February 19, 2016
I. Introduction and Summary
Why is the Wynne Government doing so little on increasing stunning levels of unemployment chronically facing people with disabilities? On November 28, 2014, former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley (the Wynne Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility for People with Disabilities) proclaimed at Queen’s Park that unemployment facing people with disabilities is not only a national crisis – it is a national shame!
Three years ago today, Premier Kathleen Wynne, in her first Throne Speech, commendably committed to making increased private sector employment for people with disabilities a priority. The Wynne Government’s February 19, 2013 throne Speech included:
“Your government will ensure that all individuals can find their role in this economy. And so it calls on the private sector to increase the number of people with disabilities in the Ontario workforce. As a demonstration of its commitment to this goal, your government will shift the Accessibility Directorate from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Because men and women with disabilities deserve a level playing field.”
Since then, we have witnessed three years of protracted delays and Government foot-dragging. It took the Wynne Government one full year after that Throne Speech just to appoint a committee of volunteers to give the Government ideas for action. In February 2014, the Wynne Government appointed a group of volunteers from the business and disability sectors to make recommendations to the Government on how to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Ontario, particularly in the private sector.
Over a year after that, on May 11, 2015, that “Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities” submitted its Initial Report and recommendations to the Wynne Government along with a strongly-worded covering letter that called for prompt action.
Three weeks after the Government received this Initial Report, on June 3, 2015, the Government made what it billed as a major announcement of its plans to beef up the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That included actions for expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities. When the Government announced those plans, it deliberately withheld the Partnership Council’s Initial Report from the public. We were later to learn that the Government’s announced modest new action on disability employment contradicted the Partnership Council’s recommendations that the Government was then keeping under wraps.
On Friday August 28, 2015, over three months after the Government received the Partnership Council’s Report, and over two months after the Government’s June 3,2015 announcement of plans on employment for people with disabilities, the Wynne Government finally made public the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 Initial Report. The Government then had in hand a Freedom of Information application by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, seeking public disclosure of that Report. At the same time, the Government released an August 28, 2015 statement about this Report by Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, and a short “Backgrounder” that aims to explain both what the Report said and what the Government is doing in response.
The Government did not make public the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 covering letter to Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid. The AODA Alliance has obtained that letter from the Government, and is itself making it public. That important letter pointedly emphasized the Partnership Council’s top priorities, and the importance of the Report’s prompt release to the public.
The AODA Alliance only heard of the Partnership Council Report’s public release via the grapevine on August 28, 2015. The Government did not let the AODA Alliance know it was being released, nor did the Government consult with the AODA Alliance on the Partnership Council’s Report’s findings over the three months after it received the Report.
The following is a detailed analysis of the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 Initial Report, and the Ontario Government’s August 28, 2015 response to it. Our analysis is summarized as follows:
1. The Partnership Council’s Initial Report made these strong findings, with which the AODA Alliance agrees:
- Unemployment among people with disabilities is far too high and inflicts serious hardships
- Society significantly benefits by increasing the employment of people with disabilities
- The Ontario Government is a significant cause of the disability unemployment problem
- Short term tax cuts or financial incentives are no long term solution
- There are deficiencies in Ontario’s education system for students with disabilities that support the AODA Alliance’s call for the Government to create an AODA Education Accessibility Standard
2. With only a very few but important reservations (set out below), the AODA Alliance endorses the Report’s recommendations as good ideas worthy of action. However, the AODA Alliance emphasizes the Partnership Council’s recommendations which we endorse are not the only actions needed to be effective at significantly increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. All the Report’s recommendations, even if immediately and fully implemented, will take considerable time to produce real results for unemployed people with disabilities. Moreover, even if all of those recommendations were implemented, they would not ensure that workplaces in Ontario would ever become fully accessible to and barrier-free for employees and job applicants with disabilities. Unemployed people with disabilities cannot wait any longer for action.
3. The Partnership Council’s Initial Report recommendations included:
- The Government must create strong strategic leadership, including appointing a Cabinet Minister and dedicated Deputy Minister
- The Ontario Government should become a role model – leading by example through employment of people with disabilities in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) and the broader public sector and procuring services, providing grants or financing to organizations with a strong orientation toward supporting employment of people with disabilities
- The Government should better engage youth with disabilities
- The Government should heighten business awareness of the value of employing people with disabilities
- The Government should involve employers in planning
- The Government should eliminate Government-created barriers to increased employment of people with disabilities
- The Government should set goals and ensure accountability
4. The AODA Alliance’s analysis of the Government’s August 28, 2015 Backgrounder, responding to the Partnership Council’s Report, reveals the following:
- The Wynne Government announced no new action for unemployed people with disabilities when it made the Partnership Council’s Report public and responded to it
- There was no commitment of new Government leadership on disability employment, or of new Government action to make the Ontario Government and broader public sector become a positive role model or of new action targeted to get youth with disabilities into the workforce, or to new action to heighten business awareness of the benefits of employing people with disabilities, or of new action to further engage employers in planning for a disability employment strategy, or to new action to remove Government-created barriers to disability employment, or to set goals for increased employment of people with disabilities.
- The Wynne Government acted against the advice in the Partnership Council’s Report without acknowledging it or explaining why, when the Wynne Government announced a planned program for incentives to hire people with disabilities on June 3, 2015.
5. There has been even more Government delay on disability employment since it received the May 11, 2015 Partnership Council Initial Report.
II. Analysis of the Partnership Council’s Report
Here is an analysis of the Partnership Council Initial Report’s important findings about the plight of people with disabilities who try to find jobs in Ontario. We agree with them all. These findings are largely based on authoritative public sources that have been readily available to the Government for some time. It was not necessary for the Wynne Government to appoint the Partnership Council to learn about these.
