Learning unit and inclusive work environment

Research Title: The Learning Unit: A New Avenue for Developing the Competencies of People with Disabilities in an Inclusive Work Environment


The usual work platform approach rarely goes beyond social integration in the regular workplace for adults with intellectual disabilities. The innovative approach linked to learning units is indicated to remedy these obstacles, by supporting the creation of meaningful relationships at work and the development of their socio-professional skills.

This study aims to 1) co-construct the learning unit model, 2) test it in a university, and 3) develop knowledge transfer tools.

A literature review and two focus groups with experts will be conducted to model the components of a learning unit. The model will be implemented at the Université de Sherbrooke in order to improve it and identify the points of vigilance to facilitate its implementation in other work environments. The advisory committee, present throughout the process, will participate in the identification and development of knowledge transfer tools.


When their schooling ends at the age of 21, there are few opportunities for social participation for young adults with an intellectual disability (ID). Although participation in meaningful occupations is associated with a better quality of life, occupational opportunities for skill development in adulthood remain limited.

In Quebec, one such opportunity is integration into a work setting. This environment allows for the integration of a work environment with the support of an intervener from a Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS), the employer, and its employees. However, workplaces do not optimally meet the needs of people with ID.

On the one hand, the CISSSs point out the limited number of workplaces wishing to host a work platform. This low number can be explained in particular by employers’ lack of knowledge about the abilities of people with ID, the strategies available to support them, and the actual functioning of a workstation. On the other hand, it is recognized that the usual formula for workplaces rarely goes beyond the stage of social integration, i.e., physical presence in the environment, which does not allow people with ID to create meaningful interpersonal relationships at work, to develop a sense of belonging to the environment and to progress in their learning.

These various obstacles require the development of a new structure that promotes optimal social inclusion in a real work environment, the performance of tasks in line with the interests of the person with ID, and the development of socio-professional skills to progress along the continuum of occupational opportunities in adulthood (e.g., integration into an internship or paid employment).

The learning unit approach is appropriate to address current workplace barriers. An innovative structure, a learning unit is a technical platform that allows people with ID to receive individualized support to develop their skills in productive activities and through meaningful social interactions in a real and inclusive work environment. Such a unit is anchored on an educational model that allows for reciprocal learning between the members of the unit (the workers) and its social environment (the employer and employees). Because of the multiple opportunities for social interaction that they offer and because they advocate diversity and social inclusion, universities are relevant environments for setting up a learning unit.

In fact, many universities have policies on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion issues. A learning unit in a university setting opens up a new horizon for supporting students’ experiential learning by promoting their exposure to diversity. Partners from the CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS and the Université de Sherbrooke, as well as the research team, are joining forces to support the development of an initial operating model for a learning unit.


  1. Emergence phase: to co-construct the operating model of learning units for people with ID.
  2. Experimentation phase: describe and model the key elements of a learning unit. The project then aims to implement a first learning unit at the Université de Sherbrooke in order to evaluate the model in a real context.
  3. Appropriation phase: to support future workplaces in the appropriation of the proposed new structure. We will co-develop knowledge transfer and mobilization tools.


  1. Realistic synthesis of the literature (first modeling)
  2. Conducting two focus groups with key stakeholders (model refinement)
  3. Planning of model testing
  4. Testing of the learning unit model at the Université de Sherbrooke
  5. Conducting individual interviews to follow up on the testing (consolidation of the model)
  6. Selection of deliverables and dissemination strategies
  7. Creation of deliverables and dissemination of knowledge

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Last update: December 1, 2021


Global progress
Realistic synthesis of the literature: Iterative approach
Conduct of two focus groups
Planning for the testing of the model at the University of Sherbrooke
Testing the learning unit model at the Université de Sherbrooke
Conducting individual interviews to follow up on the testing (consolidation of the model)
Choice of deliverables and dissemination strategies
Creation of deliverables and dissemination of knowledge
    Team members
    Martin Caouette, PhD | Professeur au département de psychoéducation, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières | Chercheur régulier au Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et intégration sociale (CIRRIS) | Titulaire de la Chaire Autodétermination et Handicap | Chercheur à l’Institut universitaire en déficience intellectuelle et en trouble du spectre de l’autisme Mélanie Couture, erg., PhD | Professeure au département d’ergothérapie, Université de Sherbrooke | Chercheure à l’Institut universitaire en déficience intellectuelle et en trouble du spectre de l’autisme Partenaire 1 : Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS) Représentante : Caroline Duchesne | Directrice administrative, communication et ressources humaines | Faculté d’éducation Représentant : Bernard Fournier | Directeur général adjoint et directeur de division | Services des immeubles Partenaire 2 : Programme Déficience intellectuelle – Trouble du spectre de l’autisme – Déficience physique Centre intégré universitaire de santé et services sociaux de l’Estrie – Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke (CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS) Représentante : Chantal St-Onge | Chef de service Intégration au travail et communautaire DI-TSA, Chef de service soutien dans la communauté DI-TSA pour les RLS, La Pommeraie et Haute-Yamaska | Direction des programmes de déficience intellectuelle, trouble du spectre de l'autisme et déficience physique Co-chercheures: Camille Gauthier-Boudreault, erg., PhD | Stagiaire postdoctorale à l’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières Audrée Jeanne Beaudoin, erg., PhD | Chercheure d’établissement à l’Institut universitaire de première ligne en santé et services sociaux Annie Carrier, erg., PhD | Professeure au département d’ergothérapie à l’Université de Sherbrooke | Membre régulier du Réseau provincial de recherche en adaptationréadaptation (REPAR) Collaborateur: Institut universitaire en déficience intellectuelle et en trouble du spectre de l’autisme (IUDI-TSA) Représentante : Renée Proulx, PhD | Directrice administrative | Direction de l'enseignement universitaire, de la recherche et de l'innovation Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de la Mauricie-et-du-Centre-du-Québec (CIUSSS MCQ)
    Intersectoral collaboration agent
    Scientific sectors
    Innovation stages
    • Émergence, Expérimentation, Appropriation
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