New social innovation lab to build employer confidence in hiring and supporting persons with disabilities

Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA) will increase the employment rate of persons with disabilities in Canada by focusing on innovations that increase employer capacity to recruit, hire, onboard, retain, mentor and promote persons with disabilities across the full range of employment opportunities.

May 18, 2023 (Toronto, Ontario)—Launching today is a six-year initiative that flips on its head the traditional approach to increasing the employment of persons with disabilities.

Instead of focusing on the resources and skills that ensure persons with disabilities are job-ready—where most attention has previously been paid—Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA) is focusing on building the capacity of employers and workplaces to recruit, hire, onboard, accommodate, train, mentor and promote persons with disabilities.

Funded by the federal government’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Transformation Stream, IDEA is co-led by Senior Scientist Dr. Emile Tompa from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) in Toronto and Associate Professor Dr. Rebecca Gewurtz from McMaster University in Hamilton. The initiative includes representatives from over 40 academic, disability, employer and labour organizations who sit on IDEA advisory committees and research teams.

IDEA is about social innovation, says Tompa. It’s about doing things differently and transforming workplaces and labour markets so that there is equality of opportunity in careers, jobs and work for persons with and without disabilities. It is a win-win-win for employers, persons with disabilities and Canadian society at large.

According to 2017 numbers from Statistics Canada, persons with disabilities in Canada face substantially lower employment levels—59 per cent compared to 80 per cent among the general working-age population. If working, they also earn considerably less than the Canadian average—$34,000 versus $40,000.

We will focus on skilling up employers and other workplace stakeholders by building their disability confidence, says Gewurtz. Workplaces tell us they're ready for this change. Across all levels, from the frontline managers to the CEOs, many people recognize that barriers to employment of persons with disabilities represent a significant waste of human capital.

Joining members of the IDEA team at today’s launch, being held virtually and in person in Toronto, are government leaders, industry and labour champions, and prominent advocates. Key presenters include:

  • The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister or Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Government of Canada
  • The Honourable Mona Fortier, President, Treasury Board
  • The Honourable Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
  • Bea Bruske, President, Canadian Labour Congress
  • Mayor Mike Bradley, Sarnia
  • Krista Carr, Executive Vice President, Inclusion Canada
  • Matt Freeman, Assistant Clinical Professor, McMaster University
  • Michael Gottheil, Accessibility Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission
  • Kelly McDermott, President, Ontario Bar Association
  • Mahadeo Sukhai, Vice President, Research & International Affairs and Chief Accessibility Officer, Canadian National Institute for the Blind
  • Tammy Yates, Executive Director, Realize Canada

For more information, see this recent IWH article on IDEA.

To arrange an interview with a member of the IDEA team, contact:

David Cox
Communications Associate, IDEA
Cell phone: 647-233-5165

Cindy Moser
Communications Director, IWH
Cell phone: 705-872-1939

Uyen Vu
Communications Manager, IWH
Cell phone: 613-979-7742

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that conducts and mobilizes research to support policy-makers, employers and workers in creating healthy, safe and inclusive work environments. The Institute provides practical and relevant findings and evidence-based products on the inter-relationships between work and health from worker, workplace and systems perspectives.

Media contacts

Uyen Vu
Communications Manager
Institute for Work & Health
613-979-7742 (cell)

Andrea Larney
Communications Associate
Institute for Work & Health
289-387-0153 (cell)
416-927-2027 ext. 2156 (office)