Certainly, thank you.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you very much for hearing our testimony again today.
We thank the status of women committee for inviting us to participate in this important study on improving the economic prospects for girls with disabilities in Canada. It is vital to give us meaningful ways to participate in the decisions that affect our lives at policy tables. We are grateful for this opportunity to open what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue.
As visitors to the lands of the Six Nations people, we thank the Haudenosaunee people for the use of their lands to come together today. We ask for guidance and wisdom from our Creator for the words that will allow us to come to an understanding and meaningful change in our society so that we may all live free of violence, abuse, and poverty.
Concerning issues facing girls with disabilities, we offer the expertise of our limited experience as the basis for input and collaboration to increase our opportunity for inclusive attitudes and practices for Canadian girls with disabilities in their quest for economic prosperity. As I'm sure you've heard from other experts during this study, the social determinants of health have an enormous impact on the economic prospects for girls in Canada.
Canada lists the 11 determinants of health as: income and social status, social support networks, education and literacy, employment and working conditions, physical and social environments, biology and genetic endowment—I find that one fascinating—personal health practices and coping skills, healthy child development, health services, gender, and culture.
In our work we are focused on how gender and disability intersect in this regard and impact upon our constituents. Of course, we think also of how other things, such as race, culture, or sexual orientation also situate us in this regard.
I would be remiss in not pointing out that much of the data that we can and will cite in our brief, which will follow, is not current because the PALS, SLID, and long-form census data used are no longer being collected. This data set and these pieces of information need to be brought back, so that, going forward, we can continue to work with the Government of Canada on being well informed of the situation of girls with disabilities in Canada.
As for poverty, access to education, and underemployment, the statistics are grim. I could speak at length about this to you today, but I won't. I have some statistics that I'll share. I will tell you that there are some disturbing numbers, including that the highest rates of unemployment by far and the lowest levels of income belong to young women with disabilities and girls with disabilities, regardless of their age. This is consistent within any population you want to look at in Canada. We heard from you the last time about women having the highest rates of violence. Well, it's the same in education. It's the same in income supports. They're the most compromised, and again I'll remind the committee that we're talking about one in five Canadian women.
In Canada, half of working-age adults with disabilities aged 15 to 64 live on low income. People with disabilities are twice as likely to live on a low income compared to people without disabilities. Some 25% of Canadians without disabilities are without a high school diploma, compared with 37% of those with a disability. Research demonstrates that if proper supports are in place to have children with disabilities included in regular classrooms, all students benefit.
Recent studies show that 41% of children with disabilities felt threatened at school or on the school bus within the past year and that 36% were assaulted at school or on the bus. I don't want to dwell on the issue of violence, but I will come back to the fact that this is something that constitutes another impact and is one of the reasons that we always need to bring this back into any discourse about women and girls with disabilities, because it's a part of their daily lives.
Research indicates that inclusion promotes social skills for children with and without disabilities, and so the concept of inclusive education becomes extremely important around a lot of different things, and not just for opportunities for children with disabilities but for society as a whole to move forward in becoming a truly inclusive society.
Inadequate skills and education lead to barriers to employment. Among Canadians aged 15 to 64 without a disability, 75% are employed compared with just 51% of those with disabilities.
As I said, I'm not going to dwell on statistics today, but I want to share one more with you. There is some good news from a report from 2010 by a dear friend of ours from the government, from Human Resources and Skills Development, Aron Spector. It is called “Changing Educational Attainment and Enrolment Patterns Among Youth with Disabilities 1999-2006”. The good news is:
More youth with disabilities are successfully remaining in school to the point where they receive post-secondary accreditation. Youth with disabilities who complete post-secondary schooling are much more likely to find and keep employment.
And in employment rates for university degree graduates 25-29, there was only a six percentage-point difference between disabled students and non-disabled students in 2007. So this is really good news.
In other words, educational attainments have improved in Canada for young people with disabilities, and particularly young women with disabilities.
Finally, “Unemployment rates for this population were approximately 5%.”
What's the message from this study? It was a huge study, and I'm not going to get into it today. Fundamentally, it is that:
Accommodation in schools has likely been resulting in a substantially increased number of successes among young people with disabilities in both completing post-secondary schooling and in finding work.
So that is some really good and important news. And I will tell you that I was really pleased to see that, among girls with disabilities, the statistics are quite similar to those we see for non-disabled young women, which is that, based on the recent studies, the level of educational attainment for girls with disabilities has surpassed that of young men with disabilities. It's not a contest, but at the same time I think this is very encouraging. As I said, to see the parallels between disabled and non-disabled women becoming ever closer is a very encouraging indicator.
Today instead, I'd like to speak to you about one of our guests. She's one of the visitors present here. She's a friend of mine, Kuy Chheng Treng, from Cambodia. She's visiting Canada under the Coady Institute's international women in leadership program. She is, I'm pleased to say, staying with DAWN over a two-month period. She's a visiting scholar for our organization, and she and I are working together while she's here.
The reason I want to talk to you about Chheng is linked to the discussion today and this very subject. I realized that it was important to bring some exciting news from the international community to the table for discussion around social enterprise, which is an idea that DAWN Canada is committed to—social enterprise in the context of how social enterprise can be used and coupled to create both employment and educational opportunities for young people, not just in Chheng's community in Cambodia but here in Canada.
Digital Divide Data is a social enterprise with offices around the world, with its roots beginning in Cambodia, where my colleague Kuy Chheng Treng is from. If you look at the Canadian situation for young women with, say, a high school education, there are statistics to indicate that in the past 10 years or so she's much more likely than she was to finish her post-secondary education, but she is still very likely to face unemployment. That the rates of unemployment are still above 50% for women with disabilities speaks to what she's facing when she finishes her post-secondary education here in Canada.
Let me juxtapose this with the situation that Chheng found herself in at the age of 18 with the social enterprise called Digital Divide Data in Cambodia, which has focused on two things. It has focused on providing young people with disabilities and people who are marginalized....
Again I say, this model is transferable not just to women with disabilities, but to any groups in which there are high rates of unemployment and limited opportunities for post-secondary education. That includes our young people here in Canada, women or men. What happens with Digital Divide is that young people come to the organization and are given an opportunity to complete their post-secondary education while they work. So their day is split between post-secondary education and work.
Chheng has been with Digital Divide for 10 years. She has completed her master's in finance. She's a senior manager in accounting. She has travelled all over the place. She's here in Canada because she's been provided with the kind of supports that she said....
I have a biography. If anybody wants to see it after, I'd be happy to share it with them.
The opportunity Chheng was provided with was the opportunity to have two key things that young people need today: work experience and education. What happens otherwise, when you come out of post-secondary institutions, is that nobody will give you an opportunity and nobody wants to give you a job, because you have no experience.
I say to you today that when you finish wrapping up this study and you want to look at one of the most meaningful ways to change things here in Canada for young women with disabilities—and I would say for many other young women—it would be to consider supporting the idea of social enterprise as a way forward.
Social enterprise is one of the emerging models here in Canada.