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The Lieutenant Governor Promotes Hiring Disabled People

April 09, 2014

During his installation speech on September 5, 2007, the Honourable David C. Onley, 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, committed to using his position to help remove physical barriers to Ontario’s then-1.5 million disabled people, as well as focus on obstacles to employment and housing that people with disabilities face.

This might sound like flattering a population that is trying to curry favour with the disabled people, except for one thing: Onley uses a motorized scooter to get around, and leg braces and canes when on foot. Having battled polio as a toddler, Onley is well aware of what it means to have people accept or reject applicants in the workforce based on a visible disability.

The Digital Journal recounts Onley’s discussion of his varied career path, during which he acknowledges with gratitude the people that gave him a start in his various roles, but admits that hiring should not be like this. In reference to a point made about the brilliant Stephen Hawking, he quips that, “In a job interview, an employer shouldn’t be looking from the waist down.”

Regardless of the measures in place, there is still much work to be done in terms of true accessibility. Onley’s own office quarters are an excellent example of building codes that meet minimum standards for accessibility. To arrive at his office via wheelchair, one takes an indirect route. Upon installation, considerable renovations had to take place in order to make his building and offices not just accessible but equally as accessible as for those on foot.

Onley’s mandate seems to be that meeting the minimum standard of the law is doing a disservice to many sectors of the population, including a growing sector of people with physical, intellectual, and mental health disabilities. Onley notes that the non-disabled population tends to use the accessible options as well. As he states rather wryly, “…you never hear of someone falling up or down a [wheelchair] ramp. It just shows you how important accessibility is for everyone, not just the disabled.”

For employers and building tradespeople, he makes a twofold case for looking at Ontario’s disabled population in a different light. He states that, “…50 per cent of employers will actually have no cost associated with hiring a disabled person, and furthermore, 45 per cent of employers incur a one-time cost of less than $500 to make a modification such as getting software that has magnification, or text-to-voice technology, or a bigger computer monitor.”

Onley endorses disabled workers as being able and willing to work, and as creative problem-solvers. He quantifies that, “Every study carried out on disability in the workplace has shown that workers with disabilities have high levels of performance and retention, combined with low levels of absenteeism. They are also expert learners, quick to come up with innovative ways to solve problems and accomplish tasks.” Yet, the unemployment rate among disabled people is approximately 35 per cent, as compared to the mainstream population at seven per cent.

As for the home sector, where people spend 30 – 50 per cent of their income he states that, “If you’re a home builder or developer and 15.5 per cent of your potential customer base is disabled, why would you not think about ways to incorporate accessibility into building design?” This kind of thinking shows that Onley, while a champion for those with disabilities, is also able to guide Ontario through tough economic times with a pragmatic look at how to earn income.

In order to get his mandate into the ears of the public, Onley speaks to industry groups to make the economic case for increased employment of those with disabilities. Additionally, he volunteers with service clubs and offers advice and government perspective. He also keeps a keen eye toward those organizations which go above and beyond in terms of accessibility and rewards them. In addition, the Honourable David Onley personally recognizes the outstanding achievements of people with disabilities.

On the Lieutenant Governor’s official website, Onley declares that that “Accessibility is that which enables people to achieve their full potential.” With such a man in office, it is clear that Ontarians with disabilities have a strong advocate in their corner.

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