Building workplace capacity to include persons with disabilities

Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA) is a social innovation laboratory that identifies, develops, evaluates, and disseminates tools and resources that address critical needs of organizations in their efforts to be inclusive workplaces.

About Us

We help build employer capacity for sustainable and rewarding employment opportunities for persons with disabilities through evidence-informed policy and practice.

IDEA develops evidence informed tools and resources through co-design with partners that help advance workplace capacity or recruitment, hiring, onboarding, retention, mentorship and promotion of persons with disabilities across the full range of employment opportunities. Where possible, we draw on practices that have shown promise in one or more workplaces in Canada and elsewhere.

Our work is spearheaded by teams of researchers, global experts and industry leaders. Many of those involved in IDEA identify as persons with disabilities.

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Our mission is to help create stronger and more diverse labour markets that include persons with disabilities, through evidence-informed policy and practice.

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Our vision is to see every workplace in Canada have the capacity to recruit, hire, onboard, retain, mentor and promote persons with disabilities across the full range of employment opportunities.

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We value inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in all areas of society, particularly in the labour market. We value strong and diverse labour markets where all persons have equal opportunities in careers, jobs and work.

How We Work

Organizational Structure and Operations

IDEA is a social innovation laboratory comprised of five incubator hubs. Each hub is tasked with identifying, developing, evaluating, and disseminating tools and resources that address critical needs of organizations in their efforts to be inclusive workplaces. Three core hubs work on defined objectives:

  1. Workplace Systems and Partnerships
  2. Employment Support Systems
  3. Transitions to Work and Career Development

Two hubs address subject matter central to the three core hubs:

  1. Inclusive Environmental Design
  2. Disruptive Technologies and the Future of Work

Five activity areas support the hubs through gender-based plus framework development, knowledge synthesis, evaluation, communications and knowledge mobilization, and training and skills development.

IDEA has an advisory committee of 20+ international, national, and regional leaders in industry, labour, the disability community, government, and applied research. The advisory committee helps set priorities, facilitates access to field expertise and knowledge, ensures stakeholder expertise is leveraged in all activities, and champions solutions developed within and beyond the initiative.

Our People

Hub 1 is focused on workplace systems and partnerships. The Hub 1 team gives attention to organizational culture and climate, and innovative workplace partnerships that can be leveraged to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace. One of its initial projects is developing best practice guidance for accessibility planning and reporting. This is a requirement under the Accessible Canada Act, and something that all organizations should be doing to strategically address accessibility barriers that pose persistent problems for workers and clients. This is part of a continual improvement process through which organizations can improve their disability confidence and reach their inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility goals.

Don Gallant
Don Gallant, Hub 1 Co-Lead
National Director, Ready Willing and Able (RWA)

Don Gallant is highly experienced in advancing and promoting social well-being and inclusion, especially for persons with disabilities and their families. Gallant has worked extensively with agencies in the private and public sectors at the provincial, national and international levels.

Emile Tompa
Emile Tompa, Hub 1 Co-Lead
Associate Professor, McMaster University
Senior Scientist, Institute for Work & Health (IWH)

Emile Tompa is a health and labour economist. Tompa has led various knowledge-to-practice initiatives, focusing much time on creating collaborations between academics, community members and other stakeholders, including policymakers at the federal and provincial/territorial levels, disability community organizations, and disability support program administrators.

Hub 2 is focused on developing guidance for job coaching and wrap-around supports to address the unique challenges faced by persons with disabilities who are particularly marginalized in the labour market. It is accomplishing this focus through two key streams of inquiry:

  1. Identifying and evaluating approaches to employment support services that support employers as they hire and retain people with disabilities who experience significant workplace stigma.
  2. Exploring intersecting issues of disability, gender and race in the context of employment support services.

In both streams, the Hub 2 team identifies and explores disincentives to work within income benefit programs and other government programs.

Francis Fung
Francis Fung, Hub 2 Co-Lead
Rehabilitation and Clinical Services National Manager,
March of Dimes Canada

Francis Fung is a leader in vocational rehabilitation and employment services. Fung has operated in the private and non-profit sectors, overseeing various pre-employment services for low income residents, new immigrants, individuals who have experienced homelessness, and people with a wide range of disabilities.

Rebecca Gewurtz
Rebecca Gewurtz, Hub 2 Co-Lead
Associate Professor, McMaster University
Adjunct Scientist, Institute for Work & Health (IWH)

Rebecca Gewurtz is an occupational therapist focused on work disability policy, income insecurity, and employment among persons living with disabilities, particularly mental illness and other episodic disabilities. Gewurtz has been involved in large partnership projects involving diverse community stakeholders and has experience conducting participatory action research and co-designing solutions to complex workplace problems.

