Nov 302015

What do the employment prospects look like for recent postsecondary graduates with disabilities? According to a new study published in the Canadian Review of Sociology, those with disabilities are having a tougher time getting hired and once they do find employment, they are earning less.

Credit: COD Newsroom on Flickr (

The study, authored by David Zarifa, David Walters, and Brad Seward, tracks how a cohort of postsecondary graduates with disabilities fared in their first two years after graduation. Drawing on Statistics Canada’s 2005 National Graduates Survey, the study examines the early workforce outcomes of more than 31,000 post-secondary graduates, 1604 of whom self-identified as having a disability.

“What we really wanted to focus on was how these new graduates fare when they enter the workforce. They’ve gone out, they’ve conquered a number of hurdles, they’ve finished their post-secondary education, but yet, are they experiencing the same fruits of their labour as those without disabilities? And what we found is that, in terms of earnings as well as employment status, they’re experiencing significant disadvantages,” says David Zarifa, the study’s lead researcher.

“We had no idea about the extent of the inequalities that we would actually find occurring so early on in people’s careers,” adds Zarifa.

The authors were surprised to find that graduates with a disability were twice as likely to be unemployed having the same credentials as their non-disabled counterparts.

Even after being hired, individuals with a disability earned significantly less – approximately $4000 less on average – than their counterparts without a disability.

But the effect of disability on a graduate’s employability and earnings is not equal across all fields of study. In terms of earnings, liberal arts and business graduates felt the biggest hit to the wallet, earning approximately $6000 less than their counterparts without disabilities. The greatest gap in full-time employment between respondents with and without disabilities was observed among graduates of the liberal arts, followed by business and then engineering.

Many studies focus on age, gender, or race/ethnicity as key determinants of social inequality, says Zarifa. His team hopes the study will underscore the importance of including disability as an increasingly important marker of differentiation in social inequality research.

Read Zarifa, Walters, and Seward study

CRS: 52:04