In Memory of The Honourable David Onley, a Strong Voice for Tearing Down the Many Barriers Still Impeding People with Disabilities

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: Email: Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook:

In Memory of The Honourable David Onley, a Strong Voice for Tearing Down the Many Barriers Still Impeding People with Disabilities

January 14, 2023

We are deeply saddened at the death of former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. He made history by dedicating his seven years as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario to the goal of promoting accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.

His groundbreaking, no-holds-barred 2019 Independent Review of the Ontario Government’s implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) pulled no punches. The Onley Report concluded that the pace of change since 2005 for people with disabilities has been “glacial.” His report found that “…the promised accessible Ontario is nowhere in sight.” Progress on accessibility under this law has been “highly selective and barely detectable.”

The Ontario Government had hand-picked Mr. Onley to write this report. His report found “…this province is mostly inaccessible.” It correctly concluded:

“For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”

The Onley report had damning things to say about years of the Ontario Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. He in effect found that there has been a protracted, troubling lack of Government leadership on this issue, even after two prior Government-appointed AODA Independent Reviews called for renewed, strengthened leadership:

“The Premier of Ontario could establish accessibility as a government-wide priority with the stroke of a pen. Our previous two Premiers did not listen to repeated pleas to do this.”

The Onley report made concrete, practical top-to-bottom recommendations to substantially strengthen the Government’s weak AODA implementation and enforcement. Among other things, Mr. Onley called for the Government to substantially strengthen AODA enforcement, create new accessibility standards including for barriers in the built environment, strengthen the existing AODA accessibility standards, and reform the Government’s use of public money to ensure it is never used to create disability barriers.

Four years earlier, David Onley made an important declaration that he and other disability advocates have quoted innumerable times since then, and which we must emphasize as we mourn his passing. He said that the unemployment rate facing people with disabilities in Canada “is not only a national crisis. It is a national shame.”

“David Onley was a good friend, trusted advisor and comrade in arms in the campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, Chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance which campaigns for accessibility for over 2.6 million people with disabilities in Ontario. “As recently as two months ago, he took it on himself to pressure MPs in Ottawa to let the AODA Alliance give testimony at public hearings on the Trudeau Government’s Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act.”

In his earlier work as a City TV reporter, David Onley gave some of the earliest coverage to Ontario’s non-partisan campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. Near the end of May 1995, during the Ontario election campaign where this movement (then called the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee) was raising disability issues in a provincial election campaign, David Onley interviewed both ODA Committee co-chair David Lepofsky and Conservative leader and future Ontario Premier Mike Harris. Watch this report from deep in the AODA Alliance archives, at:

Canada can best honour David Onley’s memory by taking bold new sustainable action to implement his vision of a barrier-free society for people with disabilities.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, Twitter: @aodaalliance

For background: