Ireland is no country for disabled people who want to work – ESRI report

Just 36% of working-age disabled people in employment, one of Europe’s lowest rates

A lack of supports for disabled young people to progress from second to third level, and from education into employment, are contributing to one of the highest unemployment levels among disabled people in Europe, a report published on Wednesday warns.

The report, from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) says just 36 per cent of working-age disabled people are working, compared with two-thirds of those who are not disabled.

"Among EU-28 countries, Ireland had the fourth-lowest employment rate among people with disabilities of working age in 2018," it says, and calls for further research into the lived experiences of disabled people trying to "get a foothold in the workplace".

The institute says between 11 per cent and 11.5 per cent of the population experiences at least one disability.


“In relation to everyday difficulties, 36 per cent of those that reported having a disability in 2016 indicated they had difficulty undertaking work/study. This was followed by difficulty undertaking other activities (30.6 per cent), and difficulty going outside (18.7 per cent). Over a third... had more than one disability.”

Education gap

While overall education levels have increased, “the education gap between people with and without disabilities remains”, with 2016 data showing just 30 per cent of disabled adults had third-level education compared to 47 per cent of non-disabled people.

Within the 36 per cent of disabled adults who were working were “considerable” variations in employment levels 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’.”

While in 2019 the “at risk of poverty” rate for people without disabilities of working age was 11 per cent, it was 23 per cent for people with disabilities. Even people with a disability working full-time experienced a higher poverty rate than their counterparts without a disability – 16 per cent compared to 11 per cent.


Commissioned by the National Disability Authority, the 143-page report highlights "inequality for accessing third-level qualifications for young people with disabilities compared to their counterparts with no disabilities", and says there is a "lack of career guidance for many students with disabilities prior to leaving school".

“Considerable progress has been made within the education system over the last decade to support people with disabilities. Nevertheless, it is important to provide opportunities to people with disabilities as they move from the education system to the labour market.

“Otherwise, the full return on such investments made by the education sector will not be achieved, and this, ultimately, will be a cost borne by individuals with disabilities but as well by society overall,” says the report.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times