By: Carolyn Pletsch and Donna Lero
Re-Conceptualizing Work and Disability
In North America, labour force participation is an important prerequisite to achieving a sustainable livelihood. Without work, life becomes difficult both economically and in many cases also psychologically, creating a situation that has the potential to impact not only the individual and the family unit but also the community and society at large. Social supports, already stretched have a limited capacity to respond.
In this intersection of work and disability, economic concerns mingle with those of employment equity and human rights. Constructions of disability can lead to social exclusion and dependence, with individuals with disabilities identified as a 'burden' to society, an assumption reinforced as normative by prevalent bio-medical and economic paradigms. The dominant focus, largely on impairment rather than assets, often leads to social exclusion for individuals with disabilities and their households, and contributes to a cycle of unemployment and poverty. Reshaping conceptualizations so that barriers to work are curtailed or eliminated is important for many reasons, not the least of which are reducing poverty, maximizing human resources, and promoting human dignity (WHO, 2011).
Given a social and economic climate that demands a demonstrable return on investment for each research dollar spent, it is important to develop research questions that contribute not only to scholarship but also to improving life in a concrete way. In response to this imperative the Centre for Families, Work and Well-being has begun to develop a research program on work and disability. Focusing on psycho-social issues, this program primarily begins with, and takes direction from the community it is designed to benefit. As a 'community benefit research program' the research produced on work and disability issues will make a significant contribution to practice; a process facilitated by education and knowledge mobilization initiatives.
This research theme has been enthusiastically embraced in academic circles and by practitioners. This year's highlights include a conference; "Toward Re-Conceptualizing the Burden Of Disability" as well as the publication of a special section on work and disability in the "Disability Studies Quarterly".