Persons living with disabilities encounter barriers as they transition into the world of work and advance within their careers. The work of Hub 3 is focused on understanding and supporting these critical work transitions, particularly on ensuring that persons with disabilities can obtain high quality work and achieve success across their careers. Research activities in Hub 3 identify best practices and generate innovative strategies that can be used by workplace stakeholders to foster inclusion of persons with disabilities in their recruitment, onboarding and career advancement activities.

Sinead McCarthy
Sinead McCarthy, Hub 3 Co-Lead
Vice President, Youth Employment Services (YES)

Sinead McCarthy is a collaborative and purpose-driven leader, who is inspiring, forward-thinking and organized to deliver on the ongoing and evolving YES mission and strategic plan, financial objectives and program goals. McCarthy has 30 years of experience working in the disability employment sector and has a passion for helping youth.

Arif Jetha
Arif Jetha, Hub 3 Co-Lead
Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Scientist, Institute for Work & Health (IWH)

Arif Jetha is a mixed-methodologist who works closely with policymakers to translate research into practice. Jetha has led partnered, interdisciplinary research teams to undertake research on the importance of work environments and employer practices in supporting labour-market entry and career advancement of young persons with disabilities.

Dan Samosh
Dan Samosh, Hub 3 Co-Lead
Assistant Professor, Queen’s University
Adjunct Scientist, Institute for Work & Health (IWH)

Dan Samosh is an applied researcher who uses a multi-method approach that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative methods. Samosh’s work is focused on the career success and workplace inclusion of persons with disabilities, with an emphasis on practical implications for individuals, organizations, and policymakers.

Businesses have come to recognize the benefits of a diverse workforce. However, accessibility is often not integrated within the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity context, and is too often overlooked. The work of Hub 4 aims to understand how best to implement inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) in workplaces from inclusive and universal design perspectives. To achieve that goal, the Hub 4 team is working to assess IDEA activities across Fortune 100 companies through a website scan, validation survey, and focused interviews. Using a co-design process, the team is developing guidance on inclusive workplace practices and systems.

Mahadeo Sukhai
Mahadeo Sukhai, Hub 4 Co-Lead
Vice-President Research & International Affairs and Chief Accessibility Officer,
Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)

Mahadeo Sukhai is the world’s first congenitally blind geneticist and a leading expert on accessibility of graduate and postdoctoral research training in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and healthcare disciplines. Sukhai has extensive experience leading research focused on social determinants of health and inclusion of persons living with sight loss.

Jordana Maisel
Jordana Maisel, Hub 4 Co-Lead
Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo
Director of Research, Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access

Jordana Maisel works at the intersection of research, teaching, and practice. Maisel has led research in the areas of public transportation, street infrastructure, post-occupancy evaluations, and accessible housing policy to advance and implement inclusive design, enabling and empowering individuals who are typically underrepresented in design practice.

The work of Hub 5 is focused on identifying and understanding bias against disability within artificial intelligence (AI) hiring tools. AI hiring tools are biased against diversification, which risks also filtering out applicants with disabilities. Hub 5 is raising awareness that certification of the absence of bias with AI hiring tools is not currently feasible. The Hub 5 team is creating resources and tools to illustrate the impact of AI hiring tools on persons with disabilities. The team is also developing guidance that details an approach and criteria for how an effective disability bias audit of an AI algorithm could be carried out.

Jutta Treviranus
Jutta Treviranus, Hub 5 Co-Lead
Professor, OCAD University
Director, Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC)

Jutta Treviranus is a trailblazing researcher who founded an innovative inclusive design graduate program at OCAD University. Treviranus also established IDRC in 1993 as the nexus of a growing global community that proactively works to ensure that our digitally transformed and globally connected society is designed inclusively.

Angelika Seeschaaf-Veres
Angelika Seeschaaf-Veres, Hub 5 Co-Lead
OCAD University

Angelika Seeschaaf-Veres is a designer, educator, researcher, and critical future foresight strategist. Seeschaaf-Veres has experience using design as a catalyst in research and teaching to imagine speculative scenarios at the intersection of people, emerging technologies and culture in a climate-disrupted future.

Initiative supported by:

Government of Canada(opens in a new tab)

Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA) is supported by funding from the Government of Canada's New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF).

Vision Radicale Pour L’Accès Inclusif à L'Emploi (VRAIE) est financé par le fonds Nouvelles Frontières en Recherche du Gouvernement du Canada.