Skip to main content


Black female HR professional working with her client to review his job options

Employee retention is a concern for every organization. Many existing employee programs, such as orientation and onboarding programs, career development programs, and mentoring programs, can be modified or enhanced to increase retention rates of employees with disabilities.

This section is a brief introduction to improving retention for employees with disabilities and making the career advancement process accessible to all. You can also learn about accessible (as well as diverse, equitable, and inclusive) retention in more detail in our Illuminate Opportunity toolkit.

Typical onboarding programs acclimate new employees to the workplace culture and educate them on relevant policies and procedures. An onboarding program aimed at increasing accessibility and inclusion would still be delivered to all employees but would include accessibility-specific information such as reasonable guidance on disclosure, accommodation procedures, emergency preparedness procedures and would be delivered in various accessible formats.

An effective onboarding process is the first step in creating a culture of belonging and inclusion in the workplace. Onboarding and orientation, when delivered with a view of increasing accessibility has a positive impact on employee retention and productivity.8

8 Carucci, R. (2018). To retain new hires, spend more time onboarding them. Harvard Business Review, 1-5.

Career development programs such as conferences, training, and rotational assignments are proven employee retention strategies. HR should ensure that all online professional development opportunities and workplace events are fully accessible in accordance with the Web Accessibility Standards (WCAG 2, as well as reserve a portion of employee training funds to provide accessibility-related accommodations for training opportunities. Further resources on this topic can be found in Section 3. The Legislation, Accessibility Standards & Reporting of this toolkit under “Useful Resources – Other Resources relevant to Accessibility Standards”.

Workplace mentoring programs and employee resource groups are additional tools employers can use to help increase recruitment and retention, improve organizational culture, and provide guidance and feedback to employees and managers about disability issues. Employees may be more likely to open up and achieve their full potential if there is a dedicated member of staff or group that they could talk to with shared experiences to help them navigate.

The Value of Mentorship

Feedback from industry stakeholders has emphasized the significant role that mentors and sponsors can play in attracting and retaining workers from underrepresented groups to the sector. This type of support is particularly key for employees with disabilities. All too often, concerns about being open about disability generate fear and/or hinder talented people from pursuing opportunities to display their skills and achieve their full potential.

Furthermore, those who have acquired a disability during employment (be that apparent or non-apparent, permanent, or temporary) may also face challenges, real or perceived, as they adapt to a changing set of circumstances. This could include having to transition to a new type of role or having to deal with the perception that they are unable to ever be “as good as they were” due to an illness or reduced quality of health.

Traditionally, mentoring means a one-on-one relationship through which a senior person (the mentor) motivates and supports the personal or professional development of a junior person (the mentee). Today, however, mentoring has evolved to also include a variety of models, including virtual, peer, reverse-and-flash programs. And, in many organizations, “mentoring cultures” are being established to encourage “natural mentoring” to occur without specific program parameters.

Individuals with disabilities continue to face attitudinal barriers in employment. The mentoring process can help break down some of these barriers by encouraging individuals with disabilities to be open about their experience and take a more active role in pursuing and planning their careers while obtaining practical skills, knowledge, and support. Individuals planning or advancing their careers receive information, encouragement, and advice from their mentors, who are experienced in the career field of the mentee. Mentors get a first-hand look at the mentee’s abilities while serving as trusted counselors. Mentorship can also help individuals already in the workforce navigate career transitions or accommodations after or during disability, as well as provide peer support for everyday day challenges.

Mentoring programs can be eye-opening – in many cases misunderstandings exist amongst employers unsure how to address a person’s disability. Once the employer starts working with a person with a disability, he or she begins to see the person’s capabilities rather than the disability.

Mentoring (people with disabilities) also ends a message to other employees that the company really does care about people. Other employees in the workplace benefit from the positive dynamic and attitude changes in corporate culture created by all individuals involved in the mentoring process.

Mentoring Steps

To develop an organic or structured mentoring program in your organization, the company could consider the following steps:

  • Conducts a needs assessment
  • Lay the groundwork and set the program objectives
  • Align the mentoring program with organizational goals, strategies, and mission
  • Develop the mentoring program
  • Train the participants
  • Develop a mentoring program roadmap
  • Gain senior leadership support
  • Recruit a program manager
  • Create a steering committee or enlist an Employee Resource Group to lead the effort

The Value of Establishing an Employee Resource Group

Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. A number of Canadian companies, including Hydro One, Scotiabank, RBC and AIG are establishing ERGs to advance disability inclusion in the workplace.

ERGs can enhance the sense of inclusion and belonging at work for people with disabilities, positively impacting workplace culture, and creating an open environment that encourages employees to disclose their disabilities. It is estimated that only a very small percentage of people with disabilities disclose their disability at work, particularly those with non-apparent disabilities. Research has found, however that people who do disclose at work have higher job satisfaction, higher productivity, and better performance than those who don’t. Creating an environment that supports disclosure can also help organizations assess their progress and compliance with disability inclusion initiatives by enabling a more accurate measure for diversity in their workforce. ERGs often have an executive sponsor, either a leader with a disclosed disability or an ally. The involvement of company leadership in supporting an ERG acts as another way to enhance and strengthen a culture of inclusion in your workplace. 

Disability-focused ERGs serve to:

  • Raise awareness of workplace issues that affect people with disabilities.
  • Create a safe and empathetic space where people with disabilities and their allies can openly discuss issues facing them, and offer each other support and advocacy.
  • Improve inclusive hiring efforts.
  • Provide feedback to other corporate stakeholders on physical and digital accessibility issues, including advising on organizational accessibility plans and policies.
  • Reduce unconscious bias towards people with disabilities.

Useful Resources

Canadian Apprenticeship Forum
Provides information for employers interested in hiring apprentices, including a national list of incentives, supports and resources for accommodating people with disabilities in skilled trades. 

Career Edge Organization
Administers several internship programs, including: 

Ability Edge National internship program for graduates with self-declared disabilities to assist them in gaining career-building work experience. Employers benefit from:

  • Immediate access to a dynamic talent pool
  • Simplified recruiting and administration through an award-winning website
  • Personalized HR support available from professionals experienced in workplace/disability issues
  • Ability Edge handles the payroll and paperwork for each internship

Recruiting, Hiring, Retaining and Promoting People Disabilities

State of the Nation: Retaining and developing employees with disabilities

Attracting and Retaining Workers with Disabilities

Working with Employers to Recruit and Retain People with Disabilities and Disorders

Disability Employment and Inclusion: Your Guide to Success

Practical Guide to Hiring People with Disabilities 

Employers’ Guide to Hiring and Working with Professional with Disabilities