Champions League

Government of Ontario Recognizes Disability Employment Awareness Month

On October 4, 2016 The Honourable Tracy MacCharles, Minister Responsible for Accessibility, recognized Disability Employment Awareness Month in Ontario in her statement to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) applauds Minister MacCharles and the Government of Ontario for their commitment to inclusive employment.

From left to right: Joe Dale, Executive Director ODEN; Diana McCauley, Member of ODEN Board of Directors; The Honourable Tracy MacCharles, Minister Responsible for Accessibilty Goverment of Ontario.

From left to right: Joe Dale, Executive Director, ODEN; Diana McCauley, Secretary ODEN Board of Directors and Senior Manager, Employment Services and Knowledge Enterprise, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario; The Honourable Tracy MacCharles, Minister Responsible for Accessibility, Government of Ontario.


Mr Speaker, I’m honoured to rise in the House today to recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Monsieur le Président, je suis honorée de me tenir devant l’Assemblée aujourd’hui pour célébrer le Mois national de la sensibilisation à l’emploi des personnes handicapées.

I’d also like to recognize the rich and enduring history of indigenous people in Ontario.

Toronto is a sacred gathering place for many people of Turtle Island, and I’d like to pay particular respect to the Mississaugas of the New Credit.

Today, Ontario joins governments and communities across the country to advocate for the inclusion of people of all abilities in our workforce. The fact is, increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities and building accessible workplaces is a matter of fundamental importance to our society today – and our economy of tomorrow.

It will expand business.

It will grow the economy.

It will diversify workplaces.

And it will strengthen communities.

There are many compelling reasons to promote inclusive employment, Mr Speaker – 800,000 of them are undeniable.

That’s the number of Canadians with disabilities out of the workforce — talented people who are ready, willing and able to contribute to their communities and economy.

It’s a social, cultural and economic imperative for the entire country, Mr. Speaker.

And it’s one that the Government of Ontario intends to address.

Il s’agit d’un impératif social, culturel et économique pour tout le Canada.

Et c’en est un à l’égard duquel le gouvernement de l’Ontario compte bien s’engager.

It’s why, 11 years ago, members of this House came together to support the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

It’s also why, this spring, Premier Wynne appointed Ontario’s first Minister Responsible for Accessibility.

AND I am honoured to serve in this role.

We have a bold vision for the future, Mr. Speaker; one where our province is accessible to people of all abilities by 2025.

To get there we will encourage employers to hire more people with disabilities – to expand their talent pool and strengthen their workforce.

We will also continue to work with companies, communities and individuals to embed accessibility in our workplaces and neighbourhoods to make inclusion part of our lives.

With a goal to become accessible by 2025, Ontario has become a global leader.

Across the province, communities, businesses and not-for-profits are implementing important accessibility standards.

Our accessible employment standard is helping to shift the way employers approach recruitment and retention.

It includes requirements to incorporate accessibility into hiring processes, workplace information and career development.

As we move forward, we will continue to highlight how simple and beneficial accessibility can be.

Inclusion should be a standard part of doing business in Ontario, Mr. Speaker.

We want all Ontarians to embrace accessibility.

Not simply as a legal obligation but as an exciting business and community-building opportunity.

That’s why our government is developing a cross-cutting, multi-ministry employment strategy for people with disabilities.

This new strategy will not only fulfill a major budget commitment.

It will also address recommendations made by the Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities and the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Panel.

By taking a whole-of-government approach and by listening to people with disabilities – it will help connect more people to the labour market while helping more employers to become accessible and meet their labour needs.

The idea is to offer streamlined services and in-demand training to address the requirements of job seekers and businesses.

We also understand that to achieve an accessible province by 2025, we need to change perceptions.

That’s why promoting a cultural shift is one of the three pillars in Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan.

It will help to eliminate stigma, entrench inclusive values and lift expectations.

And we’re proud to partner with forward-thinking employers and organizations that can help spread the word.

The Ontario Disability Employment Network – a provincial accessibility champion – is hosting a number of employer events this month to promote the contributions people with disabilities make to workplaces.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is also reaching out to employers, organizing discussions that highlight how inclusive employment can boost a business’s bottom line.

Then there’s Dolphin Digital Technologies, Mr. Speaker.

The award-winning Ontario IT company has hosted an employment mentoring day for people with disabilities for the last six years.

This year’s mentorship day is expanding to six communities across the province.

