The purpose of the survey was to better understand employment practices of small and medium sized-businesses (SMEs) including:

  • The barriers SMEs face when hiring and retaining people with disabilities and other equity- deserving groups
  • What types of supports and services would be helpful for SME employers to help them hire people with disabilities
  • The challenges that SMEs experience, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic


410 surveys completed
Respondents of the survey self-identified as:

67% owners of their organization
12% managers
9% executives
4% human resource specialists

Other (manager, owner, founder, director, administrator, coordinator, partner and board member)
In terms of equity-deserving status, organizations were led by:

62% Women
7% People with disabilities
7% Indigenous
6% Black or person of colour
94% of businesses had less than 99 employees
74% were in locations with populations of less than 29,999
Types of Organizations:

75% for-profit business
12% non-profit
58% reported that their organization made less than $500,000 total gross revenue in the last fiscal year.
On average, organizations have been operating for 22 years.

(most often spoken at work)

68% English
25% French
6% equally English and French

17% retail trade
15% accommodation and food services
10% manufacturing
9% agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting
5% arts, entertainment and recreation
5% construction
4% health care and social assistance
3% finance and insurance

Respondents by Province:

7% Ontario 
17% Quebec 
10% British Columbia
11% Alberta
5% Manitoba
9% Saskatchewan
9% Nova Scotia
14% New Brunswick
12% Newfoundland and Labrador
5% Prince Edward Island
Map of Canada with Percentage of Respondents by provinces


Approximately one-fourth indicated that their organization actively recruits job applicants who identify as having a disability.
78% of respondents reported that their organization was either somewhat or very likely to consider hiring people with disabilities in the future.
Respondents indicated that their organization:

Actively recruits job applicants who identify as having a disability (27%)
Do not actively recruit applicants who identify as having a disability (62%)
Did not know (11%)
38% of respondents reported that their organization has a written inclusive workplace policy and 51% had intentions to develop one.
When asked if their organization actively recruited applicants from equity-deserving groups, respondents reported:

60% Women
37% Black or persons of colour
37% Indigenous
34% People with disabilities
31% LGBTQ2S+
20% Other (i.e., hire based on qualifications, encourage all to apply, recruiting seniors or immigrants)

Employing People with Disabilities

70% of respondents reported that at the time of the survey a person with a disability was working at their organization.
49% of respondents reported that their organization had hired a person with a disability in the last five years.
16% of respondents indicated that there have been people with disabilities employed in senior positions within their organization.
Respondents were more likely to have reported hiring people with disabilities in the last 5 years if:

  • Were a larger sized organization
  • Were a non-profit organization or government agency (vs. for profit organizations)
  • If the organization reported having a person with a disability in a senior position
  • If the organization was led by owners from an equity-deserving group

Future of the Workforce

45% of respondents reported that their organization will experience a workforce shortage in the next five years.
74% indicated that it is somewhat or very difficult to recruit employees whose skills are essential to their organization’s mission and development.
Over 79% of respondents reported that to address workforce shortages, their organization will likely recruit from equity-deserving groups including:

  • People who identified as women
  • Black or people of colour
  • Indigenous
  • People with disabilities
  • LGBTQ2S+

Additional Key Findings: Employer Survey & Focus Groups

Discussion: Employer Focus Groups

The focus group findings show that there is a strong interest for SMEs to employ people with disabilities. SMEs want to learn best practices to support people with disabilities as employees, however they often do not know the steps to take to go about doing this.

For some SMEs, the desire to employ people with disabilities was motivated by an equity-based lens (i.e., wanting to provide opportunities for people who tend to face barriers to entering and staying in the paid labour force).

For other focus group participants, the desire to employ people with disabilities was due to difficulties that they have encountered with recruiting employees, and they therefore perceive the need to tap into ‘new’ populations.

Other SMEs stated their motivation for employing people with disabilities stems from both their value system and recruitment needs.

Due to their limited resources (time and money) compared to larger organizations, SMEs may face difficulties in hiring and retaining people with disabilities. At the same time, the enthusiasm and dedication of SMEs for developing support structures, as well as the nature of close-knit teams within SMEs, may enable inclusive team building and open communication, practices which focus group participants highlighted as central to supporting employees with disabilities.
To read the full Disability and the Workplace: Challenges, trends, and best practices among SMEs in Canada, SME Survey Technical Report or Focus Group Technical Report please contact