1. Unemployment Among People with Disabilities Is Far Too High and Inflicts Serious Hardships
The Report found that far too many people with disabilities are unemployed. They suffer an unfair, difficult plight. This is traceable to deep-rooted unfair treatment of people with disabilities by employers and by the Government itself. These findings show that there is a pressing need for the Government to act quickly, aggressively and decisively to help substantially increase the number of employed people with disabilities.
The Report found:
“…unemployment among people with disabilities remains far too high, while misconceptions over potential workplace accommodations are common among employers and the current structure of many government support programs discourages this group from working.”
The Report also found:
“While 41 per cent of Ontario’s adults with disabilities have a post-secondary education – compared to 53 per cent in the general population – the unemployment rate among people with disabilities is 16 per cent, compared to 7.6 per cent for people without disabilities. And people with disabilities who are working earn on average $31,000 a year, compared to $44,000 for those without disabilities.”
Later the Report found:
“it is an unacceptable failure of our commitment to human rights for people with disabilities to be so underrepresented in our Ontario labour markets.”
The Report made this damning finding about past and current Government efforts to address unemployment of people with disabilities:
“…previous strategies have not worked…”
The Report found that its deeply troubling disability unemployment statistics understate the problem’s severity:
“Large numbers of people with disabilities have stopped looking for work because no one will hire them. In addition, there are people with physical, mental or developmental disabilities with a range of education levels that have never been considered a part of the workforce. With adequate training and ongoing support, many of these people can be productive, employed members of society.”
The Report found that a significant majority of small businesses have been quite substantially closed to people with disabilities as a place to work:
“While a disappointing 70 per cent of Canadian small business owners say they have never hired a person with a disability, 75 per cent of Ontario small- and medium-sized enterprises who have employees with disabilities report that they meet or exceed their expectations.”
The Report made findings about pervasive erroneous and unfair attitudes toward employees with disabilities among many in the small business community:
“While some small businesses and organizations in all sectors do hire qualified workers with disabilities, we know there remains an assumption on the part of the majority of small business owners that employees with disabilities have higher absenteeism and lower retention rates, lower performance levels and are expensive to accommodate.
But the assumption doesn’t hold up against the hard evidence, as many of the world’s largest multinationals have already discovered. It’s quite the contrary, in fact.”
The Report found that as a result, people with disabilities in greater percentages have to suffer from a life of poverty:
“A much higher level of unemployment among working age people with disabilities contributes to this group being twice as likely as other Canadians to live below the poverty line. Unemployed Ontarians with disabilities and no additional source of income receive ODSP support which in major urban centres frequently relegates them to subsistence living.”
The Report concluded that combatting disability unemployment is an effective way to combat poverty in Ontario:
“Expanding opportunities of employment for people with disabilities, whether physical, mental or developmental, while ensuring the existence of support systems to help them remain in the workforce will provide government with a powerful tool to reduce poverty in Ontario.”
2. Society Significantly Benefits by Increasing the employment of People with Disabilities
The Report found that the high disability unemployment rate seriously hurts our economy. Businesses, which complaint of difficulties finding workers, miss out on their economic contribution. The public must pay for social assistance for unemployed people with disabilities. Thus, the status quo is a lose, lose situation.
The Report made strong findings about the great capacity of people with disabilities in the workplace if given the chance. Accommodating a disability in the workplace rarely costs much if anything:
“Most people with disabilities can be easily accommodated in the workplace.”
Later the Report found:
“As for accommodations, which are defined as reasonable adjustments to a job or work environment, 57 per cent of accommodations needed by employees cost absolutely nothing, while 36 per cent require an accommodation with a one-time cost of $500 on average, according to the US Job Accommodation Network. And the most common accommodations are modified or reduced hours and job redesign.”
Yet the Report made a troubling finding that businesses often don’t know how easy it is to accommodate employees with disabilities. The Report found:
“70 per cent of businesses report having no idea how much accommodation really costs – $10,000 their best guess on how much it costs to accommodate an employee with a disability”
3. The Ontario Government is a Significant Cause of the Disability Unemployment Problem
Regarding the Ontario Government, the Report made a blistering finding that the “Government is failing people with disabilities.”
It found that Government programs and policies are responsible for impeding the employment of people with disabilities:
“The Ontario Disability Support Program can act as a disincentive as portions of the income people with disabilities earn is clawed back once earnings exceed a certain threshold. It’s also focused on supply – finding people with disabilities jobs, any jobs – rather than demand – preparing them to fill a need in the labour force.”
The Report also found:
“…experience from employers indicates there are significant barriers to employment supported through government policies.”
Making this situation worse, the Report echoed serious concerns we have repeatedly addressed to the Ontario Government, and which the 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review verified:
“The requirements of the AODA, which is designed to make Ontario accessible to everyone by 2025, are confusing and poorly understood by many employers, particularly small enterprises, and enforcing compliance has been an uphill battle. By December 2014, a shocking 62 per cent of companies in Ontario had failed to file a compliance report. Yet, accessibility is fundamental to harnessing both the talents and spending power of people with disabilities.”
Echoing a concern we have raised for at least half a decade regarding disability accessibility concerns more generally, the Report also in effect found that the Ontario Government is ill-equipped to deal with the employment needs of people with disabilities, as it now is structured.
“The Ontario government has strong leadership for women, children, youth, seniors, Aboriginals and Francophones, but no visible leadership for people with disabilities and no broad action beyond physical accessibility.
For example, the senior and Aboriginal communities have dedicated Cabinet Ministers. And children & youth, Aboriginals and Francophones have dedicated Deputy Ministers. Yet the largest minority group in the province does not have direct representation.”
According to the Report, the Government must “…commit to restructuring many of the approaches used to help people with disabilities enter and remain in the workforce.”
4. Short Term Tax Cuts or Financial Incentives are No Long Term Solution
In a fundamentally important conclusion, the Report categorically found that short term tax cuts or financial incentives for businesses to hire people with disabilities is not a long term solution:
“Businesses are not so simple that a short term tax cut or refund incentive will create a lasting behaviour change.”
