To save up for an eighth of a year’s tuition (or five months rent) through the Federal Student Workers Program or Manitoba’s Green Team program, for students with disabilities, those living with mental illness and neurodivergent students, it is also a time of financial exclusion.
Many summer job programs are hyper-dependent on physical labour and require workers to be physically able-bodied, limiting many students with mobility and physical disabilities from that stream of work.
Accessing accommodations forces workers to become vulnerable to people in positions of power, which can be challenging, endangering and impossible for some people.
Systems of power continue to marginalize people, which encourages exploitation of people with disabilities. Current statistics suggest that 83 per cent of women with disabilities are sexually assaulted, people with disabilities are 50 per cent more likely to be victims of violent crime, and the list goes on. Power dynamics further enhance already-disempowered individuals.
Employment is already precarious for persons with disabilities, and the combination of other factors that contribute to employment instability, like age, limited timelines and gender, makes it additionally challenging for students to access summer jobs.
While nonprofits can hire summer employees through various grant programs, community organizations often prioritize grounds maintenance and community beautification, which can be inaccessible for a variety of students. Once all of the jobs have been eliminated for people who are living with various disabilities, specifically mobility disabilities, then the small pool of remaining opportunities are contested between both able-bodied and disabled students.
Disclosures are incredibly challenging. Disclosing disability and entrusting medical information forces vulnerability, which is a difficult first interaction to have with an employer. While trust often takes time, summer jobs and employment require immediate disclosure, thus immediate vulnerability.
Students with disabilities are often not part of the workforce during the school year, as living with a disability and going to school at the same time requires more than a full-time commitment. Unfortunately, attending doctor’s appointments, doing emotional labour for professors and ensuring accommodations are met does not look as shiny on a resume.
Understanding all of the limits of summer employment for students with disabilities, it is easy to assume there would be more grant programs for attending classes in the summer. However, many people living with a disability use federal student loans as opposed to provincial student loans, due to different grant programs available, and federal funding does not cover summer classes.
The lack of grants and funding available over the summer for students with disabilities proves challenging, discouraging and often prevents students with disabilities from accessing summer classes.
Summer is supposed to be a time for students to gain experience. However, for students with disabilities, the experience is that of failure of services, workplace discrimination and underemployment.
Both the federal and provincial government need to do better to support students with disabilities by providing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and by encouraging access to summer classes for students.
Students with disabilities deserve access to summer programming, and while the country patiently waits for the Canadian Accessibility Act to come out, Canadians are constantly denied employment on the basis of ableism. While this ableism may be overt or covert, it is still an act of oppression that prevents meaningful employment and experience for people with disabilities.
Thus far, nothing has prevented systems of oppression from discriminating in the workforce, and lack of access to funding prevents students from having a place to exist within in our capitalist, oppressive society.
These systems of oppression often interact, and there is more workplace discrimination amongst racialized, 2SLGBTQIA, women and trans people and other marginalized identity groups.
Megan Linton is the current Board of Regents representative for the UWSA. She is a mad activist, sometimes seen clutching a cane, other times, clutching a sprinkled doughnut. You probably owe her a doughnut for unpacking your deep-seated ableism.