June 6, 2017
We are delighted that the AODA Alliance’s appraisal of the Wynne Government’s June 5, 2017 announcement of its “Disability Employment Strategy” quickly secured great media attention. This included:
* leading in June 6, 2017’s Toronto Star report on this issue, set out below.
* also appearing in the Globe and Mail’s online article on this announcement, written by Canadian Press’s Michelle McQuigge, set out below. The version of this article in the June 6, 2017 print version of this article regrettably cut the reference to our response to the Wynne Government’s announcement.
* CKTB Radio’s June 5, 2017 edition of the Larry Frederick Show included an interview with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, highlighting our response to the Government’s announcement.
Emerging from the news articles, set out below, you will find among other things:
* The Government does not specify how much money in total it has allocated to implement the June 5, 2017 Disability Employment Strategy. To us, this is a further indication of how preliminary or half-baked this Strategy is, even after four years and four months in the making. The Globe article, set out below, reported:
“The government provided few figures on the costs of its initiatives, only saying it budgeted $1 million for public education related to the new strategy and an additional $2 million for employment supports under the ODSP.”
* The Strategy focuses on the 56,000 private sector organizations that have at least 20 employees, and on getting each to hire one employee with a disability. This leaves out the overwhelming majority of the private sector, the hundreds of thousands of private-sector organizations with fewer than 20 employees. It is often said that small business is the key job-creator in our economy. The Government’s own Partnership Council had confirmed that the cost of accommodating employees with disabilities in the workplace is typically very low, there is no reason to have so narrow a focus in this Disability Employment Strategy.
Commendably, Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles also urged private sector organizations with under 20 employees to act in her interview with Canadian press. Nevertheless, the Disability Employment strategy focuses on the limited percentage of the private sector with at least 20 employees. The Globe article, set out below, reports:
“Businesses with fewer than 20 employees may find it more difficult to comply with the government’s request, MacCharles said, but all companies should step up to tap into an overlooked talent pool of well-educated, highly motivated workers.”
* We are concerned about a reported claim that taking action under this Strategy to ensure accessible employment for qualified workers with disabilities is a “complex” issue which should “scare the crap” out of the Government. This statement is attributed to Rich Donavan. The Government has appointed him as the chair of its Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and of its Information and Communications Standards Development Committee. The Globe article, set out below, reports:
“Rich Donovan, CEO of business research group Return on Disability, praised the government for a sweeping vision and enlisting three ministries to bring it to fruition. But he said the government will soon realize that words are not enough when dealing with an issue as complex as accessible employment.
“It’s a happy day because of the announcement, but when you start to assess what has to happen next, that should scare the crap out of you,” Donovan said.”
Assuming the quote is accurate, and after this issue being in the works for four years and four months, and after study after study on point here and elsewhere. It is not so complex. It should not “scare the crap” out of anyone, either in Government or the private sector. If it does, it would be symptomatic of a bigger problem within Government.
To read the Wynne Government’s June 5, 2017 Disability Employment strategy.
To read the AODA Alliance’s June 5, 2017 news release on the Wynne Government’s Disability Employment Strategy.
For a chronology of the Wynne Government’s foot-dragging on the issue of disability employment since it made its February 19, 2013 announcement of this priority.
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Toronto Star June 6, 2017
Plan for workforce accessibility lacks specifics; Critics call for ‘immediate, practical action’ to empower Ontarians with disabilities
The province’s new strategy to address the high unemployment rate among Ontarians with disabilities was panned by advocates who said it lacks specifics and will take “months if not years” to have an impact.
David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance, said the announcement comes more than four years after the government promised action and “it includes some good general ideas, but not enough specifics or timelines for results.
“It too often re-announces things government had said it was already doing, and the risk of months of more delay. After years of waiting, what we need instead is a plan to hit the ground running now, with immediate, practical action that will quickly help get jobs for far too many unemployed and underemployed Ontarians with disabilities.”
Tracy MacCharles, the minister responsible for accessibility, told the Star in an interview that the strategy will particularly focus on helping students and youth better plan and prepare for employment, as well as try to connect employers with potential workers.
“What we are focused on in this strategic announcement . . . is to take a number of actions to break down barriers for people with disabilities,” she said, adding that “throughout all of these efforts, we hope to make it easier for employers to tap into that untapped pool” of talent.
In Ontario, almost two million people have a disability, and the unemployment rate is much higher than that of the general population, at about 16 per cent, compared to less than 6 per cent provincially.
The government’s “Access Talent” plan includes providing personalized support for youth, including planning for post-secondary as well as help moving into the workforce, MacCharles said.
It will also help post-secondary institutions provide better services to students, especially those on the autism spectrum.
