Today’s Wynne Government Disability Employment Strategy Offers Too Little Immediate Concrete Action and More Delays for Unemployed Ontarians with Disabilities, After More Than Four Years Since the Government Promised Action

June 5, 2017


June 5, 2017 Toronto: The Wynne Government’s Disability Employment Strategy, unveiled this afternoon, will do little for months, if not  years, to combat high levels of unemployment facing Ontarians with disabilities. In 2015, David Onley (Ontario’s former Lieutenant Governor and now the Wynne Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility) declared that the unemployment rate facing people with disabilities in Canada is not only a national crisis, it’s a national shame.

“Fully four and a third years in the making, what the Wynne Government today announced to tackle high unemployment disability rates, is mainly high-level long-term concepts. 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 under-employed Ontarians with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance that spearheads the campaign to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.

“Premier Wynne committed to action way back in her first Throne Speech on February 19, 2013. It took her Government over a year after that just to set up an advisory Partnership Council. It took another year after that Council’s April 2016 final report to make today’s announcement.”

The Government today announces yet another new advisory council, a public education program that the Government previously said it was already doing, and months of more deliberations. The Government’s announcement also has some good high-level ideas. However, unemployed Ontarians with disabilities better not be holding their breath before they see concrete action and more jobs.

It’s helpful that the Government wants to focus in part on youth with disabilities, and that it implicitly acknowledges the need for internal Government bureaucratic reforms to employment services for people with disabilities.

However, problems in these areas and good ideas for front-line action have been well known for decades. The Wynne Government said it was consulting youth on these issues in its youth roundtables two ministers ago. It has taken the Government over two years to act on ideas its own advisory Partnership Council recommended over in May 2015 – recommendations the Government had said it was already moving on, back  in August 2015.

Some of this announcement wraps up last year’s old shoes as this year’s new birthday present. The Government’s proposal to educate employers on the benefits of employing people with disabilities is something that minister after minister has announced for years. The Government has for years held out the Ontario Public Service as a model employer, leading others by its example. That had disregarded the Government’s own internal accessibility shortcomings, highlighted two and a half years ago, in a Government-appointed independent review of the AODA, made public on February 13, 2015. The 2014 Moran Report stated:

“The disability community believes that the Government of Ontario has not succeeded in embedding accessibility into its internal operations.”

“It’s regrettable that the Wynne Government did not consult us on this Disability Employment strategy, despite our repeated offers,” said Lepofsky. “This announcement could have been far more beneficial for people with disabilities if the Wynne Government had talked to us about what it should include, as we offered.”

Below the AODA Alliance sets out the Government’s key points, and a detailed response to them.

We commend Minister MacCharles for at least getting something announced, but urge that concrete new action should swiftly follow. The AODA Alliance calls for the Wynne Government to take these actions:

1.         The Government should direct senior Government officials to now hold swift face-to-face consultations on concrete action on disability employment now, not limited by the contents of its June 5, 2017 high-level Disability Employment strategy. The Government should now commit to announcing a plan for immediate action on disability unemployment no later than September 1, 2017, with implementation to be completed by the end of this year. Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles should be assigned the full lead on this, with strong authority to break log-jams that typically plague inter-ministerial projects.

2.         The Wynne Government should commit to introducing a bill into the Legislature on the first day of this fall’s sitting, to remove employment barriers created in Ontario Government laws and programs, such as those that the Government’s own advisory Partnership Council reminded the Government about in its initial report, delivered over two years ago, on May 11, 2015. Today’s announcement did not promise action on these Government-created employment barriers.

3.         The Wynne Government should commit to promptly restore the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Act, repealed decades ago, that gave Ontarians with disabilities a good path through job-focused education toward entering the workforce.

4.         The Wynne Government should place little reliance on educating employers and on the Ontario Government’s leading by example. Both have been tried. Neither has proven to be the solution.

5. The Government should speed up the establishment of the promised Education Standards Development Committee to make recommendations on what the promised Education Accessibility Standard should include. The Wynne Government should not impose restrictions on which accessibility barriers in Ontario’s education system that committee can examine.

