Three years of progress: How EARN is tackling unemployment among people with disabilities


On May 27, 2021, the United Way East Ontario-led Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN) announced the release of its three-year impact report, and the news that more than 5,600 people with disabilities have found employment through the efforts of EARN and its members since the organization’s inception in 2012. 

As part of a soft skills coaching event with Accenture, we were pleased to release the three year look-back on EARN’s collective efforts.

To coincide with the release of the report, we are also excited to announce that EARN has secured a three year, $676,700 Grow grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation—a long-time supporter of this work. 

Michael Allen, President and CEO of United Way East Ontario; Lucille Collard, MPP for Ottawa-Vanier; Noemie De Vuyst, an Ontario Trillium Foundation volunteer; employer partner Accenture and many others shared in EARN’s success at the digital event.   

As we look towards the economic recovery post pandemic, United Way East Ontario is working with various partners to build back better and to ensure a sustainable economy. Our mission is to ensure the recovery is equitable and prioritizes people who have been sidelined by the pandemic.

EARN is uniquely positioned to bring together service providers, government, frontline organizations and other groups to ensure employment prospects for people with disabilities are brighter than they were before COVID-19.

As we look ahead to the future beyond the pandemic, we also reflect on the successes of EARN that have brought us to where we are today. Here are some of the highlights from EARN’s three year report:

Connecting job seekers and employers  

Since 2017, more than 900 employers and 950 jobseekers interacted with EARN through events, job match calls and conferences. EARN and its partners have also successfully run 28 job match conference calls, released resources and reports, and held their annual conference for thousands of employers across the region. 

These activities helped people like Yvan Le find meaningful employment. 

Yvan, who identifies as profoundly hearing-impaired, was hired by Accenture after attending a campus recruitment event hosted by EARN and the Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities at Carleton University. He is now a member of Accenture’s People with Disabilities Employee Resource Group and EARN’s Leadership Group. 

Yvan Le speaking at 2019 EARN conference podium
Yvan Le speaking at the 2019 EARN Conference

“I believe with the utmost conviction that my breakthrough had been catalyzed by the set of conditions fostered by EARN, which persistently advocates for inclusive job search conditions and a fair, open evaluation of a candidate’s skillsets.”

EARN‘s job match conference calls have also led to successful outcomes for both employers and jobseekers—like the Ottawa Hospital, which hired two job seekers with disabilities for positions they have retained ever since.  

Annual conference  

EARN’s annual conferences provide strategies and resources for employers to attract and retain a diverse workforce inclusive of people with disabilities.  

  • Our 2018 conference featured a keynote address by Canadian Military veteran, Natacha Dupuis.  
  • 2019 saw our largest conference to date—more than 180 participants came together to explore how inclusion and diversity intersect.  
2019 EARN conference attendees shaking hands over table

Research and resources 

We’ve published several helpful resources including: 

In 2020, we completed a research project focused on the experiences of students and graduates with disabilities. The culmination of this work is a report that offers extensive insight into the transition from education to employment for persons with disabilities. 

Strengthening capacity  

Previous support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation empowered EARN to strengthen the capacity of its network and promote inclusion in the workplace. We also piloted customized recruitment activities to better understand and more effectively remove barriers to employment. 

With additional funding from the Government of Ontario in 2016, EARN delivered a project to increase knowledge of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) among small and medium-sized businesses.  

Impact of COVID-19  

Since the spring of 2020, COVID-19 has fundamentally impacted individuals, society, government, and economic activity. It has affected how we interact with our family and friends, how we work together, operate businesses, and provide services.  But it has not affected everyone equally.

In August 2020, Statistics Canada found that more than one third of people reporting long term conditions or disabilities experienced job loss or reduced work hours during the pandemic. 

In the same survey, almost half of participants reported they had relied exclusively on non-employment income like disability benefits since March 2020. This is an increase in reliance from previous years. 

In a different survey from last summer in Ottawa, 43% of persons with a disability had difficulty paying for basic living costs, compared to 14% of people without a disability. 

The EARN network was no less impacted. Suddenly, we were no longer able to host the in-person activities that are so integral to our work, like learning events and career fairs. We responded by transitioning events and activities to online platforms. By pivoting to alternate modes of communication and engagement, EARN also reaffirmed its commitment to championing diverse and accessible workplace cultures.

As our communities begin to move towards economic recovery, it will be important for EARN and our partners to use all of our convening power, tools, and resources to ensure people with disabilities do not get left behind.  

What’s next  

EARN’s vision is that every workplace is inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities. We will continue to work toward achieving this vision through the following activities and strategies: 

  • Help our network engage more people with disabilities, including youth with disabilities 
  • Scale up engagement with existing employers and conduct outreach to new employers across East Ontario, including the federal government and technology sectors 
  • Understand local labour market trends and the unique opportunities and challenges within the rural communities of East Ontario  
  • Explore tools that can address the economic impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities   

This report shows just how much the Employment Accessibility Resource Network has achieved over the past three years—but we can’t stop now. With the rate of employment for people with disabilities in Ontario 22 per cent less than the general population, EARN and its members are more determined than ever to change employment outcomes for people with disabilities on an even wider scale. 

Champion accessible and inclusive workplaces.



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