5. The Report Found Deficiencies in Ontario’s Education System for Students with Disabilities that Support the AODA Alliance’s Call for the Government to Create an AODA Education Accessibility Standard
The Report made strong findings showing that Ontario’s education system systemically under-serves students with disabilities. These findings serve to significantly support the AODA Alliance’s five-year-old call for the Government to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA (although the Report did not refer to an Education Accessibility Standard as such). To date, the Government has not agreed to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA.
The Report found that significant problems with the way Ontario’s education system treats students with disabilities is a real contributing cause of significant disability unemployment.
“Children with disabilities within the education system are too often isolated from their peers, and are prevented from early opportunities to interact with the working world through activities such as co-op work placement.
This omission from aspects of everyday life impedes their normal social development and reinforces to society at large that people with disabilities are different.
For people with disabilities from youth through to adulthood we are too frequently a culture of exclusion rather than one of inclusion. “
III. Analysis of the Partnership Council Initial Report Recommendations
With only a very few but important reservations (set out below), the AODA Alliance endorses the Report’s recommendations as good ideas worthy of action. However, the Partnership Council’s recommendations which we endorse are not the only actions needed to be effective at significantly increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
All the Report’s recommendations, even if immediately and fully implemented, will take considerable time to produce real results for unemployed people with disabilities. Moreover, even if all of those recommendations were implemented, they would not ensure that workplaces in Ontario would ever become fully accessible to and barrier-free for employees and job applicants with disabilities.
Unemployed people with disabilities cannot wait any longer for action. Because three years have passed since Premier Wynne’s first Throne Speech promised on February 19, 2013 that employment for people with disabilities would be a priority for her Government, strong Government action is long overdue to generate a significant increase in employment opportunities for unemployed people with disabilities. This must go much further than actions the Government announced on June 3, 2015 and beyond the additional actions which the Partnership Council’s initial Report recommends.
2. The Government Must Create Strong Strategic Leadership, Appoint a Cabinet Minister and Dedicated Deputy Minister
The Report recommended specific Government action to ensure consistent, coherent, non-contradictory policies and actions on employment for people with disabilities. This includes appointing a dedicated cabinet minister and deputy minister for that purpose. The Report at points uses language that includes government jargon. It recommends:
“The Ontario government needs to establish the same visible leadership for people with disabilities at the most senior levels in formal and informal discussions and debates within government, and to be a constant advocate for this community. Policies for people with disabilities span all ministries and require relentless support.
The Partnership Council urges the government to take a leadership role by appointing a Cabinet Minister with a clear mandate in their title that will provide the necessary leadership over the coming years. The Council also recommends that the Minister be supported through a dedicated Deputy Minister who will ensure a coordinated effort across all government ministries. There is an urgent need to establish this leadership and ensure that Ontario continues to lead in the evolution of a truly inclusive culture.
Authority within this role needs to cross all Ministry and branch jurisdictions. It must prioritize employment and make specific recommendations that set funding and policy directions and guidelines that support this priority. Government funding of services for people with disabilities must move away from older segregated day programs i.e., sheltered workshops – that build lifelong dependency in favour of employment-related services and supports.
To emphasize the urgent need for this level of leadership, it is noted that the government recently made a major announcement regarding $55 million in funding for youth apprenticeship programs without taking the opportunity to highlight support for youth with disabilities that could be included in the program.
We would encourage this focused leadership to put the following actions early on in their agenda:
Through consultations with stakeholders including employers, advocacy organizations and people with disabilities, develop a strategic plan for people with disabilities to be actively engaged in the workforce and in society. A plan that drives progressive policies that become enshrined in legislation as appropriate. The primary strategic focus should be on children and youth to better prepare the next generation, and to ensure effective inclusion from a young age.
Align the existing policy conflicts between and within ministries (e.g., various marginalized groups compete against each other based on who funds what), ensuring they support execution of the strategic plan.
Collaboration to align over time the many areas of policy conflict between the federal and provincial (e.g., wage subsidies, accessibility and inclusion).
Partner with corporate leaders to champion the hiring of candidates with disabilities, and ensure a strong understanding within government of the opportunities, challenges and barriers facing people with disabilities.
Work with municipalities, employment service providers and other key stakeholders to develop provincial standards and best practices for providing employment services, particularly for those with disabilities who are in receipt of ODSP income support.
In consultation, develop a strategy to engage the broader public sector to adopt a proactive approach to hiring people with disabilities and ensure policies and procedures align with provincial initiatives designed to promote cultural change.”
This reflects a strong Partnership Council finding that the Wynne Government that appointed it, and sought its advice, is not showing the needed leadership on disability employment. The Government does not have someone in charge who is making sure that things improve for unemployed people with disabilities. We have advocated to the Government for this for over five years, on the broader agenda of ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities to Ontario generally, and not just the accessibility of employment for people with disabilities. To date, we have had no success.
Further buttressing this Partnership Council recommendation, two Independent Reviews of the AODA, each appointed by the Government, have strongly recommended to the Government that it needs to show strong new leadership on disability accessibility generally. Those were the2010 report of the Charles Beer AODA Independent Review and the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review. Both Independent Reviews recommended that the Government appoint a dedicated cabinet minister and deputy minister to spearhead Government action on accessibility.
The AODA Alliance was the original source of those Independent Review recommendations.
The AODA Alliance has strongly endorsed those recommendations. The Government has never implemented them, or given a reason for its not doing so. To the contrary, when the 2010 Charles Beer AODA Independent Review called for strong new leadership within the Ontario Government on accessibility, the Ontario Government responded by simply claiming in August 2010 that it was already showing “substantial leadership” on accessibility.
The Ontario Government’s response to the 2010 Charles Beer AODA Independent Revie. The 2010 and 2014 AODA Independent Reviews and the Partnership Council’s Initial Report show that August 10, 2010 Government claim to be inaccurate.
