Finding ways to help injured, ill or disabled people stay at work or return to work is a primary goal of the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy (CRWDP), which officially launched in February.
"We need a work disability system that meets the needs of all working-age individuals when disabled, regardless of how they became disabled or for how long," says Dr. Ellen MacEachen, a senior scientist at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). MacEachen and IWH colleague Dr. Emile Tompa are co-leading the centre, which is headquartered at IWH.
According to Statistics Canada, 2.3 million people in Canada between the ages of 15 and 64 — or 1 in 10 working-age Canadians — reported in 2012 that they were sometimes or often limited in their daily activity due to a long-lasting health impairment. Many underemployed people with disabilities are eager and even desperate for gainful work, but systemic barriers limit their opportunities and deprive employers of a productive labour market resource.
"The rules and procedures of the current array of programs are complicated and, in some cases, were designed for a different era," says Tompa. "Also, the rules and procedures aren't fully aligned, so it can be difficult for individuals to navigate the system to get the support they need to get back to work."
"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," he says. "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."
Funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the centre has 46 partners representing disability and injured worker community organizations, provincial and federal-level disability support program providers, labour organizations and employers, and research institutions.