Contact AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky
Twitter @DavidLepofsky

Key Points in the Wynne Government’s June 5, 2017 Disability Employment Strategy and AODA Alliance Responses to Them

* It is clear from the document released today that the Wynne Government means today’s announcement not as a final plan, but just as a first step in a longer-term process of developing a real plan:

In this document, Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles describes this announcement as “first steps.”

The document states:

“To develop a truly inclusive strategy over the long term, we will continue to collaborate with others.”

The document announces four “pillars” which it calls “strategic objectives.” The document states:

“Success in the long term will rely on sustained efforts to strengthen and connect these strategic objectives.”

Our Response:

After four years and four months since the Wynne Government committed to action on disability unemployment in its February 19, 2013 throne speech, unemployed Ontarians with disabilities need much more announced now, than just “first steps.” And “strategic objectives” that will require long term action to sustain and connect them.

* Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles states in the report’s opening:

“We have talked to people from across the private, public and non-profit sectors, and we have heard from those with a range of perspectives and lived experiences to inform these first steps.”

As quoted above, the document also states:

“To develop a truly inclusive strategy over the long term, we will continue to collaborate with others.”

Our Response:

The Ministry did not consult the AODA Alliance on what to include in this Disability Employment Strategy, despite our repeated requests for a chance to do so. As the community coalition that leads the non-partisan campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities in Ontario, its failure to consult with us on this strategy makes no sense. Our input and expertise could have substantially strengthened this document and avoided the problems we here identify.

* The document states:

“…the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about 16% – far higher than the rate for people without disabilities.”

Our Response:

If anything, the disability unemployment rate could well be much higher.

Other data that the document cites shows this is virtually triple the unemployment rate facing people without disabilities. This shows why more specific, concrete result-oriented action was needed today.

* The document states:

“Unfortunately, too many people with disabilities face barriers that prevent them from participating in the workplace. These barriers block them from enjoying the personal benefits of employment. They also limit business growth, affecting employers as well as existing and future employees. That’s why removing these barriers is a social and economic imperative that Ontario must respond to collectively.”

Our Response:

We agree. That is why it is so harmful to unemployed Ontarians with disabilities that the Wynne Government has for years done such a paltry job of enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, including the employment accessibility requirements it enacted six years ago, on June 3, 2011.

The Ontario Government has repeatedly promised to effectively enforce the AODA. Today’s announcement offers no further action to enforce the AODA, including its employment accessibility requirements. Obligated organizations have had six years to bring themselves into compliance. The Ontario Government has had six years to educate obligated organizations on those requirements.

* The document makes it appear that its goal is getting jobs for 56,000 Ontarians with disabilities.

Our Response:

Elsewhere, the document confirms that almost 1.9 million Ontarians have a disability. While any increase in employment of people with disabilities would be welcomed, 56,000 appears to be a tiny fraction of those needing help in this area.

* The document states:

“Let’s take action to get 30% more people with disabilities working in Ontario.”

Our Response:

We do not know how the Government got the 30% figure. However, even if achieved, it would not bring the unemployment rate facing people with disabilities down to anything close to that facing people without disabilities. 30% of a number that is too small yields a result that is itself also too small.

* The document states:

“First, we will empower leading employers to share the message that it is simple and beneficial to hire people with disabilities. Through an innovative Employers’ Partnership table, we will build a coalition of influential leaders that can help shift the business culture across the province.

Next, we’ll work with youth and service providers, while also leveraging the expertise of the Ontario Public Service – one of Canada’s best Diversity Employers for 10 years running.”

Our Response:

As addressed below, neither of these ideas, listed as lead measures, can be expected to have significant impact.

* The document states:

“The first pillar is:

Start early – Inspire and support youth and students with disabilities.”

The document lists these future areas of action:

“The strategy will start with:

•           encouraging post-secondary education and future planning through enhanced career exploration at earlier ages
•           piloting a person-centred case management approach in the Ontario Disability Support Program to help more young people with disabilities identify employment goals and actions
•           supporting the transition to workplaces, apprenticeships, college, or university before and after graduation from secondary school through stronger community partnerships and youth programming
•           expanding community-connected experiential learning opportunities for students in kindergarten to grade 12 and adult learners
•           helping colleges and universities support students with disabilities throughout their studies, with an early focus on students with Autism Spectrum Disorders”

Our Response:

These are helpful areas needing immediate action. However, no immediate changes are taking place under this announcement, that unemployed people with disabilities will now experience. there is no way to know how many months or years will pass before any do take place. None of these areas come as a surprise. It has been well known for years that action on all these are needed.

