Outside-In: Rethinking education, training and work – Part 1

By Samantha Walsh

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost

Like the traveler in the opening quote, many youth take the road less traveled though they may not be doing so intentionally, but out of necessity. The Outside-In Project is an initiative designed to support youth, ages 15-29, with invisible and episodic disabilities who are taking the road less traveled in their search for meaningful employment. An episodic disability is a disability that changes depending on the day (for example, multiple sclerosis [MS] and mental health conditions). An invisible disability is a disability that has no physical signs – a disability an onlooker could not see or detect (for example, a learning disability such as Specific Learning Disorder with impairment in reading [e.g. dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)]). Sometimes, people with disabilities struggle to fit in to traditional education and work place settings (Gillies, 2012). The workers who are disabled often do not fit neatly into traditional workspaces. Leonard Davis (2002) writes about the importance of the repeatable body. The repeatable body refers to the tendency for the workforce to favor a body that can do the exact same thing. For example, a worker has a job working on an assembly line: If “Worker A” can be replaced by “Worker B,” than the workplace never has to be changed, and there is no reason to keep “Worker A,” since “Worker A” can be just as easily replaced by “Worker B.”  The Outside-In Project hopes to change that outsider position by creating a comprehensive employment solution while positioning disability as an opportunity for innovation. What if training was flexible? What if work opportunities could be explored at an individual pace? What if the environment and tasks were the variables in need of change rather than the individual? Creating these possibilities is the goal of the Outside-In project.

Overview of The Outside-In Project

Outside-In provides youth with episodic and invisible disability training on how to create accessible resources and provides opportunities and guidance for self-employment in the field. This training includes but is not limited to: screen reader1-compatible electronic documents (such as PDF and Word documents), as well as close captioned videos. Youth will also learn how to conduct accessibility audits of websites. These areas are the first types of accessibility training the project will offer. Long-term goals for Outside-In are to grow the training offerings to include training on creating accessible websites and building assistive devices through 3D printing. After training is complete, youth receive electronic badges and web portfolio space. Participants also have the opportunity to participate in paid accessibility remediation work as well as to mentor other participants in the program. The work will be provided through public and private sector organizations that must meet the accessibility standards outlined in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The first pieces of paid work that trainees complete will be reviewed by mentors to provide students with feedback on their work.

The training can be done remotely and is completed online. However, traineescan access computer workstations at OCAD University and desk space at the Centre of Social innovation. The training has a revolving start date that allows students to begin at any time and complete the training at their own pace. This flexible scheduling helps to accommodate each participant’s individual needs.

Why Accessible Media? Why now?

The concept of accessible media was selected as the focus for the project, as there is a demand for this kind of work with the various standards of the AODA coming into force. The Ontario Ministry of Social and Community Service describes the AODA as “legislation that will develop mandatory accessibility standards that will identify, remove and prevent barriers for people with disabilities in key areas of daily living.”

One of the areas that the AODA covers exclusively is electronic access. October 2016 is the deadline by which the Ontario government and affiliated organizations must meet AODA’s Accessibility Standard for Information and Communications. This means government websites and online documents must be compatible with a screen reader and meet other accessibility requirements. AODA legislation helps to create a demand for individuals capable of making documents and websites accessible. Outside-In offers a symbiotic way to support compliance to accessibility legislation while supporting people with disabilities to find meaningful employment.

Disability as innovation rather than individual problem

Typically disability is viewed as a medical issue or an individual problem – “Biology gone wrong” as Rod Michalkosays (2002, p. 61). The Outside-In project thinks about “disability” as an opportunity for innovation. Rather than understanding disability as an individual problem or something which needs to be compensated for, it becomes an opportunity to question the structures and processes of training and employment and to identify opportunities for change: what can be done differently? Outside-In empowers youth with disability to actively participate in activities that will make the world more accessible rather than leave them passive recipients of acts of accessibility. Public and private organizations need to become AODA compliant, and youth with disabilities (and the lived experience of disability) need jobs. Who better to support our community becoming more accessible than the people who live their lives negotiating access barriers? Outside-In brings those youth with disabilities with their “outside” knowledge “in” to the center where they can create change not only for themselves individually, but also for the system.

Partners of Outside-In:

The Outside-In project is provincially funded by Youth Skills Connections – Community Stream, Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure – Youth Partnerships.

Project Partners and Collaborators

The project is a collaboration of many partners: community, government and academic. The partners are as follows:

The Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at OCAD University

The Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at OCAD University is dedicated to developing policies, systems and practices that support human diversity. The IDRC has successfully led over 50 multi-sector, multi-partner projects dedicated to digital and economic inclusion. The IDRC leads the Inclusive Design Institute (IDI), Canada’s first research hub focused on digital inclusion, with 8 post-secondary institutions and over 60 researchers. The IDRC is active in international decision-making bodies ensuring that emerging information and communication systems and practices are inclusively designed from the start and leverage the affordances of digital systems to enable participation in the digital economy.

Taking IT Global (TIG)

TakingITGlobal empowers youth to understand and act on the world’s greatest challenges. As a partner in the project, TIG will provide support in training in social entrepreneurship, mentor training and mentor matching, and the review/badging process.

The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI)

The Centre for Social Innovation is a social enterprise with a mission to catalyze social innovation in Toronto and around the world.

Rise Asset Development

Rise Asset Development works to empower business owners with access to financing and business supports. RISE recognizes the interdependency of financial well-being to one’s overall quality of life. Rise is committed to improving the lives of people who are unable to secure employment due to mental health or addiction challenges.

Youth Employment Services

Youth Employment Service (YES) is the leading organization in Toronto providing employment, entrepreneurship training and job placement for disadvantaged youth. As the first youth employment centre in Canada, established in 1968, YES has helped over 120,000 youth with 80% success in jobs, business start ups or return to school results.

Connecting with the Outside-In Project

The project is open to youth 15-29 years of age who self-identify as having an episodic or invisible disability. There is no cost and youth may join at anytime. The project has been designed to enable participants to begin and finish their learning at any time. This style was chosen as a strategy to support and include people with changing abilities.
Join Outside-In or recommend the project to someone you know. You can learn more about us at http://outside-in.idrc.ocadu.ca and register at https://outsidein.tigweb.org to see some of our content . Contact idi@ocadu.ca for details.

1. Screen readers are software that read text from the computer screen and system/program information.


Davis, L (2002). Bodies of difference: Politics disability, and representation  In S. Synder, B. Brueggemann, & R. Garland-Thompson (Ed.), Disability studies: Enabling the humanities (pp.100-106). New York, NY: The Modern Language Association of America.

Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920; Bartleby.com, 1999. Retrieved from www.bartleby.com/119/

Gillies, J. (2012). University Graduates with a Disability: The Transition to the Workforce. Disability Studies Quarterly, 32(3). Retrieved from http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3281/3115

Michalko, R (2002). The difference that disability makes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ministry of Community and Social Services (2008). About the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). Retrieved from http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/publications/accessibility/AboutAODAWeb20080311EN.pdf


Samantha Walsh is the Project Coordinator at the Inclusive Design Research Centre housed at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. She is currently working with Dr. Vera Roberts (PhD). Samantha herself is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Toronto-OISE In the department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice Education (HSSSJE), formerly Sociology and Equity Studies. She holds a Master’s degree in Critical Disability Studies from York University. Samantha completed her undergraduate degree in Sociology at the University of Guelph.

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