Intermittent disabilities fall through the cracks again

Oh boy, am I peeved.

A Statscan report on employment among people with disabilities in Canada came out today in honour of the United Nation’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The report was picked up by major media under headlines such as “Less than half of Canadian adults with disabilities have jobs.” Note that the data in the report is from 2011, the most current year for which stats are available.

The report says that “Among both men and women, most [i.e. >56% of] university graduates worked full-time all year, regardless of whether they had a disability or not.” Data on part-time, full-year workers like me was marked “use with caution,” presumably because there wasn’t enough of it. But one of the reasons why there probably wasn’t enough of it was because the definition of disability used in the study was too restrictive.

The data used in the study was gathered from a sample of people who had already been screened with questions that

evaluate the presence and severity of 10 distinct types of disabilities related to a health problem or condition that has lasted or is expected to last for six months or more. Screening questions emphasize consistency of measurement across disability types. The questions address the following disability types: 1. Seeing 2. Hearing 3. Mobility 4. Flexibility 5. Dexterity 6. Pain 7. Learning 8. Developmental 9. Mental/psychological 10. Memory. [My bolding].

Note that fatigue is not on this list. Immunological conditions that make people susceptible to other illnesses also don’t fall neatly into any one of the categories above, either. And, just as bad, the phrasing about how long a condition has lasted may exclude people who experience intermittent pain, restricted mobility, depression, etc. from qualifying as disabled, if they interpret the question to refer to episodes of disability, as opposed to a chronic condition that manifests intermittently.

I’ve just spent 3 weeks too sick to do more than 1 hour (1 hour!) of work the entire time. Yet getting sick like that — unpredictably and seriously — doesn’t count as a disability according to the criteria above because the primary symptom preventing me from working was fatigue. Is not being able to stay awake a “mental/psychological” disability that is covered by the list, or is it something else? Would depression count only if it is not secondary to being unable to work for other health reasons? What about people who have epilepsy, etc.?

I am very dissatisfied with the definition of disability used in this study. I hope that Statscan and other government agencies will incorporate intermittent but debilitating health issues, such as fatigue, seizures, etc. into their framework for describing disabilities ASAP. It would be a helpful step towards ensuring that people who suffer from such problems are counted, listened to, and accommodated.

On top of the inherent problems with the study I discuss above, there’s another issue that the stats point to but that isn’t discussed in any detail: among full-time workers with university-level educations, women without disabilities make, on average, less than men with disabilities, as this chart shows:

Wage gap 2011

(I made the chart with Statscan data. Sorry for its fuzziness. I’m too tired to spend the time to make it nice now).

Systematic sexism rages on!




This entry was posted in accommodations, anger, bias, disability, fatigue, finances, frustration, hidden disability, immune suppression, sexism, statistics, unpredictability, virus, wages, work. Bookmark the permalink.