Focusing the Frame

by Rosalind Ho // Fifth Space Fellow and CARRA Team Member


Almost exactly 2 months ago, team CARRA came together as a group with an interest in exploring the problem that young people with disabilities are often unable to find sustainable employment. Our problem statement has changed many times since then.

Our initial problem statement on February 3rd, that “persons with a disability experience rejection/shame from employers”, revealed some assumptions right off the bat. This problem statement assumed that employers would automatically have negative feelings about hiring people with disabilities, and that having people with disabilities rehash why they can’t find a job would be the best way to approach the issue of employment.

2nd reframing

So we decided to zoom in upon youth-friendly employers and their hiring practices. Our new problem statement was, “too many youth-friendly employers are not employing youth with disabilities and are missing out on a potential resource.”

Over the last several weeks, team CARRA has been conducting ethnographic interviews with small businesses throughout Burnaby, Coquitlam, and Port Coquitlam. Our interviews have revealed fascinating stories, such as the co-owner of a beauty salon who used to run a hair salon in Mexico with her sister who had a brain injury as a young child or a café owner who considers her nephew a useless worker (the nephew does not have a disability) but she hired him mainly because he is a family member.

One end of our data spectrum was made up of small chain stores that hire a fair number of young people but are still small enough to incorporate a feeling of family into daily work routines. The other end of the spectrum has emerging businesses, such as a beauty salon and a deli, which are still too small to consider hiring additional employees. A final group of businesses, such as a café and a dollar store, were definite that they would not hire youth at all because of the expense of training young people who would likely move on in a short time. We also talked to a few ethnic family-owned businesses along Kingsway, but they were not very willing to talk to us.

problem reframe

We have been analyzing our data and narrowing down our most recent problem statement into three sections to focus upon next, which are:

  • Small businesses are not hiring youth with cognitive disabilities.
  • Understanding the conditions that make a small business feel like family.
  • Understanding the barriers faced by small businesses who have a family member with a cognitive disability.

We also have a couple of ideas of some concrete solutions that we could prototype with some of the employers that we’ve talked to, such as:

  • Being a neutral party to help start conversations about hiring people with cognitive disabilities.
  • Educate small businesses on how to bring family members with cognitive disabilities into the family business.

Ethnographic research is not a top-down problem-solving method where we have a fixed problem to find solutions for. Over the last month, we have been constantly challenging our assumptions through user research and continually reframing our problem statement to help us narrow our focus so as to be able to come up with some ideas that we can prototype over the next couple of months.

Stay tuned for more to come soon :)!