The government will also urge its ministries to work with companies that have a good track record of hiring Ontarians with disabilities. The premier has previously urged companies with more than 20 employees to hire at least one more person with a disability, to create some 56,000 jobs.
From boosting awareness to changing attitudes, “the government needs to be a leader in all of this,” MacCharles said.
So far, the government says that $1 million will be spent in the public education system on the strategy and $2 million to help with the new “supported employment program.”
Ontario was the first in Canada to enact legislation pledging that by 2025, all businesses will be accessible.
Globe and Mail Online June 5, 2017
Ontario unveils employment strategy for people with disabilities
TORONTO — The Canadian Press
Published Monday, Jun. 05, 2017 4:05PM EDT
Ontario businesses with at least 20 employees should do their part to tackle unemployment rates among the disabled community by committing to hire at least one person from that demographic group, the provincial government said Monday.
A long-awaited, four-pronged employment strategy for people with disabilities also promised to create opportunities for disabled youth to get job experience, roll out a supported employment pilot project and have the province work harder to lead by example as a barrier-free employer for disabled workers.
Ontario’s disability advocacy community said it’s reserving judgment on whether the strategy will live up to its own expectations and bring about material change for the people it’s supposed to help.
Rich Donovan, CEO of business research group Return on Disability, praised the government for a sweeping vision and enlisting three ministries to bring it to fruition. But he said the government will soon realize that words are not enough when dealing with an issue as complex as accessible employment.
“It’s a happy day because of the announcement, but when you start to assess what has to happen next, that should scare the crap out of you,” Donovan said.
The province’s call for action comes as it tries to tackle stubbornly high unemployment rates among people with disabilities, which Statistics Canada figures show are at least twice the national and provincial levels at all age groups.
The government’s plea for more businesses to hire disabled staff is neither binding nor enforceable, but Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles said it could create 56,000 new jobs and reduce the number of unemployed Ontarians with a disability by 30 per cent if heeded.
MacCharles said Ontario must address the needs of a growing population — the provincial and federal governments currently estimate one in seven people has a disability and expect the number will rise as the population continues to age.
Businesses with fewer than 20 employees may find it more difficult to comply with the government’s request, MacCharles said, but all companies should step up to tap into an overlooked talent pool of well-educated, highly motivated workers.
“It’s a call for action … because it’s good business,” she said in an interview. “We want to challenge employers to work through any barriers they have, whether it is how to find people with disabilities or systemic barriers they have, and tap into that untapped labour pool.”
MacCharles said the government is launching a new online hub to make it easier for employers to get on board.
She said the platform will help connect businesses with people with disabilities, but offered few other details. The government is also creating the Employers Partnership Table — a working group of business leaders who will share best practices with the government.
The focus on business is one part of the employment strategy, which the Ontario Liberals first promised to develop in 2013.
Another major component is the need to start creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities at a young age. Like adults, disabled youth are currently twice as likely to be unemployed as their able-bodied peers, the government said.
The strategy promises to build an employment component into the Ontario Disability Support Program, the province’s primary social assistance offering for the demographic. It said a new case management approach for youth in the program will help identify job goals and make plans to attain them.
The government also promised to support job-related learning experiences for students and help with the transition from school to the workforce.
Students with autism spectrum disorders will be particular targets of the government’s early transition efforts. The strategy did not offer details on how the programs would look.
The third piece of the employment strategy involves integrating and co-ordinating employment services, MacCharles said, adding that a shift toward a supported employment approach is part of that picture.
A supported employment program would offer a range of services for employers and employees alike, featuring everything from job-readiness training to on-the-job coaching services and financial support for adaptive technology.
MacCharles said the government will run a pilot project in 2018 by testing the program in three Ontario communities, Timmins, Belleville and Cornwall. If successful, she said the program could expand provincewide.
The fourth component involves the government itself taking a more proactive role in hiring people with disabilities, who currently comprise 12 per cent of the public services workforce.
The government provided few figures on the costs of its initiatives, only saying it budgeted $1 million for public education related to the new strategy and an additional $2 million for employment supports under the ODSP.
“I’m confident that the areas of focus are the right ones to help raise the importance of creating inclusive environments and increasing that persistently low employment rate for persons with disabilities,” MacCharles said.
Advocates largely agreed, but could only take their optimism so far in the absence of a more detailed plan.
“At this point I’m not clear what the entire strategy is,” said Peter Athanasopoulos, senior manager of government relations with Spinal Cord Injury Ontario. “I just know that there’s four pillars, and they sound like the right pillars. So what does that mean overall for Ontarians seeking employment?”
Activist David Lepofsky of the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance offered modest praise for the government’s efforts to reach out to youth, but criticized the long delay in announcing the strategy and called for more concrete details.
“Unemployed Ontarians with disabilities better not be holding their breath before they see concrete action and more jobs,” he said.