The most recent AODA Independent Review, conducted by Prof. Mayo Moran, pointed directly to the Premier’s office. It emphasized that the Ontario Premier must show new leadership on accessibility (not limited to disability employment), to overcome the isolated, uncoordinated silos in which the Government had left accessibility issues to languish for the past decade.
In Premier Wynne’s first Throne Speech on February 19, 2013, she signaled that her Government would give employment generally a strong new priority by designating a minister responsible for employment. That role was assigned to the Economic Development Minister. Yet, with the experience of the ensuing three years, Ontario’s having had a Minister of Economic Development who is also the Minister of Employment, has not made a real difference for unemployed people with disabilities. Otherwise, the Partnership Council would not have recommended in its Initial Report last May the designation of a new minister with responsibility for disability employment.
3. The Ontario Government Should Become a Role Model – Leading by Example Through Employment of People with Disabilities in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) and the Broader Public Sector and Procuring Services, Providing Grants or Financing to Organizations with a Strong Orientation Toward Supporting Employment of People with Disabilities.
The Partnership Council’s Initial Report recommended that the Ontario Government lead by example on employment of people with disabilities. This recommendation requires a closer look.
Of course, we support any effort to improve the employment of people with disabilities within the Ontario Public Service and the broader public sector. However, we strongly oppose any policy or position that would require that the Ontario Government must first make demonstrable progress on employment of people with disabilities within its own house before the Government takes strong, effective and prompt action to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the private sector or the broader public sector. The Government has taken that erroneous approach in certain other contexts under the AODA, including when setting compliance time lines for the 2011 employment accessibility provisions of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.
We do not read the Partnership Council as urging such an erroneous approach here. We also do not read the Ontario Government’s June 3, 2015 announcement regarding employment of people with disabilities as taking such a problematic position. We want to ensure that in the future, the Government never takes such an erroneous approach to employment of people with disabilities.
We have shown in the past that on accessibility generally (not limited to employment for people with disabilities), the Government has claimed to be leading by example, but has too often been leading by a very poor example. No others should follow that example. Part 10 of the AODA Alliance’s June 30, 2014 brief to the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review amply documents this.
The Government has boasted in the past that the Ontario Public service has won some sort of award or awards as an employer. If so, no one granting such awards has ever sought feedback from the AODA Alliance. Had our feedback been sought, we would have pointed to examples where the Government has taken deeply troubling measures, such as unlawfully abolishing its own Employment Accommodation Fund for Ontario Public Servants with Disabilities. Only when we learned of that action and objected to it did the Government back down and restore that Fund, a Fund required by section 8(5) of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001.
We especially support the Partnership Council’s Initial Report’s recommendation as follows:
“When government procures services, provides grants and supports business financing, there should be a positive preference to engage organizations that support the employment of people with disabilities.”
We have a great deal of experience advocating to strengthen Ontario Government procurement practices from an accessibility perspective. We emphasize that this must go much further than requiring companies, selling their goods or services to the Government, to simply undertake to obey the AODA. Those companies already must obey the AODA. The Government must set the procurement bar much higher than that, as an incentive to ensure that those receiving public funds when doing business with the Government do much more to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Specifically, the Report recommended:
“Ensure representation of people with disabilities within its own workforce.
Give priority R&D funding to the development of innovative technologies, tools and services to support people with disabilities in the workplace and daily living.
Require vendors of record with the Ontario government and private-sector grant recipients be AODA compliant and demonstrative employers of people with disabilities.
Ensure that employment-related announcements specifically reference people with disabilities.
Challenge municipalities, regions and all provincially regulated agencies across the province to develop policies and procedures which achieve measurable outcomes resulting in greater opportunities for employment of Ontarians with disabilities.”
4. The Government Should Better Engage Youth with Disabilities
To engage youth with disabilities, the Report commendably recommended a series of new Government efforts, including:
“The development of enhanced strategies to ensure youth with disabilities gain labour market attachment at an earlier age.
The Ministry of Education ensure provincial school boards do not allow schools to opt out of co-op placements for students with disabilities, and employment should be a key focus in the Individual Education Plan (IEP) planning process.
Placement of increased effort on assisting youth with disabilities to obtain summer and after-school jobs. Current restrictions that limit employment agencies from engaging in youth employment based on the notion of “school attachment” need to be lifted.
The development of a strategy through the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities to encourage businesses to increase work placement and co-op opportunities for students with disabilities. The strategy should be flexible to adapt to regional employment variations, be developed with the direct involvement of local businesses and promoted through business channels (chambers, business improvement areas, etc.).”
5. The Government Should Heighten Business Awareness of the Value of Employing People with Disabilities
To heighten business awareness of the value of employing people with disabilities, the Report recommended that the Government should:
“Develop and launch two separate awareness campaigns, aimed at both the broader public and private sectors, with a particular focus on small businesses that are overwhelmingly responsible for new job creation.
One campaign will promote the benefits of hiring and developing people with disabilities as a means of improving bottom-line performance.
The other will focus on Ontario’s accessibility regulations and the importance of complying with them.
Ensure that all government advertising, and in particular employment-related announcements, specifically reference people with disabilities.
Have business speak to business on employing people with disabilities by supporting advocacy organizations and enlisting business associations.
Utilize the programming opportunities at TV Ontario as well as the full array of social media vehicles to raise awareness and educate the population on opportunities for people with disabilities in society and in the workplace.
Make it easier for small business to comply with the province’s accessibility requirements by improving communications tools and empowering small business support organizations to provide support where needed.”
There is value in the Government expanding its previously limited efforts to educate the private sector on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, and on employers’ duties regarding employment of people with disabilities. Two successive AODA Independent Reviews have called on the Government to substantially expand its public education efforts on disability accessibility more generally.
