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New research centre helps injured, disabled workers keep job

Feb. 6, 2014 — Vancouver-based Krystal Johnston, 29, has carpal tunnel syndrome. Two surgeries, one on each wrist, failed to fix the loss of feeling in her hands and arms.


February 6, 2014
By Massage Therapy Canada staff

Topics

Her doctor told her she is unlikely to return to ironworking, a job she
loves. What’s more, she was denied her claim for workers’ compensation
benefits, has used up her Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits
(EI-DB), and will run out of her union disability benefits within
months.

Johnston wants to work, but needs help.

"I’m
doing it all on my own," she says. "I don’t know where to find support. I
just never thought that if I ever got hurt I would be kicked out on the
porch in the rain."

Workers like Johnston across Canada are
losing their attachment to the labour force after they become injured,
ill or disabled, slipping through the cracks of a disability policy
system that is increasingly out of tune with the nature of today’s work
and workers.

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How many workers with disabilities are not getting
the supports needed to enter, remain in or return to the job market, and
why? What policy changes are needed to ensure that all Canadians can
work, regardless of their ability, in order to make a living and
contribute to Canada’s economy?

These are among the questions to
be tackled by a new research centre launched recently at McMaster
University. The Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy
aims to develop evidence-based policy options that will allow Canada’s
current disability policy system to provide better income support and
labour-market engagement for people when they are injured, ill or
disabled.

"Throughout my six years in office, I’ve spoken to
employer groups, service clubs and community organizations around the
province about the strong economic case for employing people with
disabilities," David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, said last
month in his new year’s message. "I’m pleased to say that I’ve
witnessed some great progress, but there is still more work to do."

The
new research centre is a seven-year initiative funded by the federal
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Co-led by Drs.
Emile Tompa and Ellen MacEachen, senior scientists at the Institute for
Work and Health in Toronto, the centre includes regional hubs in British
Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The
centre also involves 46 partners from across the country. These partners
represent disability and injured worker community organizations,
provincial and federal-level disability support program providers,
labour organizations and employers, and research institutions.

According
to Statistics Canada, about 2.3 million people in Canada between the
ages of 15 and 64 — representing one in ten working-age Canadians —
reported in 2012 that they were sometimes or often limited in their
daily activity due to a long-lasting health impairment.

"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," says Tompa. "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."

"More and more people with health conditions
or impairments are falling into the grey zone of unemployment," adds
MacEachen. "They can and want to work, and need help to get there, yet
may not qualify for work integration support from any one program. With
our partners, we will do research to help us understand how this is
happening and how our system might be improved to address it."


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