Dolphin knows workers of all abilities would help companies reach a diverse global market.

And we know our economy would benefit from a larger tax base, increased innovation and competitive new sectors.

This is how inclusion can grow our economy, while strengthening our society.

Mr. Speaker, accessibility will build Ontario up.

It will help people of all abilities in their everyday life.

Monsieur le Président, l’accessibilité permettra de faire progresser l’Ontario.

Elle aidera les gens de toutes capacités au quotidien.

I invite everyone to join me in observing National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Let’s work together to break down employment barriers this month and every day of the year.

Thank You.


For more Disability Employment Awareness Month resources, visit the DEAM section of the ODEN website.

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Mayor Bradley’s Provincial Challenge, will it be answered?

Over the past month the Toronto Star has posted a series of articles related to the subject of closing sheltered workshops for persons with a disability in Ontario. The subject has seen its share of media attention moving from newspaper articles, to social media, to the busy streets of downtown Parry Sound.

The message has been heard loud and clear, now is the time for competitive employment and no more sheltered workshops. Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) officials have made numerous statements regarding their efforts to support the closing of these sheltered workshops. Minister Helena Jaczek has gone as far to say, “I don’t ever want to see someone who has not been involved in a sheltered workshop move into one. That would not, in my view, be acceptable at all.”

So where did the conversation go from there?

To read the article in full, please click the link below.

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Joe Hoffer, Cohen Highley LLP Win Ability-First Champions Award

Ontario Disability Employment Network’s Champions League inductee Joe Hoffer (far left), and his law firm Cohen Highley LLP, were the recipents of an Ability First Champions Award on November 1, 2013. The award celebrates and honours businesses for hiring and retaining employees with a disability.

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Rethinking DisAbility in the Private Sector – Report from the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada)

(From The Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities engaged private sector businesses, other organizations and individuals, online and in person, to identify best practices, successful approaches and barriers to employment from employer’s perspectives. For more information on the Panel, please:

Click here to access the PDF Document
Click here to access via website


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Ontario Disability Employment Network – 2012 Year in Review

“Excellence is a Habit”

2011–2012 Review

(Click here to view/download .pdf file)

Aristotle once said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

“Excellence is a habit” is a good way to describe the work of the Ontario Disability Employment Network, as evidenced by its achievements in 2011‐12.

The Network exists to support the efforts of people who have a disability to get jobs. It is a small organization with a big commitment, one that gets a large effort from everyone associated with it.

The Network’s prescription for success is surprising in its simplicity: engage employers who know firsthand that hiring people who have a disability is good business, and let them do the heavy lifting. Give them the challenge and the opportunity to take the message to their colleagues, and let their colleagues make their companies better by adding to the number of people who have a disability who are gainfully employed.

As Executive Director, Joe Dale has remarked: “In our collective consciousness we understand the value of having business owners and operators speak to other businesses. And that finding and supporting Champions is a tremendous help to moving our agenda forward and creating positive changes in the employment situation for people who have a disability. These are business owners who can demonstrate to their peers that it is not only possible but, in fact, beneficial to the bottom line, to include people who have a disability in the workforce. This approach and these individuals will help us achieve greater outcomes for those whom we support.”

Proof of the efficacy of engagement comes in the form of one of the employment initiatives supported by Network Champion Mark Wafer (Tim Horton’s franchisee) and also involving Joe, called Rotary at Work. Rotary at Work has produced 170 jobs for people who have a disability since its inception, including 60 jobs in 2011‐12. Rotary at Work has achieved this lofty goal by mobilizing the members of Rotary Clubs across Ontario to hire and promote hiring. Rotary at Work has set the stage and the formula for the Network’s Champion’s League.

The Champion’s League consists of employers who have committed to hiring people who have a disability and who have volunteered their time to convince others to do the same. Over the past year, the Network supported the efforts not just of Mark Wafer, but of Mike Bradley, Mayor of Sarnia, Joe Hoffer, lawyer with Cohen Highley in London and the Network’s most recent Champion, Dennis Winkler. They have presented to business operators, recruited municipalities to hire, written papers and delivered seminars on the hiring topic.

Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor the Honourable David C. Onley understands the merit of the engagement principle. In 2011‐12 he recruited two Network Champions and the Executive Director to sit on his Employer Panel that is charged with promoting jobs for people who have a disability throughout the province. Two members of this panel, including Network Champion Mark Wafer, have also been appointed to the Federal Panel on Employment and Disability.

