A new research facility designed to help disabled Canadians find work is being launched by McMaster University.

The Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy, led by McMaster associate professors Dr. Ellen MacEachen and Dr. Emile Tompa, will bring together 50 academics from across Canada and another 46 community partners to tackle the issue of unemployment due to a health condition or impairment.

The Centre will study policy designed to assist disabled Canadians in order to improve support systems and labour-market engagement for people who are injured, ill or disabled, Dr. Tompa told CBC News.

Dr. Tompa also said that those for whom the Centre is designed to help will play an integral role in running the facility.

“People with disabilities will be involved in all aspects of the Centre’s operation. On our executive committee, working with our research teams… We’re really aiming to integrate communities so that everyone is actively engaged.”

The Centre is funded by Mac’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through a seven-year, $2.8-million grant.

Disabilities 'touch all people'

Disabilities “are challenges that touch all people. Fifty-one per cent of families are touched by disability, and as our population ages that number is going to increase. So we’re really going to try to break down the social stigma that is attached to people with disabilities," says Dr. Tompa.

Wendy Craig knows how difficult those challenges can be.

The 38-year-old Mohawk College student said, through a sign interpreter, that her deafness has hampered her professional career in the past.

“In a group setting like a meeting with many people speaking, I was out of the loop for sure. Lots of information would be shared that everybody else could get that I could not. Sometimes it’s difficult to feel truly connected. That’s always a struggle,” said Craig, a former web and graphic designer.

Craig also noted that educating the public and potential employers about the capabilities of people with disabilities is crucially important.

Brad Spencer agrees.

Myths surround people with disabilities

Spencer is the executive director of Hamilton’s PATH Employment Services, an organization designed to help people with barriers to employment find meaningful work.

He says that there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding people with disabilities that present a significant impediment to entering the workforce.

“Many businesses feel that employees with disabilities might be a safety hazard. For example, an employer might think that someone with a hearing impairment might not be able to hear a fire alarm. But with a minor accommodation these challenges can be overcome.”

“Often employers,” Spencer continued, “think that accommodations for employees with disabilities will be lengthy and difficult. But most cost less than $500 and many cost nothing at all. Sometimes flexible work hours is all it takes. It’s that simple and easy.”

“People with disabilities are just as productive and effective as everyone else.”