The MaRS and CIBC Inclusive Design Challenge Research Report

Persons with disabilities account for a large untapped talent pool in the Canadian labour market. In 2017, 3,727,920 Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 identified as having a disability.1 However, only three in five (59%) of these individuals were employed. Of those who were not employed, nearly 645,000 (40%) had the potential for paid work but were unable to find suitable work.2 While there is significant evidence3 of benefits to companies from inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workforce, many individuals struggle to find a job and access meaningful employment opportunities that appropriately utilize their skillsets. Meaningful employment has been shown to give people purpose in life and increase mental well-being.4 Cross-sector collaboration is required in order to find solutions to help persons with disabilities find meaningful employment and foster an inclusive Canadian labour market.

Based on research conducted by MaRS with support from CIBC, three societal challenges and eight direct barriers were identified. These categories are complex and interconnected, discreetly impacting the individual based on disability, intersectionality and socioeconomic status.

Societal challenges are broader obstacles that are prevalent throughout one’s entire journey when in pursuit of meaningful employment. The societal challenges include:

  • Bias — Discrimination against people with disabilities based on preconceived notions that contribute to their economic marginalization.
  • Onus on the individual with lived experience — Additional responsibility a person with disability must exert when pre-planning routes and navigating inaccessible infrastructure and technology.
  • Government resources — Unequal distribution of available government resources limits the economic participation and independence of persons with a disability. A lack of enforcement of anti-discriminatory rules and regulations removes accountability from legal wrongdoing.

Direct barriers present themselves at multiple stages of one’s employment journey and are not mutually exclusive. The direct barriers identified include:

  • Impact of support networks — An absence of support networks can hinder an individual’s well-being and professional success, which can lead to isolation and depression.
  • Access to technology — Disproportionate access to technology poses barriers in the recruitment process and limits the individual’s potential to succeed.
  • Recruitment process — Organizational processes and/or policies that discriminate against people with disabilities in the recruitment, application and selection process.
  • Workplace disclosure — Process in which individuals decide when and if they will disclose their disability to their employer, and the implications of this decision.
  • Physical environments — Infrastructural and institutional structures that can create physical limitations.
  • Workplace structure — Organizational cultures of a workplace impact the extent to which one can feel welcomed and advance professionally.
  • Appropriate clothing — Impractical, expensive and maladaptive clothing restricts mobility and limits an individual’s ability to feel their best, which can cause discomfort in social and professional settings.
  • Transportation challenges — Transportation challenges such as delays and inflexible scheduling restricts mobility and personal freedom.

This report provides details regarding the research approach and methodology, as well as an overview of the societal challenges and direct barriers identified that are hindering persons with disabilities in finding and maintaining meaningful employment.

Download the report

1 Morris et al., ‘A demographic employment and income profile of Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 2017’ (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2018)
2 Morris et al., ‘Demographic, employment and income profile’. Note: having ‘work potential’ is defined by Statistics Canada as persons with disability not currently working, not currently in school, not housebound and no preventions from working. They stress that it is not an attempt to measure an individual’s capacity or ability to work, but a way to examine how the labour market could change in a more inclusive market. For more, see StatsCan’s Annex A: Work Potential.
3 Jerdee, ‘What companies gain by including persons with disabilities’ (2019).
4 Bailey and Madden, ‘What makes work meaningful – or meaningless’ (2016).