Minister Duguid announced October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month on Monday
Ontario is proud to participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month during October. Ontario is an accessibility leader. The landmark Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act passed 10 years ago. Progress over the next decade will be guided by The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan. It includes the actions Ontario is taking to increase awareness among employers of the value of hiring people with disabilities. The action plan has new initiatives such as employer-focused pilot projects to address barriers and promote the employment of people with disabilities. We know that accessibility is not just the right thing to do – it makes good economic sense. National Disability Employment Awareness Month provides a chance for us to share information and success stories on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
I am honoured to rise in the house today to recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Mr. Speaker, Ontario stands in solidarity with provinces and territories across the country to highlight the skills people with disabilities bring to the workplace.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a great way to encourage more companies to tap into this workforce, and like our province, to see accessibility as essential to a competitive and dynamic economy.
What a great time to be celebrating and accelerating our efforts to make our workplaces across Ontario and Canada more accessible.
We are hot on the heels of the most accessible Parapan Am games ever held.
We can’t help but be inspired by the athleticism, courage, and talent of those incredible athletes from across the Americas who participated in these games.
Let us use those memories to inspire us to move forward.
To that end, this year we also proudly celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
This landmark law is transforming communities across Ontario into more inclusive, accessible places to live.
While we’re global leaders in implementing regulations to advance accessibility in Ontario, we will only reach our true potential if we can combine these accessibility efforts into a significant province-wide cultural shift.
To that end, Mr. Speaker, this year, we launched “The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan.”
A key pillar of this plan is to help businesses understand the value of hiring people with disabilities and strengthening our workforce.
We need to change mindsets and build on the progress we’ve made. We want to make sure Ontarians are not overlooked in the job pool simply because they have a disability.
There are clear benefits to this.
In 2010, the Martin Prosperity Institute outlined that by building an inclusive Ontario, we would see a $7.9 billion increase to GDP, and that is good for business.
Mr. Speaker, we are focused on being a world leader, setting the standards in accessibility while building an innovative, next generation economy here in Ontario.
To get there, we need the talents and skills of all Ontarians, including people with disabilities.
Along with my special advisor on accessibility, the Honourable David C. Onley, we are focused on promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
We’re all privileged to have Mr. Onley helping lead our efforts. I can’t imagine a more respected and accomplished Ontarian when it comes to driving us toward a more accessible province.
Ontario has an employment standard that was established under the AODA.
Mr. Speaker, to be clear, this standard does not force employers to hire people with disabilities.
But as part of a significant, long-term societal shift, it helps raise awareness and break down barriers for qualified people right from the point of applying for a job.
For example, organizations must implement accessibility requirements by a certain time rather than waiting for an individual to make a complaint under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The public sector has been required to meet the employment standard since 2014, and it will come into force for large private sector and non-profit organizations in January 2016.
We want companies to understand that the shift to an inclusive mindset in human resources will help draw the best talent and grow their bottom line.
In our action plan, we announced two new employer-focused programs.
Our Ontario Community Loans Program will provide small- and medium-sized businesses with discounted rates on financial products, such as loans, when they commit to hiring people facing barriers to employment — including people with disabilities.
We will be partnering with financial institutions to deliver this program next year.
We will also be introducing a new $5 million Partnerships for Accessible Employment program.
This program will help provide small- and medium-sized businesses with the knowledge and human resources training to give them confidence in hiring and retaining persons with disabilities.
Our government has also established a Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities.
This summer, the council presented its first recommendations to me and we are already moving forward on many of them.
I want to take this time to thank all members of the Partnership Council for their past and ongoing leadership and advice.
Mr. Speaker, while Ontario is a global leader in accessibility, we are also leading the way in cutting-edge accessible technologies and market and investment opportunities.
Nowhere was this more apparent than during the province’s first, and highly successful, Accessibility Innovation Showcase, held during the Parapan Am Games.
It brought together top innovators, investors, academics, students and the public to see new discoveries and market-ready technologies.
Innovators included e-sight, an Ottawa-based company whose revolutionary digital technology is making it possible for people with low vision to see.
Mr. Speaker, this technology allows people with vision loss to enhance their lives by making education and workplaces accessible to them.
It even made it possible for a new mother to see her baby for the very first time.
More than 50 companies and organizations attended the showcase to demonstrate their amazing accessibility technologies.
Companies like AlterG, which has developed bionic leg technology and Komodo Open Labs, which has developed solutions for people with upper body mobility challenges to gain access to computers, smart phones and tablets.
These are just a few of the companies offering incredible technological innovations and further positioning Ontario as an accessibility leader.
Technological advancements may soon level the playing field for people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, we are not there yet and there is still more work to do.
Mr. Speaker, Ontario embarked on its ambitious journey towards becoming an accessible province a decade ago.
We are proud of what we have accomplished, and look forward to supporting more change in the years to come.
I invite and challenge businesses to work with us, to continue to build on our strengths and sharpen our focus, and illuminate our path towards our goal of an accessible province by 2025.
An Ontario where people can contribute their skills to the workplace, reach their full potential and help grow our economy.
So please join me in observing National Disability Employment Awareness Month.