Ontario moves to tackle high unemployment for people with disabilities

The Ontario government has unveiled its promised new strategy to tackle high unemployment facing Ontarians with disabilities.

3 initiatives to increase access to employment for those who are disabled announced

Pina D'Intino likes the government's strategy but says one aspect is missing. (Grant Linton/CBC)

In an attempt to target high levels of unemployment for people with disabilities the Ontario government has announced a strategy intended to create job opportunities.

Minister of Accessibility Tracy MacCharles called Access Talent: Ontario's Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities a "forward looking strategy" with three main elements.

The government estimated 60,000 people with disabilities aged 18 to 29 are receiving assistance. As a result, it will launch a new pilot program to create employment goals for students and young people, which will include "individualized and co-ordinated services and support," through the Ontario Disability Support Program, MacCharles said.

The government also intends to streamline employment and training services through a new program at Employment Ontario.

Finally, the strategy calls for the government to "lead by example" when it comes to accessibility and increase public education.

As we acquire disabilities our worth seems to be gone.- Pina D'Intino

Pina D'Intino lost her vision as an adult following complications from surgery. Though she applauds the government's initiatives — especially those creating opportunities for youth — she says the plan is missing a core group of the population with disabilities.

"As we acquire disabilities our worth seems to be gone," she says.

David Onley, accessibility advocate listens to Minister of Accessibility Tracy MacCharles. (Stephanie Matteis/CBC)

She's encouraging the government to think about "how that mature work force can actually help youngsters coming into the workforce by providing them some really strong mentorships, coaching, some skills transfer."

'Where the rubber is meeting the road'

All three ministers present at the announcement this afternoon — MacCharles, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and Helena Jaczek, minister of community and social services — listed the issues faced by job seekers with disabilities, including misperceptions that businesses would see a decrease in productivity or employees would call in sick more often.

Though not accompanied by a mandate, the government encouraged any businesses with more than 20 employees to hire an additional employee with a disability in a meaningful position.

Tim Hortons franchise owner Mark Wafer says he currently has 46 people with disabilities working in his coffee shops. Over a 23 year period in six stores, he says he's had 150 employees with disabilities.

Debunking the productivity myths, Wafer encourages more employers to do what he's done.

David Onley, the province's special adviser on accessibility, was in the front row listening to the announcement, which took place on Bay Street at CIBC, which committed to hiring 500 employees with disabilities this year.

Onley says it's time people don't look at those with disabilities and "allow it to form the basis of a value judgement of that person's potential and that's where the rubber is meeting the road in terms of today's announcement."

Results could take years

Advocates of accessibility, like David Lepofsky, chair of the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, say the government's announcement was a long time coming and "mainly high-level, long-term concepts, that could take years before there are any results.

"After years of waiting, what we need instead is a plan to hit the ground running now, with immediate, practical action," Lepofsky wrote of the initiatives.

He adds the government is rehashing some previous announcements, including its goal to lead by example in accessibility employment.

In 2010, the government unveiled its barrier-free objective for 2025.

Five years later Brad Duguid, former minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure said the objective was losing steam.

Lepofsky says Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne first announced the government's intention to address the issue that about half of Ontario's population with disabilities are unemployed in 2013, in her first Speech from the Throne.


Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: and @CBCsteph on Twitter.