New Research Highlights the Education & Employment Disadvantages Experienced by People with Disabilities

23rd September 2021

A new ESRI study, commissioned by the National Disability Authority, examines the skills and educational qualifications and employment prospects of people with disabilities compared to those without, and how the situation has changed over time.

The study found that among EU-28 countries

Ireland had the fourth lowest employment rate among people with disabilities of working age in 2018 (36 per cent).

In addition, employment rates among this group did not benefit from the economic recovery that took place after the Great Recession to the same extent as other workers.

The research uses several national and European datasets, such as the Census of Population (COP), the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) and the European Union Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC).

Prevalence and type of disabilities

The proportion of people with disabilities has been relatively stable over time, with the Census data showing that the rate of disability was 11 per cent in 2011 and 11.5 per cent in 2016. The main types of disability in Ireland in 2016 were ‘difficulty with pain, breathing or any other chronic illness or condition’ (5.4 per cent), ‘difficulty with basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting or carrying’ (3.6 per cent), and a ‘psychological or emotional condition’ (2.9 per cent). Over a third of those reporting a disability in 2016 had more than one disability. Across the EU-28, Ireland had the fifth lowest prevalence of self-reported disability in 2018 (12 percent), while it was the highest in Estonia (almost 30 per cent).

Disabilities and education

A much smaller percentage of people with disabilities have a third-level qualification compared to those without disabilities.

While the data indicate that the percentage of people with a third-level education has increased over time, the education gap between people with and without disabilities remains. The Census data for 2016 showed that 30 per cent of people of working age with disabilities had third-level education while it was 47 per cent for people without disabilities. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is due to the older age profile of people with disabilities, but the gap persists even when focusing on young people.

Disabilities and employment

In 2016, only a third of the working age people with disabilities indicated that their main economic status was employment. This compares with two-thirds of those without disabilities.

There was considerable variation in the percentages in employment by disability type. In particular, only 15 per cent of individuals with an ‘’intellectual disability were employed in 2016, compared to 46 per cent of people that reported having ‘deafness or a serious hearing impairment’ and 34 per cent for those with ‘blindness or a serious vision impairment’.

Disabilities and poverty

People with disabilities are more than twice as likely to experience poverty and deprivation as those without disabilities.

In 2019 the at-risk of poverty rate for people without disabilities of working age was 11 per cent compared to 23 per cent for people with disabilities. Even people with a disability working full-time experience a higher poverty rate than their counterparts without a disability, 16 per cent compared to 11 per cent.

A comparison across twenty-three EU countries showed that while the at-risk of poverty rate for working people with disabilities in Ireland is slightly below the average in 2018, Ireland has the fourth largest difference in the at-risk of poverty rate between working people with and without disabilities (6 percentage points).

Elish Kelly, ESRI

Elish Kelly, an author of the report commented, “considerable progress has been made within the education system over the last decade to support those with disabilities. Nevertheless, the analysis undertaken in this study still highlights that a much smaller proportion of young people with disabilities have third-level qualifications compared to their counterparts with no disabilities.

“The lack of transition support from second-level to further education and training or employment has been identified as a big issue.”

Work around improving transition supports is ongoing through the Comprehensive Employment Strategy, but there is room for further qualitative research to explore some barriers more fully.

NDA Director, Dr Aideen Hartney (main image), welcomed the ESRI analysis commenting that

“this analysis highlights the importance of supporting persons with disabilities to attain skills and supports to attain good quality employment, a key enabler of reducing poverty.”