The impact of a co-morbid mental disability on the experience of labour force disparities among Canadians with physical disabilities: an examination of the 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS)
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Purpose: I examined two labour force disparities – unemployment and underemployment, among working-aged individuals (20-64 years) with self-reported disabilities using the 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS). As disability type was the predictor of interest, two groups were compared: individuals with one or more physical disabilities (e.g. mobility, agility, pain) exclusively vs. those with one or more physical disabilities and a co-morbid mental disability (including depression, phobias or substance use). Methods: This study was a secondary analysis of the 2006 PALS, a cross-sectional survey conducted by Statistics Canada to gather information about individuals whose everyday activities are limited due to a physical or mental condition that used the 2006 census as a sampling frame. I estimated the prevalence of unemployment (last week) and underemployment (last five years) and used multiple logistic regression to measure the association between disability type and each outcome, while considering other relevant covariates. Results: Disability type was significantly associated with both unemployment and underemployment. Other significant effects were age, education level and family income quintile (in addition to current labour force status and frequency of health services access in underemployment), in both the bivariate and multivariate analyses. Those with a mental co-morbidity had approximately double the odds of being unemployed, relative to those with exclusively physical disabilities and the effect continued to be significant when disability severity was included in the model. Individuals with a mental co-morbidity also experienced greater odds (OR: 2.92) of reporting underemployment, compared to those with exclusively physical disabilities, though when disability severity was accounted for, the effect was reduced (OR: 1.52) and no longer significant. Conclusion: To my knowledge, this is the first large-scale investigation using Canadian data to explore the association of disability type and two labour force disparities. In support of my hypothesis, individuals with a mental co-morbidity were found to be more disadvantaged in terms of both accessing employment and probability of encountering stigmatizing experiences in the workplace. More research is needed to gain a better understanding of the nature of these outcomes in order to progress toward the removal of significant barriers that persist in this population.