of the absence or inadequacy of disability-related benefits and, more generally, of social protection floors in developing countries, people with disabilities there can often simply not afford to stay without employment.

People with disabilities are less likely to be employed

Only one in three people with disabilities is employed on average. Significantly, they are two times less likely to be employed than people without disabilities.

If actually employed, people with disabilities are less likely to have paid jobs

The available statistics show that people with disabilities are more likely than those without to be self-employed, namely as own-account workers or contributing family workers. In many countries, this reflects the lack of opportunities to find paid employment.

People with disabilities face higher barriers to education than the general population

Among a sample of ten countries with available data, the average level of education of employed people with disabilities was found to be lower than that of those without: they were two times more likely to have less than primary education. The same pattern could be observed for all other levels of education. While extrapolating from such a small sample to obtain reliable global estimates is impossible, these findings do reflect how people with disabilities generally face a number of barriers, including barriers to education at an early stage of their lives. This is particularly true of those who are born with their disabilities or who acquire them in childhood.

Failure to make appropriate provisions to include young people with disabilities in mainstream education, along with other obstacles, has a significant impact on their subsequent labour market outcomes.

Women with disabilities face a double disadvantage in the labour market based on both their gender and their disability status

In all the countries studied, the employment rate for women with disabilities was lower than not only the rate for men without disabilities but also that for women and men with disabilities, which confirms persisting gender disparities in labour markets worldwide.

Additional and more comprehensive data are required

The prevalence of disability varies in different countries. This is in large part due to significant differences in the definitions used to measure disability. An overview of these definitions can be found in: ILO, Statistics on the Labour Force Characteristics of People with Disabilities: A Compendium of National Methodologies (2014).

In order to improve the availability and comparability of data on people with disabilities, which would facilitate the monitoring of States’ progress towards the SDGs and of their compliance with their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the ILO promotes use of the Washington Group questions on disability in labour force surveys and other household surveys that feature a module on employment.

However, comparing the labour market characteristics of people with and without disabilities is not in itself sufficient. While disaggregating outcome indicators does help to identify disparities in labour market experience between the two groups, it does not provide the information required to uncover the barriers and other factors that drive those disparities. Such information is essential for the design of policies aimed at rectifying gaps in labour market outcomes. Accordingly, the ILO has developed, in collaboration with the Washington Group on Disability Statistics, a labour force survey module that can be used to collect data on the various kinds of barriers that people with disabilities face in the labour market and that prevent them from participating on an equal basis with others. Analysis of such information can contribute significantly to the design, implementation and review of national policies and interventions in support of people with disabilities.

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