United Way East Ontario’s (UWEO) geographical footprint covers East Ontario. More specifically, UWEO includes the surrounding communities of Ottawa, Lanark and Renfrew Counties, and the United Counties of Prescott-Russell. As EARN expands its footprint into the rural areas it becomes increasingly important to understand some of the challenges facing rural community members with disabilities when it comes to employment opportunities. While some of the barriers are unique to specific geographic regions, there are several significant and overlapping obstacles that have unfortunately only grown throughout the pandemic.
Access to reliable, regular, affordable, and accessible transportation is essential, not just for employment, but for activities that support quality of life (e.g., groceries, medical appointments, social connection). However, for rural community members unable to drive, or afford a vehicle or taxi, there are next to no viable alternatives as rideshare programs and community bussing isn’t available. Consequently, it is very challenging for job seekers to be able to access services, supports, and education or employment opportunities within their own or neighbouring communities. The detrimental outcomes from poor transportation access are further replicated and compounded by the absence of reliable high-speed internet – a vital tool for employment, and socioeconomic inclusion.
The inability to access remote work furthers the divide in income and job opportunity inequalities, also leaving fewer alternatives for women who were let go from hard-hit local industries (e.g., hospitality and tourism) and caregivers who left the labour force in disproportionate numbers by choice or necessity due to family responsibilities. In addition to significant setbacks in economic security and labour market participation job seekers living in rural communities have difficulty finding affordable and available childcare in close proximity to where they live.
With all this said, it is evident that overall well-being and the capacity for success is significantly influenced by the rural communities’ job seekers with disabilities find themselves situated within. In short, place matters and substantially impacts the opportunities and constraints people face in their day to day lives. As UWEO and EARN continues its work within the communities of Prescott-Russell, Lanark and Renfrew Counties, local challenges such as transportation, the condition of women, digital equity, and systems navigation will remain important considerations to prioritize.