National Research Finds Over Half of Young Canadians with Disabilities Are Unemployed

Building Confidence May Be the Solution: Youth-led Research 

VANCOUVER, BC – The Disability Foundation’s Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI), a national three-year project led by youth with disabilities, released its research report, which identified attitudinal barriers to post-secondary youth with disabilities seeking employment.  

A preliminary search found that research on these barriers was under-explored for youth with disabilities (YwD) in post-secondary. Given the research gap, the Disability Foundation partnered with Royal Roads University (RRU) in 2020 to embark on the YLI project.  

Phased over three years, YLI began with research looking into how attitudinal barriers like confidence levels, perceptions of discrimination, and performance expectations, negatively affected the employment outcomes of post-secondary youth with disabilities between the age of 17 to 29.  

“Phase One of our project has been a massive success, highlighted by the positive reception we have received from our audience, joint foundations and community partners. This is undoubtedly thanks to our team’s strong collaborative effort and continued support from our affiliated societies under the umbrella of the Disability Foundation. I’m hoping that the YLI team can continue to foster a safe and accessible community for disabled youth while also working towards expanding our national reach across Canada.”

– Joshua Cabecinha-Alati, Youth Leadership Initiative Coordinator. 

The study used a mixed methods approach, combining the quantitative analysis of survey results with a qualitative analysis of the main themes that emerged from focus group discussions. Survey responses came from 450 respondents across Canada. 

Our findings: 

  • 51% of surveyed YwD aged 17-29 are unemployed, compared to 10.1% of youth aged 15-24 (April 2022
  • The main barriers preventing YwD from getting work include low self-confidence, disability discrimination, lack of workplace accommodation, and hesitation in disability disclosure 
  • 56% of YwD are confident in their ability to perform work tasks as well as their colleagues without disabilities 
  • 54% of YwD believe they need more hours than their peers to perform the same work tasks 
  • Probability of being hired jumps over 50% when YwD feel confident in their ability to perform job tasks 
  • Programs offering vocational training or hands-on work opportunities are more likely to help YwD find work than those programs only teaching job-search skills 

Releasing these findings is just the first step. By showcasing these results, the YLI team hopes to inspire youth with disabilities, employers, and working professionals to come together to form a National Advisory Committee and help develop solutions to bridge this employment gap.  

The YLI team will collaborate with the Committee to assemble a multimedia toolkit as an online resource hub to support Canadian youth and equitable employers in the job search journey. 

“My main goal in working with YLI is to not only provide equitable work opportunities for Youth with Disabilities but also deconstruct the stigma associated with work being affected by disabilities and showing employers that the equitable employment of disabled people is an advantage.”

– Joshua Cabecinha-Alati, Youth Leadership Initiative Coordinator. 

As we celebrate YLI’s success, we send our deepest gratitude to our significant partners, without whom the project would never have gotten off the ground.  

  • Royal Roads University for providing the team with value-based leadership development training. 
  • The project is funded in part by the government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability Component and Disability Alliance BC. 

We would like to encourage Canadians aged 17 to 29 who live with disabilities and professionals from various fields who are passionate about fostering workplace accessibility and inclusion to apply for the National Advisory Committee by August 21, 2022. For more information, please visit