However, we think it is ineffective and self-defeating to make “raising awareness” a centerpiece of any new strategy in this area. It is widely recognized among many disability advocates that “raising awareness” does little for creating action. Moreover, it feeds into a wrong-headed view that we must raise awareness before we can take action regarding organizations that engage in practices that violate basic laws like the AODA or the Ontario Human Rights Code. We have found that nothing raises awareness more effectively than an effectively enforced law. We have seen no objective evidence that clever TV ads, public service announcements or inspiring speeches significantly change employers’ hiring practices regarding people with disabilities. There is an impressive and long line of inspiring speeches that have been delivered around Ontario. Yet as the Report shows, distressing levels of disability unemployment remain.
6. The Government Should Involve Employers in Planning
The Report recommended that the Government proactively involve employers in planning:
“Engage employers and their associations directly in addressing the barriers and challenges they face in hiring people with disabilities.
Designing transformational training services to ensure they are demand driven, i.e., they train for the real jobs of the 21st century, and include work environment socialization where needed.
Foster the identification, development and means of sharing effective practices across employer networks.”
These would be helpful. However they would take a long time before they take root and yield benefits on the front lines for unemployed people with disabilities.
7. The Government Should Eliminate Government-Created Barriers to Increased Employment of People with Disabilities
The Report highlighted an area where the Government is in a great position to make a substantial difference acting on its own. The Report recommended that the Government eliminate Policy Barriers that the Government itself perpetuates:
“The Ministry of Community and Social Services continues to review ODSP with a view to reorient the program so it provides clear financial incentive to get – and keep – a job. Particular emphasis should be placed on youth employment. The program’s funding of employment services should be reviewed and tied to how well it achieves the goal, focusing on job market needs and getting people with disabilities permanently into the workforce. Employment will help raise people out of poverty, reduce their dependency on social assistance and ensure they are contributing to the tax base.
Do not pursue or allow sub-minimum wage permits for workers with disabilities under any circumstances.
Help stimulate employment through a focus on supporting the sourcing of people with disabilities, accessibility in the workplace, and continued training and support of people with disabilities once in the workplace, rather than through direct wage subsidies.”
8. The Government Should Set Goals and Ensure Accountability
The Report recommended that the Government set goals and ensure accountability. The Report stated:
“Good intentions won’t change anything. In measuring the increase in the number of employees with disabilities, government needs to establish key metrics, publicly provide performance information and encourage – through open data – accessibility performance assessment across multiple sectors.”
IV. Analysis of the Government’s August 28, 2015 Backgrounder, Responding to the Partnership Council’s Report
1. The Wynne Government Announced No New Action for Unemployed People with Disabilities When It Made the Partnership Council’s Report Public and Responded to It on August 28, 2015
On August 28, 2015, when it released the Partnership Council’s Report and the Government’s Backgrounder and Minister’s statement that respond to that Report, the Wynne Government announced no new action to combat the blight of unemployment perennially plaguing far too many people with disabilities. The Government’s August 28, 2015 response to the Partnership Council’s Report reads like a carefully crafted attempt to create an impression that the Government is genuinely taking meaningful action on that Report’s recommendations. A closer look shows that the opposite was the case:
In his August 28, 2015 statement, made public along with the Initial Report, Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said: “We are pleased to receive the Council’s recommendations and are already moving forward on many of them.” That clearly suggests that the implementation of the Report’s recommendations is well underway.
Yet the Government did not specifically say on which of the Report’s recommendations it was “moving forward.” This causes us serious concern.
Moreover, the words “moving on” the Report’s recommendations are far from clear. Does it mean that the Government was accepting those recommendations and was implementing them? Or does “moving on” a recommendation simply mean that the Government is thinking about them, but may not actually implement them?
After deliberating on so short, succinct and straightforward a Report, the Government was expected to announce concrete specifics on which recommendations it will implement, and what actions it will take to do so. When the Wynne Government released the Report, it had had this Report to study for over three months. It is only 29 pages long, including its bibliography and summaries of the Council’s members. Most if not all of its contents could not have come to the Government as news.
As of now, the Government has now had that Initial Report for fully nine months. We have seen no further announcement stating which recommendations the Government is implementing.
The Government’s August 28, 2015 announcement that it is “moving forward” on many of the Report’s recommendations are regrettably quite familiar. We have heard similar words from the Government before. One year ago, on February 13, 2015, Minister Duguid made public the 2014 final report of the critically-important Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review. In his public statement on that occasion, using the same words, the Minister said: “…we are already moving forward on a number of Provost Moran’s recommendations.”
It turned out that the Government was not then “moving forward” on many of the Moran Report’s recommendations. It was instead acting in flat contradiction of some key parts of that Report. To date, the Government has failed to act on a number of that Report’s key recommendations, needed to get Ontario back on schedule for becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, a deadline which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act sets.
The Government’s August 28, 2015 Backgrounder presents the Report’s recommendations’ headlines and the Government’s corresponding actions, in a way that makes it look as if the Government was doing a lot as a direct response to the Report’s proposals. We here show on a recommendation-by-recommendation basis that such an impression would be inaccurate.
b) No Commitment of New Government Leadership on Disability Employment
The Report recommended that the Government put a full time minister and deputy minister in charge of disability employment policy. This is needed to strengthen the Government’s approach, and eliminate counterproductive and contradictory policies and programs.
The Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 covering letter to Minister Duguid (which the Government withheld from the public) emphasizes that this is a top priority for the Partnership Council:
“The most important recommendation in the attached report is for the Ontario government to address the lack of visible leadership for people with disabilities in the government. We are specifically recommending that a Cabinet Minister have a clear reference to people with disabilities in their title, and that a dedicated Deputy Minister support this Minister. The support of people with disabilities is spread across numerous ministries and other levels of government, which have conflicting policies and priorities. There is clearly a need for a more integrated and strategic approach. Without strong, focused leadership for people with disabilities, our belief is that our recommendations and those already before government will simply continue to languish in conflicting priorities and policies.”
