Employment and Employability

The issue
The unemployment rate for Deaf people is unacceptably high. There are few Deaf Canadians employed in the professions and in "high level" positions.

CAD's position
Claims about the “unemployability” of Deaf people are unacceptable. The real causes of high unemployment in the Deaf community are hearing patronization, inappropriate educational methodology, and systemic discrimination.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf conducted a survey and data collection project in 1998 on the employment and employability of Deaf Canadians. We found that only 20.6% of Deaf Canadians are fully employed; 41.9% are under-employed; and 37.5% are unemployed. By comparison, 60.9% of all Canadians are employed, and only 8.1% are unemployed.

The combined un- and under-employment rate for Deaf Canadians has remained unchanged over a six-year period (1992-98), despite improvements and growth in the overall Canadian employment rate.

With numbers like these, it is not surprising that the federal government has refused all attempts to carry out an updated survey for the past 15 years. It is also not surprising that the federal government has eliminated all traditional surveys, such as the long-form Canada Census and the Participation and Activities Limitations Survey (the “disability census”), that might likewise gather updated data proving the employment situation for Deaf people is no better in 2012 than it was in 1992. Government that has done absolutely nothing to reduce an 80% un/under-employment rate for two decades does not want its lack of support, lack of leadership, lack of interest, and lack of success to be firmly proven over a period of 20 years.

The 1998 survey found that the more education a Deaf Canadian has, the more likely he/she is to be under-employed rather than fully-employed or unemployed. And although there are differences in the employment rates of men and women, and between the various age groups, unemployment and under-employment are consistently high for all.

Adjusted for resources and workforce size, it appears that the Deaf community is its own best employers, particularly in the fields of education and social services. Deaf employment is weak in the professions and in the high technology fields; it tends to be collected in the industrial and community fields. There is an increasing amount of Deaf self-employment or entrepreneurship, especially in the field of video productions that target the Deaf audience (another example of the Deaf community being its own best employers). Deaf people hold a good variety of jobs - they are not limited to certain kinds of jobs.

Deaf representation in the professions and in "high level" (or "high power") positions such as corporate executives is almost non-existent. To the best of our knowledge, Canada has only three or four Deaf lawyers, two Deaf doctors, one Deaf psychologist, and two or three Deaf university professors. Not one of the major telecommunications companies or the major financial institutions in Canada has a single Deaf employee at the executive or upper management level. Most of the thirty or so service agencies (including branch offices) that specifically serve Deaf people are run by non-Deaf executive directors. None of the Schools For the Deaf are led by Deaf principals or superintendents.

The Public Service Commission, which is responsible for most of the employees of the federal government, reported that only 0.1 percent of the federal civil service is Deaf. Moreover, most of them are contract (temporary) workers in menial positions such as file clerks and maintenance staff.

The facts suggest that the primary reason why Deaf people can only find work in the Deaf community is because of barriers to their participation in “normal” society. Potential employers may be reluctant to hire Deaf workers because of assumptions that communicating with them is "too much trouble" and meeting their needs in the workplace would impose a financial strain. Such attitudes are part of a systemic discrimination against Deaf job applicants; they are also part of the discrimination against the promotion of Deaf workers to positions of responsibility and seniority. Ignorance and a lack of information also lead to these wrong assumptions : for example, employers are frequently unaware that the cost of interpreters is a deductible business expense, and that other means of accommodation (such as visual alarms) can be subsidized by both federal and provincial incentive programs.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf urges the strengthening of both federal and provincial employment equity legislation, more aggressive information campaigns to eliminate business concerns about the cost of accommodation, and more funding for the Deaf community to enable it to employ, train, and promote Deaf workers. We advocate a firm partnership between the governments and the Deaf organizations to work together to help Deaf Canadians become more employable, and to move more of them into professional and executive positions. Federal and provincial employment programs must move their emphasis away from creating training opportunities and towards creating job opportunities instead. In particular, the federal government must set an example by drastically increasing the percentage of its own workforce that is Deaf, especially at the executive and policy levels. We strongly demand that Deaf people be put in control of their own institutions, including the Deaf schools and service agencies.


The Canadian Association of the Deaf
303- 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1X3
(613)565-2882 Voice/TTY
(613)565-1207 Fax

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