Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

"Hire the Handicapped!": Disability Rights, Economic Integration and Working Lives in Toronto, Ontario, 1962-2005

Document type Thesis
Author Galer, Dustin
Degree Ph.D., History
Publisher University of Toronto; Toronto
Date 2014-07-18
Pages 470 pages


This dissertation argues that work significantly shaped the experience of disability during this period. Barriers to mainstream employment opportunities gave rise to multiple disability movements that challenged the social and economic framework which marginalized generations of people with disabilities. Using a critical analysis of disability in archival records, personal collections, government publications and a series of interviews, I demonstrate how demands for greater access among disabled people to paid employment stimulated the development of a new discourse of disability in Canada. Including disability as a variable in historical research reveals how family advocates helped people living in institutions move out into the community and rehabilitation professionals played an increasingly critical role in the lives of working-age adults with disabilities, civil rights activists crafted a new consumer-led vision of social and economic integration. Separated by different philosophies and bases of support, disability activists and allies found a common purpose in their pursuit of economic integration. The focus on employment issues among increasingly influential disability activists during this period prompted responses from three key players in the Canadian labour market. Employers embraced the rhetoric and values of disability rights but operated according to a different set of business principles and social attitudes that inhibited the realization of equity and a ‘level playing field.’ Governments facilitated the development of a progressive discourse of disability and work, but ultimately recoiled from disability activism to suit emergent political priorities. Labour organizations similarly engaged disability activists, but did so cautiously, with union support largely contingent upon the satisfaction of traditional union business first and foremost. As disability activists and their allies railed against systematic discrimination, people with disabilities lived and worked in the community, confronting barriers and creating their own circles of awareness in the workplace. Just as multiple sites of disability activism found resolution in the sphere of labour, the redefinition of disability during this period reflected a shared project involving collective and individual action.