In response, the Government’s Backgrounder has announced nothing new to implement this Partnership Council priority. Instead, its August 28, 2015 Backgrounder merely reannounced that it had moved the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario from the Community and Social Services Ministry to the Economic Development Ministry. The Backgrounder omits the important fact that that move took place fully two and a half years earlier, in February 2013. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario was not moved to that Ministry in response to the Report’s recommendations.
The Partnership Council’s Report calls for new action on this front. The Partnership Council knew that the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario had been moved in early 2013. Its recommendations were built on an implicit premise that that move alone has not solved the problem. The Government’s February 2013 decision to move the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to the Economic Development Ministry, which we applauded at the time, does not appear to have yielded any significant improvements in the Government’s approach to disability accessibility generally, or disability employment in particular.
In response to the Report’s call for new Government leadership on disability employment, the Backgrounder also points to the Government’s June 3, 2015 Accessibility Action Plan. That Plan, announced three weeks after the Government received the Partnership Council’s Report, and over two months before the Government made this Report public, incorporates almost nothing from the Report. In one key respect, it flies in the face of the Report’s recommendations. We explain this further below. Moreover, where the Government’s June 3, 2015 accessibility Action Plan proposes new Government efforts at educating the private sector on accessibility, it was manifestly evident that the Government was planning efforts in that direction well before it received the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 Report.
The Government’s impoverished response to the Partnership Council’s top priority further demonstrates the pressing need for new Government leadership on this front. As shown earlier in this Analysis, that need was convincingly revealed before the Partnership Council’s Report, by the 2010 report of the Charles Beer AODA Independent Review, and the 2014 report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review.
c) No Commitment of New Government Action To Make the Ontario Government and Broader Public Sector Become a Positive Role Model as An Employer of People with Disabilities
The Backgrounder announced nothing new responding to the Partnership Council’s Report’s recommendations clustered under the heading “Government as a Role Model- Lead by example through employment of people with disabilities in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) and the broader public sector and procuring services, providing grants or financing to organizations with a strong orientation toward supporting employment of people with disabilities.” It just reannounced measures that have been in place within the Ontario Government (and not the broader public sector) for years, namely
“The Ontario Public Service requires inclusion and accessibility to be embedded in all Human Resource policies and guidelines. It has also developed a Disability Support Strategy and the OPS Inclusion Lens — a web-based tool to make inclusion part of daily work.”
Those policies were all in place when the Partnership Council formulated its recommendations. Clearly the Partnership Council did not consider them to be sufficient. That is why it recommended new action – action to which the Government has not committed.
Moreover, the actions to which the Government’s Backgrounder points were all in place when the 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review found that there was a pressing need for the Ontario Government to take decisive new action to make accessibility become a reality within the Ontario Public Service, including in its workplaces.
In other words, the actions to which the Backgrounder points have already been twice found to be woefully insufficient. Moreover, the Government has in place no effective measures to ensure that those policies translate into real accessibility and incisiveness for employees and job applicants with disabilities within the Ontario public service.
d) No Commitment of New Action Targeted to Get Youth With Disabilities into the Workforce
The Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 covering letter to Economic Development Minister emphasizes as a key priority for the government to “…put particular focus on employment opportunities for youth with disabilities while they are in our government-funded education system.” As such, the partnership Council’s Report made a series of recommendations clustered under the heading “Engage Youth with Disabilities — Develop strategies to help more youth with disabilities enter the labour market”.
In response, the Government’s Backgrounder lists two existing initiatives that appear to have already been underway before the Government received the Partnership Council’s Report. Neither of those measures is described in the Government’s Backgrounder as specific strategies focusing on increased employment for people with disabilities. None appears to be an implementation of what the Partnership Council proposed.
Moreover, as noted earlier, the Partnership Council’s Report makes findings that serve to support the AODA Alliance’s call for the Government to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Yet despite our pressing for this for upward of half a decade, the Government still has not committed to take this step.
e) No Commitment to New Action to Heighten Business Awareness of the Benefits of Employing People with Disabilities
Responding to the cluster of the Report’s recommendations under the heading “Work to Effecting Cultural Change — Heighten business awareness of the value of employing those with disabilities,” the Government’s Backgrounder referred to actions that the Government appears to have had under development or to have decided upon before the Government received the Partnership Council’s Report. The Backgrounder lists more action here than in relation to any other of the Report’s recommendations. Yet this area, that of “raising awareness”, is the least effective of the Report’s recommendations, as discussed earlier in this Analysis.
The Government might try to trumpet its plans, announced on June 3, 2015, to launch a new public education campaign to include employment of people with disabilities. That announcement included a statement that the Government would:
“Build on the success of the 2014 marketing campaign to create public awareness campaigns focusing on raising awareness of the AODA and the Employment Standard.”
Yet this is still not underway, as far as we have heard or been told. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has attempted to get information on this from the Government by way of a Freedom of Information application. He faced Government obstruction. The Government has demanded that he pay $4,250 to answer a series of straightforward questions about the AODA and disability accessibility, including:
“22. …the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario has administered the Enabling Change program for several years.
For each year since 2008:
a) How much was budgeted for and how much was spent by the Ministry in each year on the Enabling Change program? How much is budgeted for that program in the current fiscal year?
b) In each year starting in 2008 for which this information is either already compiled or readily available, please provide a list of each Enabling Change program or grant that the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario funded to any degree, the amount of the grant, the recipient grantee of the grant, and a description of the program funded…
24. In fall 2014, the Government sponsored an advertising campaign on accessibility and compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I seek:…
e) records of any plans for any future campaign, including content, dates, and allocated or estimated budget;
f) The approved or estimated budget for the AODA advertising campaign on accessibility which the Government announced on June 3, 2015…
27. What has the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure done, and what new programs, policies or initiatives has it established, or existing ones has it modified, since May 28, 2013, to ensure that accessibility is integrated into all programs and activities at the Ministry, including, for example: …
…c) programs dealing with employment, including but not limited to that specifically aim at expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities; …
…Where possible, please advise when each new initiative or revised initiative was implemented to address disability accessibility, and when that initiative has terminated or is projected to terminate.”