The Government’s emphasizing more post-secondary education for people with disabilities is commendable. Yet it won’t get far until the Wynne Government enacts a strong, effective Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tear down the many accessibility barriers that impede students with disabilities from getting a good education in school and in post-secondary programs. The Wynne Government has been dragging its feet for far too long on this. Premier Wynne announced six months ago today that the Government would create an Education Accessibility Standard, as a result of our campaigning for it. Yet six months later, the Wynne Government has been moving at a snail’s pace to act on that announcement. It has just recently announced that it was recruiting people to serve on the promised Education Standards Development Committee, the very first step towards creating an Education Accessibility Standard. It is contemplating restricting that committee from being able to consider the full range of accessibility barriers in Ontario’s education system.

* The document states:

“Ontario will be piloting a new approach to supporting the employment goals of these youth. The focus will be on providing early upfront assessment at the point of application, collaborative planning, and individualized and coordinated wrap-around services and supports to help youth on their path to employment.”

Our Response:

This could be helpful. However, this is truly a case of spending years to reinvent the wheel. The Ontario Government had this kind of support for years under the former Vocational Rehabilitation Services Act, long ago repealed. Many years ago, we urged the Ontario Government to restore that fulsome program, during its first round of work on its anti-poverty strategy.

* The document states:

“Pillar 2 – Engage – Support and encourage employers as champions and partners.

Access Talent recognizes that making workplaces accessible and educating employers is essential to increasing employment for people with disabilities.

Misconceptions and misinformation about employing people with disabilities persist in many workplaces.

That’s why we want to support leading employers as accessibility champions. We want to empower them to spread the word about how simple—and beneficial—it is to hire people with disabilities. We want to connect them to other businesses to share best practices and raise the bar on what it means to be accessible to employees and customers.

We also want to partner with a diverse range of employers to gain their insights into the needs of businesses today. This will help us develop employment supports that are tailored to both job seekers and employers, helping to address skills gaps and sector shortages, while fueling business growth and job creation.”

The document also states:

“The strategy will start with:

•           amplifying the voices of employers who are leading by example through a new Employers’ Partnership Table.
•           championing and sharing best practices to help businesses break down barriers to employment for people with disabilities
•           Enhancing Employment Ontario supports tailored to the needs of both individuals and employers
•           promoting dialogue between employers through an innovative online platform that will connect businesses, people with disabilities, and the public to share advice and lessons learned
•           increasing awareness and supporting compliance with the Accessible Employment Standard”

The document also states:

“Ontario is bringing together business and non-profit leaders from across the province to form a new Employers’ Partnership Table. This dynamic group will advise the government on innovative ways to include more people with disabilities in our workforce. It will be empowered to influence businesses and non-profits across the province through coalitions building and targeted outreach.”

Our Response:

Much of this includes actions the Government has said it has been doing, or has done before. It took the Wynne Government over a year (2013-2014) to set up an employers’ partnership council to give advice in this area, and then two years (2014-2016 for that council to render its initial and final report. Now the Government takes yet a fourth year (2016-2017) to decide to set up another partnership council to give it advice. This brings foot-dragging to a new level.

Moreover, the Government has been claiming for years that it has been treating as a lead priority its strategy of informing obligated organizations of their duties on accessibility and the economic benefits to them of hiring people with disabilities and providing accessibility for them. This largely looks like more of the same, dressed up as if it were something new.

The Government should not have taken over two years to announce these high level ideas, when its Partnership Council recommended such over two years ago, in its initial report. None of them were new ideas, even at that time.

* The document states:

“Pillar 3 – Integrate – Create seamless, person-centred employment and training services.

Both people with disabilities and employers feel frustration in the face of complex and uncoordinated employment and training services.

They want a seamless, easy-to-access system that can meet their specific needs – whether that involves skills upgrading, higher intensity employment help, or straightforward information about available jobs and candidates.

Access Talent recognizes that employment supports are more effective when they are offered through a person-centered lens – one guided by an individual’s interests and strengths. A better coordinated and more integrated system will help connect people to jobs that match their aspirations and skills.

