Two-pronged approach needed to ensure jobs for all those with a disability who want to work

A new report published by the ESRI today (16 March 2017) finds that people with a disability are less likely to get a job and more likely to leave employment even when their disability does not create difficulties with everyday activities.

In a study commissioned by the National Disability Authority, the authors of Employment Transitions among People with Disabilities in Ireland draw on the Quarterly National Household Survey for the years from 2010 to 2015 to explore the movements of working-age (20-59) people with a disability into and out of employment, as the economy moved from recession into early recovery. By comparing them to the general population, the report points to a number of areas where policy intervention may usefully contribute to increasing the proportion of people with a disability who are able to work.

Comparing people with and without disabilities

  • 31 per cent of working-age people with a disability were at work compared to 71 per cent of those without a disability.
  • Most people with a disability had worked at some stage (82 per cent either currently at work or worked in the past), but it was often more than 4 years ago (35 per cent of people with disabilities).
  • Across the period, people with a disability were more likely to exit than enter employment. For those without a disability, the rate of job entry picked up in the recovery period and the rate of exit dropped. However, there was little sign of a recovery for people with a disability by 2015.

Employment Entries

  • Overall, the odds of employment entry are nearly 4 times lower for people with a disability.
  • If we take out the effects of education, age, gender, marital status and other personal and family characteristics, people with a disability remain about half as likely to enter employment.
  • Even after taking account of how severely the disability affects them in terms of their daily activities (such as self-care, moving about outside, participation in work or other activities), a gap remains (only 70 per cent as likely to enter employment).
  • People with intellectual, psychological / emotional or learning disability have the lowest employment entry rates.

Employment Exits

  • The odds of employment exit are twice as high for people with a disability.
  • The gap is reduced only very slightly when we control for personal and job characteristics (including education, gender, age, family situation, occupation, industry).
  • When the severity of the disability is taken into account, the gap still persists, but is smaller: people with a disability who are not affected in terms of daily activities still have odds of employment exit that are over 50 per cent higher.
  • Exit rates are higher among people with deafness, learning or psychological/emotional disabilities.
  • Exit rates are also slightly higher for people living with an adult with a disability so the impact of disability on employment extends beyond the person directly affected.


  • Government policy is to facilitate the employment of people with a disability who want to work — an estimated additional 36,000 people with disabilities.  Our calculations show that if all people with a disability who wanted to work had a job, half of them would be at work (instead of 31 per cent) and they would constitute nearly 5 per cent of workers. Without specific interventions, however, the percentage of people with a disability in employment is unlikely to increase.
  • Policy actions should focus both on employment entries and exits.
  • A high percentage of working age people with a disability are not at work (nearly 70 per cent), so efforts to increase their employment must consider this group.
    • Their profile is similar to the long-term unemployed in having low levels of education and being older.
    • The development of labour market skills will be important.
  • Most people with disabilities had worked at some point in the past — but often more than four years ago.
    • In the longer term, efforts to retain people with disabilities in employment for as long as possible will also be important in increasing their employment rate.
    • People with disabilities in employment tend to be better educated than those who are not at work. Retaining their human capital, experience and skills is of benefit to society as well as to the individuals themselves and their families.
  • Areas of specific importance to people with a disability include:
    • Retention of medical cards when they move into employment
    • Support for the additional costs of disability itself, which needs to be individually assessed
    • Flexibility in how jobs are structured including in hours and job tasks
    • Ensuring equal treatment in access to services such as health, transport and financial services, as well as in access to (and retention of) employment.

Dorothy Watson, an author of the report, commented:
“Efforts to ensure jobs for all of those with a disability who want to work need to proceed on two fronts: both increasing the capacity of those not at work to get jobs and ensuring that those currently at work can retain their jobs.”