The deadline for private sector employers with at least 50 employees to meet the AODA Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation’s employment accessibility requirements was reached at the end of 2015. Back in 2011, the Government gave that sector a leisurely four years to gear up to comply with those basic requirements. Those requirements are rooted in the Ontario Human Rights Code’s disability employment provisions. Those human rights provisions were enacted in 1982, a third of a century ago.
Both the 2010 Charles Beer AODA Independent Review and the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review told the Government that there was far too little knowledge in the private sector about the AODA. Over half a decade ago, the Charles Beer 2010 AODA Independent Review Report urged that the Government launch a strong new public education campaign. Yet five years later, a troubling September 14, 2015 Law Times article quoted a lawyer that represents employers in human rights cases:
“‘My sense is that most organizations with 50 to 100 employees have not heard about this regulation let alone are in a position to comply with it,’ says Doug MacLeod. …“The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is one of Ontario’s best-kept employment law secrets,” says Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm.”
f) No Commitment of New Action to Further Engage Employers in Planning for A Disability Employment Strategy
Responding to the cluster of the Partnership Council’s Report under the heading “Proactively Involve Employers in Planning…”the Government’s Backgrounder refers to actions about which we are in part unclear. The Backgrounder states:
“• Our plan to integrate employment and training services includes a business engagement strategy for accommodating people with disabilities.
• We are funding two programs run by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce that focus on employers’ needs to support workers with disabilities and to purchase assistive devices.”
It is not clear what if anything is new. The Government has been engaged with the Chamber of Commerce for several years on such accessibility initiatives. As well, in his February 26, 2015 interview on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning program, Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid announced the following, three months before he received the Partnership Council’s Report:
“So, the first thing we need to do is make businesses more aware, and we’re doing that through a number of different initiatives. There’s the advertising campaign. We also have a partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce where we’re reaching out to businesses an- and educating them on what they need to do.”
g) No Commitment to New Action to Remove Government-Created Barriers to Disability Employment
Responding to the cluster of the Partnership Council Report’s recommendations aimed at removing Government barriers to disability employment, the Government’s Backgrounder does not commit to the key actions that the Report recommends. Instead, the Government appears to vaguely refer to measures it took prior to receipt of the Report. The Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 covering letter to the Economic Development Minister emphasized as a priority that :
“…the social assistance system is in need of a fundamental overhaul.”
The Partnership Council saw it important to emphasize this even though it knew that this was outside its core mandate.
h) No Commitment to Set Goals for Increased Employment of People with Disabilities
Responding to the cluster of the Report’s recommendations under the heading “Set Goals and Ensure Accountability — Monitor the performance of the private and public sectors in increasing the number of employed people with disabilities,” the Government’s Backgrounder lists vague measures that involve no setting of goals, and that may not fulfil the Report recommendations’ key focus.
2. The Wynne Government Acted Against the Advice in the Partnership Council’s Report Without Acknowledging It or Explaining Why
Without acknowledging that it was doing so, within three weeks of receiving the Partnership Council Report, the Government in effect rejected a key finding in it. The Government announced new action that the Report advised the Government not to take.
The Report concluded that for the Government to give short term subsidies or incentives for employers to hire people with disabilities is not an effective and long term solution to the unemployment plight facing people with disabilities. Despite this, on June 3, 2015 the Government announced a new program (not started as of yet, as far as we have seen) to provide incentives for some employers who hire some people with disabilities. It aims to generate up to 1,100 new jobs for people with disabilities. The Government’s June 3, 2015 announcement included:
“The Ontario Community Loans Program will give small- and medium-sized business owners discounted rates on financial products, such as loans, when they commit to hiring people facing barriers to employment — including people with disabilities. Under the program, the interest rate will decrease for each person hired and retained for the required period of time. The Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure will partner with leading Canadian financial institutions to deliver this first of its kind pilot program, modelled on the pioneering work of Social Capital Partners.
“I know this pilot program will result in a win-win scenario, with disadvantaged job seekers finding opportunities for meaningful employment and small businesses gaining access to attractive financing terms and motivated employees,” says Bill Young, founder of Social Capital Partners. The pilot program aims to support up to 500 small businesses in creating up to 1,100 new employment opportunities.”
When the Government announced this new program on June 3, 2015, it deliberately withheld from the public the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 Report. Therefore we and the public had no idea that the Government was acting directly contrary to the advice of the very panel of experts that it had appointed to advise it on increasing employment of people with disabilities. We would have reacted differently to the Government’s June 3, 2015 announcement of its disability employment strategy had we been privy to the Partnership Council’s advice which the Government was rejecting and concealing.
3. Years of Government Delay and Inaction On Poverty and Hardship Facing Unemployed Ontarians with Disabilities
When the Government’s August 28, 2015 response to the Partnership Council’s Report is viewed in light of the Government’s conduct over the past three years, it appears that the Government’s strategy is predominantly one of delay and inaction.
We commended Premier Kathleen Wynne’s first Throne Speech, on February 19, 2013. It set increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities as a new Government priority. However, after that, the Government did nothing about this for months.
A glimmer of hope came on May 28, 2013, three months after that Throne Speech. Eric Hoskins, then the Minister responsible for Economic Development and Employment (including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) made a statement in the Legislature to mark National Access Awareness Week. He said:
“Talk is important, but it will only get us so far. We need action. So I have instructed my ministry to develop a strategy for accessible and inclusive employment so that we can all work together to improve the participation rate of Ontarians with disabilities in the workforce.”
