Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA): A social innovation lab to increase demand-side capacity to employ persons with disabilities in Canada

Reasons for the study

Talented people are all too often excluded from equal opportunities and choices in careers, jobs and work because they are ‘different.’ That is frequently the case for the 20 per cent of the Canadian population who are persons with disabilities (PWDs), who have disproportionately poorer employment outcomes, even with appropriate qualifications and work readiness.

Despite efforts to improve their employment levels by governments and other stakeholders, labour force participation rates of PWDs in Canada remain substantially lower than persons without disabilities—59 per cent compared to 80 per cent. Among those working, many remain stuck in entry-level, low paying, precarious employment—experiences that give rise to instability, lack of protection, insecurity, and social and economic vulnerability. These challenges are compounded for PWDs from marginalized groups, who face additional systemic barriers to secure employment, based on their gender, sexual orientation and/or racial identity.

Traditionally, programs and research on employment of PWDs in Canada and internationally have focused on preparing individuals for employment. However, little attention has been given to employer attitudes towards, interest in and capacity for hiring and accommodating PWDs. Without attention to employer needs and improving the literacy of workplace stakeholders on inclusive practices, the fundamental context of the workplace will remain unchanged, and barriers and assumptions remain unchallenged.

This project proposes a new framework for a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to applied research in work disability policy and practice in the form of a social innovation laboratory called Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA), which will focus on building employer and system capacity for providing sustainable and rewarding employment opportunities for PWDs. By drawing on knowledge from rehabilitation science, disability and social policy, design and technology, management, economics and program evaluation, this project is better poised to tackle the complex challenges in this arena.

Objectives of the study

  • Expand demand-side capacity across the Canadian economy so employers can capitalize on the diverse talents of persons with disabilities
  • Increase accessibility and inclusiveness of Canadian labour markets such that PWDs have equal opportunities and choices in careers, jobs and work
  • Establish a best-practice methodology and capacity for co-designing solutions in the work disability policy arena

For information on an IDEA subproject on synthesizing evidence related to IDEA's objectives, go to this project page.

Target audience

Canadian work disability policy system stakeholders, including injured worker/disability community representatives, employers, policy-makers, disability program administrators, educators and service providers

IWH Speaker Series presentations

Project status


Research team

  • Emile Tompa, Institute for Work & Health (PI)
  • Rebecca Gewurtz, McMaster University (PI)
  • Arif Jetha, Institute for Work & Health
  • Emma Irvin, Institute for Work & Health
  • Dwayne Van Eerd, Institute for Work & Health
  • Bruce Bonyhady, University of Melbourne
  • Susanne Bruyère, Cornell University
  • Peter Coppin, OCAD University
  • Marie-France Coutu, Université de Sherbrooke
  • Robert Fleisig, McMaster University
  • Raphael Gomez, University of Toronto
  • Karen Harlos, University of Manitoba
  • Takeo Kondo, University of Tokyo
  • Vicki Kristman, Lakehead University
  • Marie Laberge, University of Quebec
  • Jordana Maisel, University at Buffalo
  • Carrie Anne Marshall, Western University
  • Valérie Martin, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Sandra Moll, McMaster University
  • Dan Samosh, Queen's University
  • Firat Sayin, Saint Mary’s University
  • Jennifer Smith-Merry, University of Sydney
  • Mahadeo Sukhai, CNIB
  • Hélène Sultan-Taïeb, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Jutta Treviranus, OCAD University
  • Angelika Veres, OCAD University
  • Catherine Wyndham-West, OCAD University

Collaborators and partners

Maria Ash, CNIB
David Brown, CIBC
Alexis Buettgen, Institute for Work & Health
Krista Carr, Inclusion Canada
Wendy Cukier, Diversity Institute
Alec Farquhar, Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy
W. Francis Fung, March of Dimes Canada
Don Gallant, Ready, Willing and Able
Joseph Giulione, L’Arrimage
Ian Graham, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Maureen Haan, Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work
Collinda Joseph, Accessibility Standards Canada
Emmanuella Lopez-Bastos, United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada
Michael MacDonald, Jazz Aviation
Cindy Moser, Institute for Work & Health
Sari Sairanen, Unifor
Abdou Saouab, Employment and Social Development Canada
Victoria Smallman, Canadian Labour Congress
Frank Smith, National Educational Association of Disabled Students
Carmine Tiano, Provincial Building & Construction Trades Council of Ontario
Flavio Volpe, Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association
Boris Vukovic, Carleton Technology and Training Centre

Funded by

New Frontiers in Research Fund (a Tri-Agency Program—CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC)