Meet Our Members: David C. Onley Initiative

The David C. Onley Initiative for Employment and Enterprise Development is a collaborative applied research initiative amongst the four post-secondary schools in Ottawa, looking at how to reduce the employment gap and increase employment readiness for students and graduates with disabilities.. Julie Caldwell, Assistant Director of Program Operations tells us about the project and the #AbleTo public awareness campaign.

Interview Questions:

1. Tell us about your organization.

  • The David C. Onley Initiative (DCOI) for Employment and Enterprise Development is a project of the READ Initiative, led by Carleton University and funded by the Government of Ontario.
  • It is a first-of-its-kind partnership, a collaboration of four post-secondary institutions in Ottawa (uOttawa, Algonquin College, La Cité Collégiale and Carleton U), intended to close the employment gap for post-secondary students with disabilities.
  • Across the four campuses, DCOI staff, who are embedded in the various campus career services and disability offices, work with students to explore barriers and challenges that impede post-secondary students from becoming employed.
  • Research has shown that students with disabilities face barriers to employment after graduation. Often they have less work experience than their non-disabled peers and the DCOI is working to create greater awareness of the various “employment pathways” that students can gain the needed experience in, such as internships, part-time, summer and coop jobs.
  • DCOI helps students with disabilities better understand which employment pathways might be best suited to their needs, skills and interests, so that they can then partake in various work integrated learning opportunities to help them increase their skills and employment readiness with hands-on, meaningful work experiences while they obtain their post-secondary education.
  • Entrepreneurship is a common pathway that students turn to if they are struggling to find meaningful employment. The Initiative is working with local incubators and community service providers to build capacity in this area.
  • The project is exploring questions such as:
    What are the gaps in services, both on and off-campus, for students with disabilities?
    Why are these gaps occurring?
    What role do employers play in providing inclusive and meaningful employment opportunities for students with disabilities?
    How can we help address the myths, perceived barriers and stigmas that are often associated with hiring a student with a disability?

2. What types of job seekers with disabilities do you help find employment?

  • The mandate of DCOI is to support post-secondary students enrolled at the four institutions named above. While we are not technically helping students find employment, we are building capacity of the campus disability and career services offices to better support students so that they can help them find meaningful employment.  In addition, we are helping career offices and employment service providers to become more informed about how to create more inclusive hiring practices.

3. What services and supports can you provide to assist employers once they have hired someone with a disability?

  • While the DCOI does engage with employers to better understand their recruitment needs and concerns regarding hiring students with disabilities, they do not work directly with them.  The DCOI has partnered with community service providers and local resources, such as EARN, to build capacity and enhance existing services to better support students with disabilities in their employment journey.
  • Their aim is not to duplicate services available elsewhere in the community.
  • The project has finite funding and will end in May 2020, however the research and work related to employment for people with disabilities will continue under the newly established Canadian Accessibility Network (CAN), which launched earlier this year under the READ Initiative at Carleton University.
  • Focus of the project is on having impact by learning from their findings and building the capacity of their partners to support students with disabilities find employment after graduation.
  • Specifically DCOI works with career services offices and disability services (like Paul Menton Centre at Carleton) to find ways to collaborate together to better support students, and employers.  We know that disability services are experts in disability and career services are experts in career but often, there are gaps in service because there are not specialists who have both disability and career experience.   The DCOI is piloting a role on all four campuses to help explore what this type of combined service might look like, as part of their research.

4. What are the top 3 misconceptions employers have about hiring persons with disabilities?

  • #One: Fear that accommodation costs for employees with disabilities will be high. In fact, research has proven that the average cost is not much more than $500.
  • DCOI is conducting a public awareness campaign #AbleTo to dispel misconceptions like this. #AbleTo is about closing the employment gap and creating opportunities for students and graduates to find meaningful work.
  • #Two: Employees with disabilities are less productive; research demonstrates that persons with disabilities are just as productive as their non-disabled colleagues, given the right tools and supports.
  • #Three: There is a myth that candidates with disabilities don’t have the skills, training or education required for many jobs where in fact, over 33% of adults with a disability have completed post-secondary educational programs.  This is an often-untapped talent pool for employers!

5. Supplementary to #4: What approaches can be used to address these misconceptions?

  • One of the objectives for the DCOI is to address many of these misconceptions about hiring persons with disabilities.  To do this, they have launched a public awareness campaign called #AbleTo.  It has been designed to address many of the myths, fears, barriers in a way that employers are #AbleTo build their capacity to better support hiring people with disabilities, gain access to more tools and resources to support their recruitment needs, and to create a movement in support of creating inclusive work environments from the get go, by making a pledge to show their commitment.  Visit for more information and to make your pledge

6. Is there one last thing you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?

  • If there are any organizations that would like to find out more about our work and/or collaborate with us on this Initiative, we would welcome the opportunity to connect. Please get in touch with us at

We extend many thanks to Julie Caldwell, Assistant Director, Program Operations, David C. Onley Initiative, READ Initiative (Research, Education, Accessibility and Design) for conducting this interview and for generously giving of her time.

To find out more about the David C. Onley Initiative for Employment and Enterprise Development:

To find out more about the #AbleTo campaign:

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