No Government disability employment action plan was to emerge for another two years. In February 2014, nine months after that announcement, and a full year after the Government’s February 2013 disability employment Throne Speech commitment, we were tipped off that the Government was then recruiting an advisory council to make recommendations on what the Government should do to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities (the future Partnership Council). We were concerned because it appeared that the Government was going to ask this council to re-invent the wheel. Moreover, governments often appoint such councils as a stall tactic.
The February 7, 2014 Toronto Star revealed the Government’s plans, and reported on our criticism that this was just a formula for delay. Our February 7, 2015 AODA Alliance Update showed that the Government had ample past committee advice and specialists reports to draw upon, to act right away to develop an action plan to increase disability employment.
Reinforcing our concern, the February 10, 2015 Toronto Star ran an editorial that concluded:
“This is one area where the Wynne government shouldn’t have to strike yet another panel for discussion and debate. Some of the solutions seem obvious. What’s needed are a few basic changes to help people to thrive.”
We were then also very concerned that the Government was giving the Partnership Council too long to come up with advice for the Government. The Government then indicated that the Partnership Council was to complete its report by the end of 2014. As it turns out, the Council did not submit its Initial Report until May 11, 2015. The council is expected to carry on into the future, with no defined end in sight. We mean no criticism of the Partnership Council members, but rather, of the Government which has created this protracted delay. The Partnership Council is made up of dedicated volunteers who have to squeeze this unpaid work among their other responsibilities.
When we first learned about the Partnership Council’s recruitment, we urged a more practical approach. Our February 7, 2014 AODA Alliance Update proposed:
“1. First and foremost, the Ontario Government should immediately effectively enforce and make full use of the employment accessibility requirements of the Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation that it enacted in June 2011.
For example, section 4 of that regulation directs that by January 1, 2014, private organizations in Ontario with at least 50 employees are required to establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan. It must outline the organization’s strategy to prevent and remove barriers and meet its requirements under that Regulation. This includes reviewing and addressing barriers to employment in the workplace.
2. The Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment should quickly assemble a list of options for a disability employment strategy, drawn from the Government’s own past and present programs, and from the programs and ideas that others have accumulated. The internet makes this very quick and easy to do. The Government should immediately make this list public.
3. If the Government wishes to informally bring together a group of disability advocates and private sector leaders to discuss action options to expand disability employment, it should hold that meeting within the next four weeks.
No fancy and formal “council” is needed, with all the attending bureaucracy and cost. The attendees should be given in advance the list of action options from Ontario and around the world that the Ministry has discovered.
4. That informal group should take one or two days to brainstorm its own ideas and offer members’ reactions to the list of action options that the Ministry has accumulated. The group should not be bogged down with voting on any of the options, but just offer individual feedback.
5. The Government should then review this feedback and announce and implement its action plan within four weeks of that meeting.”
A review of the Partnership Council’s Report shows that we were right. Analysis in that Report was largely based on studies that were readily available to the Government. The Government did not need to undergo the cost and delays of recruiting a panel of volunteers, working on this project for over a year at no pay, to pull that research together.
4. Even More Government Delay Before Making the Partnership Council’s Report Public is Just More Foot-dragging
The Government’s delay of three months before it released the Partnership Council’s Report on August 28, 2015 was entirely unjustified. Once again, the Government acted contrary to the Partnership Council’s advice. In its May 11, 2015 letter to Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, the Partnership Council urged the Government to make its Initial Report public as soon as possible. The Partnership Council’s covering letter (which the Government had withheld from the public when it released the Partnership Council’s Initial Report, stated:
“We produced our Initial Report at this time to encourage action now and hope that it can be shared publically as soon as possible.”
The Government has not announced any timetable for responding to the Report. It appears that this three month delay in releasing the Report has been used for the Government to figure out how to “message” or “spin” the Report and the Government’s inaction on its recommendations. As shown above, the Government has announced no new action on disability employment when it released the Report to the public on august 28, 2015.
That the Government was trying to favourably spin its failure to implement the Report is further shown by the fact that the Government opted not to release or identify the existence of the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 covering letter, submitted along with that Report. Customarily the Government makes public a covering letter received with a formal report such as this. We sought that covering letter after the August 28, 2015 disclosure of the Report itself. That is how we are bringing it to public light.
In addition to calling for the Government to promptly release the Report, the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 covering letter to Minister Duguid emphasized the importance of the Government appointing a minister and deputy minister to lead government-wide disability employment efforts, of targeting new efforts aimed at employment of youth with disabilities, and of tackling Government-created barriers to disability employment. The Government’s inaction on all of these priorities is especially stark when contrasted with the Council’s letter. Moreover, that letter proclaimed the vital importance of the Government acting “now” on disability employment. The Council wrote:
“We cannot stress enough the need for the Ontario government to take strong aggressive action, now!”
V. Conclusion – A Harmful Legacy of Protracted Government Delay and Insufficient Action
The Government’s years of delay in implementing action to increase employment for people with disabilities in Ontario is part of a troubling bigger picture. It has shown a pattern of delay and insufficient action, particularly since mid-2011, on its overall implementation and enforcement of the AODA.
The Government has thereby has inflicted significant avoidable costs on all Ontarians, while having left too many people with disabilities to languish in poverty. From the Partnership Council’s Report, the only conclusion is that every day that the Ontario Government fails to act racks up more suffering for those individuals, and costs Ontario more money.
The Government’s June 3, 2015 announcement of modest new efforts to increase disability employment were credited as commendable at the time. however, the absence of any visible action to implement them in the intervening months, the quarter of a decade of inaction preceding them, and the later revelation that part of that announcement was made despite the Partnership Council’s advice to the contrary, all point to the need for the Government to now swiftly implement the Partnership Council’s recommendations that we commend in this Analysis. The Government needs to show strong new leadership and immediately implement action that will produce prompt results for unemployed people with disabilities. On its present course, unemployment for people with disabilities will continue to be, as the Economic Development Minister’s Special Advisor David Onley said, not just a national crisis, but a national shame.