Home Employment The majority of people with disabilities do not have a quality job

The majority of people with disabilities do not have a quality job

The majority of people with disabilities do not have a quality job

The new human rights report “Right to Work” from the European Disability Forum, released today, reveals the persistent gap in access to quality work for people with disabilities. The report shows that only 51.3% of active persons with disabilities of working age in the EU are in paid employment. In addition, women and young people are at a disadvantage: only 49% of women and 47.4% of young people with a disability are in paid employment.

The situation is particularly bad in 4 EU countries. Greece and Ireland lead this “hall of shame”, employing less than a third (32.6%) of persons with disabilities. Croatia follows with only 37% and Spain with 39%.

[Credit: EDF]

It gets even worse when we consider full-time employment, especially for women with disabilities. In 11 countries, less than 20% of women with disabilities are in full-time employment. Among the offenders: Ireland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Malta, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. This is despite the fact that women with a disability are on average more educated than men with a disability.
The gap between the employment rate of people with and without disabilities – the “disability gap” – is clear and varies greatly. The EU average is 24.4 percentage points – but the differences in the worst performing Member States are much wider: Ireland – with almost 40 percentage points – 38.6; Belgium – 36.3 percentage points; and Bulgaria – 33 percentage points). The lowest difference (Portugal) is still 18.2 percentage points.

Reasons for the disability gap

The report found several reasons for this gap – chief among which were the lack of reasonable accommodation, the structural discrimination and bias against persons with disabilities, and the lack of access to inclusive and quality education.
In terms of reasonable accommodation, common problems include limited funding and support, the excessive bureaucracy to access reasonable accommodation (a burden for both employers and employees), and limited availability of state aid information. Despite the EU’s Employment Equality Directive being in force since 2000, there are no reasonable accommodation guidelines and even simple requests, such as moving to part-time work, are often rejected. This leads to unfair practices – for example, Zuzana from the Czech Republic had to stop working because she did not have access to personal assistance.
Structural bias and discrimination exist at every step: from employment services during the job search to when they are employed, during the hiring process. Annika, from Austria, for example, was in her thirties when she was told to apply for a disability pension – because the employment services couldn’t figure out where to place her despite her professional qualifications. Margrét, an Icelandic woman who works at an embassy, ​​reports that because of her disability, executives often decide not to assign her duties – without consulting her. Not an isolated case – a 2019 study in Germany found that 58% of respondents with disabilities were discriminated against at work. And that’s when they go through the hiring processes – riddled with accessibility issues and biases themselves.

Earn less

The report also shows that people with disabilities still earn less when they work, even though they need more income to cover the extra costs of living in a discriminatory and inaccessible society. For example, housing and transportation costs are a disproportionate burden for persons with disabilities compared to persons without disabilities. The report explains that persons with disabilities also have higher costs of being employed, such as paying for special transportation due to inaccessible public transportation, extra for personal assistance at more convenient hours, etc.

[Credit: EDF]

That is why the report launched today calls on EU countries to continue to provide disability benefits, even if people have full-time jobs – as a means of offsetting these costs. It is still common practice in EU Member States for workers with disabilities to lose most or all of their disability benefits when they start working. Persons with disabilities are even more likely to experience in-work poverty than persons without disabilities.

Harmful employment models

The report also highlights the widespread use of harmful employment models which, while often well-intentioned, ultimately lead to segregation and, in some cases, abuse of persons with disabilities. Sheltered employment models – companies that generally employ the most people with disabilities in closed environments – are especially problematic because workers often have lower wages (sometimes below minimum wage), poor working conditions, fewer career opportunities and a lack of stability.


The report contains a series of recommendations for public authorities – including the EU and its countries – to:

Allow individuals to retain disability benefits while in paid employment; Ban the practice of paying persons with disabilities below the minimum wage – and promote labor models that facilitate the transition to integration in the open labor market; Promote effective practices to access reasonable accommodation and employ persons with disabilities who are victims of other forms of marginalisation.

“Our report clearly shows that there is a gap between our own experiences and those of people without disabilities. The EU and its Member States can no longer continue to exclude us – which is why we are calling for a disability and skills guarantee that helps to level the playing field,” said Yannis VardakastanisPresident of the European Disability Forum.

“Having a job is essential in our lives. As this publication demonstrates, there is a very real problem of people with disabilities being completely cut off from the labor market and a parallel crisis for those who manage to find work that pays below the minimum wage, are employed in segregated environments and are deprived of their basic rights,” said MEP Katrin Langesiepenchair of the European Parliament’s Disability Intergroup and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.

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