Employers also need to be connected to a streamlined system that takes into account their business goals and staffing challenges. That’s why Ontario’s employment and training services for people with disabilities will be integrated to respond to the full spectrum of abilities and supports required by jobseekers and employers to increase opportunities for everyone involved.

The strategy will start with:

•           Working with stakeholders to gradually integrate employment and training services for people with disabilities and introduce a new Supported Employment program in Employment Ontario. This new program will create high-quality, consistent services for job seekers with disabilities who require more intensive support and provide targeted services for employers
•           tracking best practices and testing innovative new approaches in education and employment support for people with disabilities, as well as developing performance measures to track program impact
•           improving how we serve people with disabilities through better training and new resources for staff at Employment Ontario Employment Service centres, which currently serve about 12,000 people with disabilities each year
•           promoting employment in the skilled trades through enhanced apprenticeship opportunities and vocational training programs
•           encouraging entrepreneurship by increasing awareness of entrepreneurship programming”

The document also states:

“Individualized support for personal success

Ontario’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development has invested in a new action plan to help colleges and universities support students with disabilities as they move from secondary to postsecondary education. Part of this support involves helping students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to succeed at college and university.

Two pilot projects at Algonquin College in Ottawa and York University in Toronto create a transition process for students with ASD that is tailored to each person’s needs. This individualized approach identifies and addresses key issues and barriers for students as they start their postsecondary education, helping them maximize their strengths. The projects were led by Disabilities Services Office staff, and in-person supports helped students with their unique learning needs.

Nearly 90% of the students involved in the early stages of the pilot completed their first year of postsecondary study, successfully making the switch from secondary school to a future full of possibility.”

The document also states:

“Supported Employment

is an evidence-based program that will offer flexibility and choice to meet a broad range of job seeker needs, including job readiness supports, job matching, retention /on-the-job coaching services, as well as financial support for assistive devices, adaptive technologies and other workplace accommodations.

The transition to Supported Employment will be planned and introduced in phases to create consistent services that meet a range of needs. The first phase will launch in April 2018 in select communities across Ontario. We will use feedback from this first phase to plan for a full provincial rollout.

By integrating employment programs that serve people with varying support needs, job seekers with disabilities will have a clear door to employment and training services tailored to them. For employers, Supported Employment will provide better aligned services to meet their workforce needs and to create a more supportive and inclusive workplace.”

Our Response:

These measures, once actually developed and implemented in the unspecified future, can be helpful. The only time line for action is for a trial period for the first phase of these ideas, in an unspecified number of test communities, to start almost a year from now. In the longer passage above, the document states:

“The transition to Supported Employment will be planned and introduced in phases to create consistent services that meet a range of needs. The first phase will launch in April 2018 in select communities across Ontario. We will use feedback from this first phase to plan for a full provincial rollout.”

Beyond that, it is not clear when people with disabilities will actually see any of these measures in place, and how much will be new.

Nothing in this announcement commits to remove key Government –created accessibility barriers to employment that the Wynne Government’s own Partnership Council reported over two years ago as needing major reforms, in the social assistance system. Only the Government can fix this for all employers, public and private sector. In this regard, the Partnership Council’s initial report, delivered to the Wynne Government on May 1, 2015, included the following Government-created problem in the employment context, which today’s announcement does not fix:

“The Partnership Council’s focus is on creating employment for Ontarian’s with disabilities. However, experience from employers indicates there are significant barriers to employment supported through government policies. The most significant involve people supported through social assistance.”

* The document states:

“Pillar 4 – Trail blaze – Establish the Ontario government as a leading employer and change agent.

Government leadership is critical for this strategy to succeed. As a Top 100 Employer in Canada, and one of the country’s Best Diversity Employers and Top Employers for Young People, the Ontario Government is in an optimal position to counter negative attitudes and shift societal perceptions about people with disabilities. Access Talent seeks to leverage this advantage.

About 12% of the Ontario Public Service’s (OPS) employees self-identify as having a disability. We are on the right path, but we want to do even better.

The OPS’s progressive policies and diverse workforce position it to lead others in building more inclusive workplaces.

