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Carleton University’s READ Initiative opens untapped talent pool for Ottawa employers

Carleton READ Initiative
Carleton READ Initiative

Where can employers find young, skilled and motivated job candidates who stay with an employer long-term, have a low absentee rate and are great problem solvers?

Students and graduates with disabilities are loyal and hard-working employees, but employers have traditionally had difficulty gaining access to this talented group. The Research, Education, Accessibility and Design (READ) Initiative at Carleton University hopes to change that.

Through READ’s leadership, the new David C. Onley Initiative for Employment and Enterprise Development will focus on helping students and graduates gain valuable work experience, connecting employers with job candidates and identify a model for Ontario colleges and universities to improve career services for students with disabilities.

“The goal of the initiative is to identify what we can do better for employers and for students,” says Boris Vukovic, the director of the READ Initiative. “We’re going to test out services and work out a model that can be used in postsecondary institutions across the province.”

Bridging the gap

The Onley Initiative is a partnership between Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, Algonquin College and La Cité with Carleton University taking the lead. Part of the mandate is to increase resources for students and employers. As a result, through funding from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, each of the local post-secondary schools will hire a career services counsellor focused on students with disabilities and an additional staff member in the accessibility office.  

“People with disabilities are great problem solvers because they’ve had to solve problems all their lives.”

The increased staff is in response to the growing population of people with disabilities and higher-than-average unemployment rates. According to a 2012 Statistics Canada survey, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 16 per cent, compared to 7.6 per cent of people without disabilities. Additionally, more students are self-identifying as having a mental illness.

The major problem is bridging the gap between employers and employees. The Onley Initiative, led by READ, will conduct research to find the best practices to connect employers with graduates.

People with disabilities tend to have higher retention rates than people without disabilities. Ninety per cent of people with disabilities who are working rate higher or better in job performance compared to people without disabilities.

“When you hire people with disabilities you get a higher rate of investment,” says Katie Nicholson, a recent graduate from Carleton University who also has a disability. “We’re facing a worker shortage within the next few years and hiring people with disabilities is a great solution.”

One major myth about hiring graduates with disabilities is fear of accommodation. According to Dean Mellway, special advisor for the READ Initiative, people with disabilities have lower workers’ compensation claims because they understand their physical limitations and take fewer risks.

“People with disabilities are great problem solvers because they’ve had to solve problems all their lives,” says Mellway. “The need for accommodation is lower than in an academic setting because the workplace is more flexible. We want to help HR professionals and bring more clarity about the issues.”

Part of the Onley Initiative is to dispel such myths. Next year the program will launch a training and education program for HR professionals, including accommodating workers with a mental illness and how to recruit and train workers with disabilities.

Find your next employee


Find your next employee with the David C. Onley Initiative. The initiative supports employers in their recruitment efforts along with providing training and resources for HR professionals. For more information, visit