By: Joanna Samuels, Employment Resource Supervisor at Reena Foundation

Over the past decade, and in my capacity as a job developer/job coach, I have been helping employers from different industries in the local labour market with recruitment, selection, hiring and retaining qualified candidates with diverse disabilities and barriers to employment. 

Further, supporting employers to facilitate a meaningful long term job match and to achieve the goal of an inclusive workforce takes time, focus and training as well as building trusting and mutually beneficial partnerships.  

In my work at Reena’s Supported Employment programs with talent with developmental disabilities including Autism, I have observed that many businesses want to hire someone with a disability but just don’t know what to do or how to do this. Often, I’ve identified a fear factor and a mind-set of myths surrounding this type of hiring.  To respond to this issue, I have consulted with Alicia Xavier, the former Regional Autism Coordinator, from Ready, Willing and Able, as well as reflected on my own skills and experience, to present the following four recommendations on how employers can be successful in building and/or expanding an inclusive workplace environment. 

  1. Knowledge and Education. Building an inclusive workforce is a collaborative process and can be learned. It’s about the employer and job coach working together to implement the strategies. Many frontline supported employment professionals such as job developers and job coaches have this type of knowledge and would be happy to educate employers on how to recruit, hire and retain qualified candidates with disabilities. Plus they understand accommodations, successful job matches and helping employers build their business. Also, other organizations such as the team at  Willing and Able whose trainers and online educational tools are experts in this area.
  2. Consider inclusive recruitment practices. Sometimes the recruitment and hiring process weeds out qualified candidates with disabilities and employers are missing out on talent. Look at whole recruitment and selection process. How are you selecting candidates? Are you using online tools such as LinkedIn and Indeed? There are other resources in the community to search and select talent that is beyond the virtual world.  It’s understood that recruitment is about finding a candidate who is a good fit. However, we are asking employers to have an open mind to their process. For example, many of our job seekers can’t complete the online job application and are excluded from the pool of talent selected; yet they have all the skills and qualifications to be a successful candidate. Perhaps employers can offer a face-to-face pre-screening interview or a “working interview” to assess the candidate’s skills?


  • Know the law and your rights. Start with understanding the Ontario Human Rights code, and Federal and provincial laws such as the Employment Standards Act. Questions should be job-related and not used to find out personal information.  Structure your job interview questions to focus on the candidate’s qualifications and the job requirements needed for the particular position.  Employers should not be asking about your race, gender, religion, marital status, age, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, sexual preferences, age or anything personal.  The interview questions should focus on the candidate’s knowledge and skills, talents, strengths and weaknesses, prior work experiences, and character and competencies.


  • Champions in your workplace. When building an inclusive workplace it’s essential that the business has many supports in place. Recruiters who would like to expand their talent pool by tapping into the job seekers with disabilities would benefit from making sure that the hiring managers are on board as well as everyone on the team. It’s highly recommended that all levels from the top down in the organization be onboard with building an inclusive workplace. Having a leader or champion(s) in your workplace who drives the message to all levels of the organization is an important part of this conversation. And if you have employees who have this type of experience and are advocates to make sure there is fair representation in the applicant recruitment selection, this can make a difference as well.


It is important to note that building an inclusive workforce is different for every employer and every business. In the same way, every job seeker is different as well. However, having a foundation, tools, resources and champions in place can help to build an inclusive workforce, especially when there are challenges. Also, there are the frontline job coaches in the community agencies who can educate employers on how to develop inclusive practices in the recruitment, selection and retention phases of the process.


If you are interested in learning more, have any questions, and/or would like help with hiring talent from Reena’s supported employment programs, please contact Joanna Samuels, or 905-889-6484 ext. 2112.

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