MUN teams working on Canada-wide disability research project

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Barb Sweet
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Researchers at Memorial University are joining a national effort to improve disability policy and support and keep ill and injured workers in the job market.

Barbara Neis, a sociology professor and co-director of the SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research at Memorial University, is among the MUN researchers involved in a new national project that aims to help injured, ill and impaired workers stay in the job market. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

The Centre for Research and Work Disability Policy, based in Toronto, was launched today in a Canada-wide virtual event.

The centre includes regional hubs in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and in this province and is a seven-year project funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Stephen Bornstein and Barbara Neis, from Memorial’s SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research, will lead the provincial cluster. Gordon Cooke, faculty of business administration; Doreen Dawe and Sandra Small, school of nursing; and Catherine de Boer, school of social work, are also involved.

“There aren’t a lot of people at Memorial who have been doing this kind of work. This is  a huge opportunity for us,” Neis said.

“We don’t have a disabilities program. The latent question is how well, as a university in this province, have we been meeting the needs of people with disabilities, whatever the origins of those disabilities?”

Neis said Cooke will work with existing statistical databases and bring a rural lense to the project, while Bornstein will focus on policy analysis and potential weaknesses in the existing system.

Neis’ work will include an existing project — On the Move — which concentrates on extended commuting whether in the province or outside and how people with disabilities fit into that, and whether employers accommodate their needs or whether the economic reliance on commuting increases people with disabilities  being vulnerable to unemployment.

Other researchers’ work will include examining the training and experience of those who provide disability support and how employers and workplaces accommodate disabilities, Neis said.

Not all disabilities are as acute, Neis pointed out. Some are conditions that have developed over time, while others may be mental-health related, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

She noted the project has great significance in this province, where the population is aging relatively rapidly.

“This is a big issue for this province and everybody’s talking about labour shortages. We have a pool of people with a  range of different types of disabilities caused by many, many different things,” Neis said.

“We are in learning mode. And we want to make sure the national initiative includes a strong focus on Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Jobs are also changing, with more transient work, so those realities and policies may also be having an effect on people with disabilities and the willingness for employers to be accommodating, Neis said.

And she said core programs have been cut and rules have changed for such programs as employment insurance.

In a news release, Marie Ryan, a disability advocate who is on the executive committee of the centre, said creating greater employment opportunities for people with disabilities is the right thing to do, but also makes economic sense.

“A win/win opportunity exists and can be realized. However, it must be recognized that for this to happen, a critical element is a comprehensive policy framework which enables accommodation of people’s disability related needs and facilitates real and substantive workforce inclusion,” Ryan said.

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Organizations: SSHRC, Centre for Research, SafetyNet Centre for Occupational Health

Geographic location: Canada, Toronto, British Columbia Ontario Quebec Newfoundland and Labrador

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