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By Martin Smit, Educational Consultant, LDAO

Graduating from secondary school is a rewarding and exciting time. For students transitioning from secondary school to the workplace, there is the promise of increased freedom and a steady income. It can also be a time of stress and anxiety as students adjust to unfamiliar environments. For students with a learning disability (LD), this transition can be even more stressful. Support from educators can help reduce anxiety and prepare students for success in the workplace.

What Statistics Tell Us

Canada’s 2012 Census reported a rather gloomy picture for those with a learning disability. The employment rate for adults, aged 15 to 24, with a learning disability was only 25.9%, about half the employment rate of those without a disability (51.9%). Adults with a learning disability tend to work fewer hours per week, earn less, and report facing numerous barriers in the workplace.

“The most commonly cited deterrents to entering the labour force reported by adults with a learning disability were inadequate training or experience, a lack of locally available jobs, and having been unsuccessful in the past”

(Canadian Survey on Disability, 2012).

Students who are prepared to identify and tackle these barriers are more likely to be successful.

Planning for Success: Self-Esteem

Students with LDs can develop low self-esteem and may feel uncomfortable disclosing their disability and needs to employers. If someone has developed a belief that their educational experience has been a failure, they are more likely to carry this sense of failure into the workplace. Negative self-esteem can affect performance, job satisfaction, and the possibility of advancement. Transition planning should include support for students in developing their understanding of what their learning disability is, acceptance of who they are, and what their potential is. Educators can work with students throughout their educational career to help build self-esteem, resilience, and create a positive self-image.

For more insight into supporting student well-being, click here to complete the learning module, Supporting the Well-Being and Mental Health of Students with Learning Disabilities. 

Creating Pathways to Success

The Ontario Ministry of Education’s Creating Pathways to Success document provides helpful information for educators, students, and families in planning transitions throughout a student’s educational career. Between grades 10 and 12, students should have their Individual Pathways Plan (IPP) reviewed at least twice to plan their post-secondary destination, goals, course selection, and steps to address any obstacles or challenges in achieving their goals.

Creating Pathways to Success is a particularly important resource for a student with an LD.  These students benefit from advanced planning and reflection to help ease the challenges of such a significant transition. For students with LDs, the Individual Education Plan (IEP) transition section will also help form the foundation of a good plan.

As students prepare to enter the workplace, educators can ensure that a student’s transition plan includes goals to improve their ability to self-advocate, identify workplace challenges, determine what accommodations are needed, and understand their rights.


Throughout their educational career, students with LDs become adept at using various tools and accommodations to support their learning. Supports may include extra time, use of assistive technology, or personnel supports such as a scribe. Although many students have learned to self-advocate, some need to develop this skill. A strong transition plan for students with LDs should focus on self-advocacy.

Employers may not be aware of how a new employee with a learning disability can be supported to ensure the best performance and job retention. The onus for ensuring the appropriate supports are in place often falls on the student/employee. The employee must self-advocate to help the employer understand why supports and accommodations are necessary and how they can best be implemented.

To learn more about developing self-advocacy skills click here to access the learning module, Fostering Advocacy for Students with LDs 

Workplace Challenges: Disclosure

If an employee decides to disclose their disability to their employer, they must develop the confidence to be able to speak openly and honestly regarding their strengths and needs.  

During a conversation with the employer, a new employee should be prepared to educate the employer about learning disabilities. Employers need to understand that an employee with an LD typically has average, and often higher than average, skills and intelligence. They are often creative and resourceful, and their disability is usually limited to specific academic or social areas. Self-advocacy and helping an employer understand the nature of an LD is the foundation of a successful transition.

To help students better understand issues related to discussing their LD, click here to read the LDAO article Disclosure in the Workplace.

Determine what Accommodations are Needed

Being well-prepared for a discussion about needs and accommodations with potential employers can also help smooth the transition to the workplace. Encourage students to develop a list of individual strengths, needs, supports, and accommodations that may be necessary in the workplace. Provide opportunities for students to practice discussing their needs through mock interviews and meetings.

It may be helpful to group accommodations into two categories: soft and hard.

Soft accommodations are strategies that support employees’ needs. Soft accommodations might include extra time to complete tasks, alternative arrangements, flexibility in hours, and modifications to tasks requiring long written reports.

Hard accommodations require supportive equipment and/or technology and might include adaptive equipment such as computers, calculators, and other specialized equipment.  Most employees with a learning disability require a combination of both soft and hard accommodations (Learning Disabilities in the Workplace, 2013).

Employers are often more reluctant to provide accommodations (soft or hard) when they don’t have a good understanding of why they are necessary. Employers need to understand how implementing accommodations can be beneficial, not just for the employee, but for the business.

Accommodations in the Workplace: What can students Expect?

Helping an employer understand there is often very little or no cost to most accommodations can help support a smooth transitionAssistive technology is integrated into most computers and personal devices, and often the accommodation is a matter of doing things a little differently. There may also be opportunities to embed certain accommodations in the workplace for all employees, which may improve productivity and job satisfaction.  

Accommodations and supports in the workplace often require an ongoing dialog between the employee and the employer. The employee holds some responsibility to let the employer know how things are going and whether the accommodations are working. The employer should communicate whether they feel the employee is efficient and completing tasks to the best of their ability and to the satisfaction of the employer.


Image of Transition to Work Checklist

LD@school has created a Transition to Work Checklist to help you support students with LDs who are planning to join the workforce after graduating from Secondary School. Use this template to help prepare and organize your student's transition to the workplace. Click here to view and download the checklist. 

Ensure Students Know Their Rights

Educators can play an important role by helping students understand their rights in the workplace. There are two key documents that support the rights of people with a learning disability in Ontario: The Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).   

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, people with disabilities have the right to full integration and participation in society. This includes access to employment. People with a learning disability face the same duties and responsibilities as everyone else but may require some supports and accommodations.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) lays out standards for employers. Section 28 of the AODA explains why employers need to comply, describes some steps for developing accommodation plans, and provides suggestions for reviewing these plans.

A smooth transition from secondary school to the workplace is possible but requires planning. Being prepared to work with an employer in an open and honest manner and letting the employer know what supports and accommodations are required for success is essential. Understanding employees’ rights is key to a successful transition from secondary school to the workplace.

Organizations that Support the Rights of People with Disabilities

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)   

Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act (AODA)  

Arch Disability Law Centre   

Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO) 


Learning Disabilities in the Workplace. (2013, July 30). Retrieved from https://employabilities.ab.ca/learning-disabilities-in-the-workplace/ 

Statistics Canada. (2015, November 30). Learning disabilities among Canadians aged 15 years and older, 2012. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2014003-eng.htm