Employment Experience of Ontario’s Postsecondary Graduates with Learning Disabilities

Research Summary:

Postsecondary graduates with learning disabilities get satisfying jobs but reluctant to disclose their disability

Most Ontario college and university graduates with learning disabilities are finding jobs and are generally satisfied with their current place of employment. But while many say their disability affected their on-the-job performance, they chose not to disclose of it for fear of being judged or embarrassed by their coworkers, according to the report, Employment Experience of Ontario’s Postsecondary Graduates with Learning Disabilities.

Project Description

Commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), the project examined the employment experience of college and university graduates with learning disabilities, specifically analyzing their employment success, the impact of their learning disability within a job setting, job satisfaction, and their experiences with the employment transition services offered by their institution.

Conducted through Ontario’s two Assessment and Resource Centres that provide comprehensive psycho-educational assessments for PSE students, the project surveyed graduates from 20 of Ontario’s colleges and universities who had entered the labour market and had been diagnosed with a learning disability between 2004-05 and 2007-08. Most of the study is based on findings from 98 surveys; 110 survey responses are utilized during the career services analysis.


The study showed that as of 2010, 69.1 per cent of graduates with learning disabilities were employed either on a full-time or part-time basis, while 16.4 per cent were unemployed and 3.7 per cent were self-employed; 10.9 per cent had returned to school and 3.6 per cent reported their status as that of homemaker.

The majority of respondents (71.9 per cent) indicated that their learning disability impacted their performance in the workplace in areas such as their information processing rate, spelling, writing, and reading in public, although 62 per cent of the sample chose not to disclose their disability to their employer. Reasons cited include fear of being judged, embarrassment, or a belief that their disability did not impact their job.

Just over 70 per cent of graduates were generally satisfied with their current place of employment. Graduates were most satisfied with their relationships with coworkers and the level of independence within their jobs. Interestingly, graduates who did not disclose their learning disability in the workplace were generally more satisfied with their jobs.

Overall, career services across postsecondary institutions were not highly utilized by students with learning disabilities. Only one-quarter of respondents indicated that they took part in work placements or accessed job search training.

Next Steps

This is just one of many studies HEQCO has funded on students with disabilities, a group that isunderrepresented in higher education. With nearly three quarters of new jobs requiring some form of postsecondary education, Canada’s ability to meet future demands for skilled workers depends on continued growth in postsecondary participation rates particularly by groups that are currently underrepresented in our postsecondary institutions.

To date, HEQCO research has focused on the debt load and financial barriers of students with disabilities, and on an analysis of trends and supports for students with autism spectrum disorder transitioning into PSE. Future HEQCO research will delve even further, looking at the barriers of special needs students transitioning into PSE, the impact of mental health problems in the college system, and the time taken to graduate for students with disabilities.

Employment Experience of Ontario’s Postsecondary Graduates with Learning Disabilities was prepared by Alana Holmes and Robert Silvestri, both of the Northern Ontario Assessment and Resource Centre at Cambrian College, and Allyson Harrison of the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre at Queen’s University.​