National initiative led by youth with disabilities aims to break down employment barriers

Organizations are partnering in a unique project to empower young Canadians with disabilities to promote workplace inclusion. 

VANCOUVER, BC– In a partnership between the Disability Foundation and Royal Roads University, the Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) is a three-year project providing paid internships for students to identify and address the attitudinal barriers young Canadians with disabilities face when transitioning from school to the workplace. The interns, who have disabilities themselves, gain valuable work experience from the Disability Foundation and leadership skills development training via Royal Roads. 

In the context of a global pandemic and remote work, these interns are leading the way for a new and more inclusive “normal” in the workplace. The team currently consists of three British Columbians, and recruitment has begun for two additional young adults with disabilities to join the project from other parts of Canada.

“It is really encouraging that major partners such as the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability component and Disability Alliance BC who are funding in part this initiative, and Royal Roads University, are showing their commitment not only to youth with disabilities but also to greater inclusion in the workforce,” says Ruby Ng, Executive Director, Disability Foundation. “In addition to providing paid work experience, this project further supports the interns with leadership development to become the future leaders of an inclusive and vibrant Canadian workforce.

  • According to Statistics Canada, youth aged 20 to 24 with mild or moderate disability were 14% less likely to have a job in 2011 than youth with no disabilities (Government of Canada, 2014)
  • Approximately 15% of youth with milder disabilities were neither in school nor employed. However, 76.7% could be identified as potential workers.  (Government of Canada, 2017).
  • In a three-year research project that brought together 250 job seekers with disabilities and volunteer mentors to identify, set, and achieve job search goals, only 31% successfully secured employment. One major finding was the attitudinal barriers such as confidence and perceptions of the 9-to-5 structure are barriers for people with disabilities and the need for accommodations due to health factors (ConnecTra, 2018). 

Phased over three years, YLI has begun with an online survey for youth with disabilities aged 17-24 to identify attitudinal barriers they experience or perceive in securing or keeping employment. Once this research is completed, a national Youth Advisory Committee will be formed to discuss the findings and identify solutions to address the barriers. In the final phase of the initiative, the interns will produce a solution, such as a toolkit, to support employers and youth with disabilities alike in the job-seeking process. 

“Our whole-person learning approach is about meeting students where they’re at — no matter their age, stage or learning needs, and we’re proud to partner with the Disability Foundation on this important initiative,” says Royal Roads University President Philip Steenkamp. “We’re in a unique position to break down barriers to education and employment for youth with disabilities, and this is one way we can move toward achieving the true inclusivity that we desire in our organizations.” 

Canadians aged 17 to 24 who live with disabilities are encouraged to take the survey by February 19, 2021 and connect with this initiative. For more information and the survey link, please visit  https://disabilityfoundation.org/yli/ 


Based in Vancouver and founded by Sam Sullivan in 1996, the Disability Foundation is a charitable organization whose mission is to provide opportunities for people with physical disabilities to enable their individual journeys. The Foundation supports the work of six affiliated societies that provide services and programs, including outdoor recreational activities, social engagement, and custom assistive devices for people with disabilities to have greater independence and inclusion. 

Royal Roads University, a public university established in 1995, offers a progressive model of post-secondary education and research, delivering applied and professional programs. The university offers its students a blended learning experience combining online and on-campus instruction, as well as full time intensive on-campus instruction in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees, certificates and diplomas. It also offers progressive executive, custom and continuing studies programs.