Another way the OPS can be a change agent is through strategic government spending and procurement. The government spends billions of dollars in goods and services each year. This significant purchasing power can be leveraged to generate greater social impact and promote the employment of people with disabilities.

The Government of Ontario will lead by example as an employer, taking a proactive role in shifting the culture, attitudes and perceptions of employers and the general public. It will also adopt innovative policies that build inclusion into all aspects of its operations.

The strategy will start with:

•           raising awareness and changing attitudes through public education and outreach targeted to employers, service providers, educators, healthcare professionals, and the general public
•           extending the government’s track record in supporting employees with disabilities through an OPS-specific campaign that reinforces the government’s expectations as an employer of choice
•           leveraging the OPS procurement framework to encourage more ministries to contract with vendors that employ under-represented groups, including people with disabilities
•           analyzing best practices within the OPS and sharing lessons learned across government and throughout the private and not-for-profit sectors
•           building on the OPS’s commitment to foster a workplace culture that promotes psychological health and safety and reduces stigma by breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes of mental health.”

Our Response:

This announces nothing new. It too often flies in the face of the reality within the Ontario Public Service.

the Ontario Government has a long, long way to go before it can lead anyone by example in this area. For example, the Ontario Public Service lags behind on such key areas as ensuring digital accessibility within its workplaces.

The Government has claimed for years that the Ontario Public Service and the Ontario Government is already leading by example. Yet the AODA Alliance has emphasized for years that too often, the Ontario Government leads by the wrong example on accessibility. The 2014 final report of the Government-appointed Mayo Moran Independent Review of the AODA emphasized the need for substantial reforms on accessibility within the Ontario Government. We have seen no major, effective, implemented and enforced  new Government strategy in the 2.5 years since then to put that into action. the final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review stated:

“One of the prominent themes that emerged from the consultations was the belief of the disability community that the Government of Ontario has not succeeded in embedding accessibility into its internal operations. Stakeholders urged the appointment of a single minister – and a full-time deputy minister – to be responsible for ensuring that the Ontario Public Service (OPS) becomes a fully accessible employer and service provider. This new Cabinet post would focus on internal government operations, while the MEDEI minister would remain responsible for the development and enforcement of accessibility standards. To an extent, this thinking echoes the recommendation in the Beer Report to elevate the role of the assistant deputy minister in the ADO to the rank of deputy minister to lead a change management strategy within government. Many believe that there is an important opportunity for the Government to be seen as an accessibility champion, setting an example for other organizations.

The disability community believes that the Government of Ontario has not succeeded in embedding accessibility into its internal operations.

A particular concern with the Government, the Review heard, arose where public funds were actually used to create new barriers. Examples given include the Presto smart card, where the cash balance is shown on a screen that cannot be read by people with vision loss or dyslexia; and the absence of accessibility requirements for information technology and electronic kiosks in the Government’s 10-Year Infrastructure Plan. These cases sparked some groups to recommend a comprehensive strategy to ensure public money is never used to create, maintain or worsen barriers against people with disabilities. It was also suggested that establishing compliance with the Human Rights Code, as well as the AODA, should be a precondition to obtaining public funds through procurement, grants or loans.”

This pillar in the Government’s document, announced today, promises little for quite some time. We know of no evidence that inspiring speeches and PR campaigns actually change what employers do, when it comes to increasing employment for people with disabilities.

Background Resources

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.

To read the April 29, 2016 Final Report of the Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities.

To read the AODA Alliance’s February 19, 2016 Analysis of the Partnership Council’s Initial Report and the Wynne Government’s Response.

To read the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 Initial Report on Employment for People with Disabilities.

To read the May 11, 2015 covering letter from the Partnership Council to the Wynne Government (which the Wynne Government did not disclose to the public until we later pressed for it).

To read Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid’s August 28, 2015 statement in response to the Partnership Council’s Initial Report.

To read the Wynne Government’s August 28, 2015 Backgrounder on the Partnership Council’s Initial Report.

To read the AODA Alliance’s February 7, 2014 response to the Wynne Government’s appointment of the Partnership Council.

To read the 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran 2nd AODA Independent Review.

To read the AODA Alliance’s analysis of the final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review Part 1, and the AODA Alliance’s analysis of the final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review Part 2.