New social innovation lab launched to build employer disability confidence

New social innovation lab launched to build employer disability confidence

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 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. Keynote speakers 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, City of Sarnia
  • Krista Carr, Executive Vice President, Inclusion Canada
  • Michael Gottheil, Accessibility Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission
  • 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 the attached backgrounder:

  • About Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA)

Backgrounder: About Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA) 

Inclusive Design for Employment Access (IDEA) is a partnered, knowledge-to-practice social innovation laboratory. Its mission is to expand employment opportunities for persons with disabilities by focusing on employer capacity to recruit, hire, onboard, retain, mentor, and promote persons with disabilities across the full range of employment opportunities.

To date, efforts to promote employment of persons with disabilities have focused on skilling up workers and getting them job ready. However, employment of persons with disabilities has not expanded substantially despite their skills, expertise and talent. Many organizations that want to hire persons with disabilities lack the confidence to do so. Without the necessary expertise and supports, they struggle to create inclusive and accessible work environments; IDEA identifies and develops solutions which focus on building employer capacity and disability confidence.

How does IDEA work?

IDEA is a social innovation laboratory comprised of five incubator hubs which cover key areas essential to building employer capacity.

  1. Workplace systems and partnerships
  2. Employment support systems
  3. Transitions to work and career development
  4. Inclusive environmental design
  5. Disruptive technologies and the future of work

Each hub develops, evaluates and scales solutions within their areas of focus through a partnered, knowledge-to-practice approach. Where possible, IDEA builds solutions based on innovations with a proven track record in workplaces.

Who is involved?

IDEA brings together a strong and diverse team. It includes leaders and champions from the disability community, policy and governments, employers, labour, the service sector, and national and international research centres. Many partner representatives are persons with lived experience, family members or long-time advocates for persons with disabilities.

IDEA is supported by a six-year grant from Canada's New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Transformation Stream. IDEA is co-led by Dr. Emile Tompa, senior scientist at the Institute for Work & Health, and by Dr. Rebecca Gewurtz, associate professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University.