To top off the year, three of the Network’s Champions – Mayor Mike Bradley, Joe Hoffer and Mark Wafer; along with two members of the Board of Directors – Cheryl Massa and Bob Vansickle; and, the Executive Director, Joe Dale, were awarded with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award.

If employer engagement is the first pillar for the Network’s accomplishments, educating and influencing government is another. Without policy and funding that expedites employment for people with disabilities, the Network and its constituencies are severely restricted in meeting their goals. In 2011‐12 the Network undertook a range of initiatives related to government that included:

• Meeting with Ministry of Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy and discussing the benefits of employer engagement, barriers within the system and how to address them, and the need to support student employment
• Educating decision makers at the Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities’ Employment Ontario division about the unique needs and challenges people who have a disability have in trying to access the workforce. As a result, EO has agreed to re‐think its disability services strategy and now understands the need for specialized employment services for this group.
• The Social Assistance Review Commission has the potential to make wide‐sweeping changes to the system. The Network submitted a substantial position paper to the Commission, making 37 separate recommendations.

By year end, the Network had assumed the role of the “go to” organization for politicians, bureaucrats and the media on issues related to people who have a disability and employment.

Beyond employer engagement and government relations, the Network was active in professional development, with its Job Developers Roadmap training, annual Champions for Change conference and half‐day regional training events. It sponsored its first webcast on the subject of the Social Assistance Review Commission interim report.

On the communications side, the Network upgraded its website to be totally accessible, and was active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Its reach has been extended via press releases and being featured on local TV, National newspapers and National radio interviews.

Employer engagement. Government relations. Professional development. Communications. Excellence is a habit. Excellence is the Ontario Disability Employment Network.

We are ‘on the ground’ operators, working at the grass roots.

The People Behind the Scenes

The Ontario Disability Employment Network is led by a dedicated and committed volunteer Board of Directors and a one‐day per week Executive Director. Since the Network does not receive any government funding the Board takes an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to managing the work of the organization. Every member is actively engaged and fulfills a variety of duties and tasks.

Bob Vansickle – Chair
• Leads Government Relations
• Lead on Employment Ontario Task Force
• Assists with Employer Engagement Strategy
• Manages Social Media
• Assists with member communications
• Assists with conference and member training events

Debbi Soucie – Vice Chair
• Manages meetings, AGM, by‐laws, etc.
• Liaison with the ODSP Action Coalition
• Assists with Government Relations
• Participates on the Employment Ontario Task Force

Cheryl Massa – Treasurer
• Finance & budget
• Conference Chair
• Assists with Employer Engagement Strategy
• Assists with member training events

Chris Guillemette – Secretary
• Meeting minutes, agendas, etc.
• Lead on AGM, by‐laws, resolutions, etc.
• Interface with Canada Revenue Agency & reporting
• Membership development and recruitment

Greg Bruckler – Director
• Manages communications and member email lists
• Assists with conference and member training
• Assists with social media

Gord Ryall – Director
• Manages member services and recruitment
• Member of Employment Ontario Task Force
• Represents the Network with the Canadian University Research Alliance

The Year in Review

Employer Engagement Strategy

Champions League

One of the areas that the Network and its Board are most proud of is our employer engagement strategy. We have made terrific progress in enhancing the knowledge and acceptance of workforce participation as a result of the work of our Champion’s League. Engaging business leaders in our cause has had a terrific impact in extending our resources, our reach and in accelerating our successes.

Mayor Mike Bradley and the Mayor’s Challenge has seen a number of municipalities get on board with hiring people who have a disability in municipalities. Additionally, Mayor Bradley has spoken at Human Resources Professionals Association conferences, Young Professionals Associations and beyond.

Joe Hoffer has written papers and delivered seminars for the Ontario Law Society, Legal Leaders for Diversity, Police Services Board, Ontario Property Managers Association and beyond.

Mark Wafer takes the lead on the Rotary at Work initiative along with a number of other Rotarians who have hired people who have a disability. This initiative has brought the business case message to thousands of business owners and operators across the province. This work has spread well beyond Rotary clubs with speaking engagements at Chambers of Commerce, Human Resource Professionals Association chapters and individual businesses and corporations.

Our inductee for this year, Dennis Winkler is now fully oriented and ready to engage in the small business sector and restaurant association.

Several of our Champions have also spoken at conferences in the disability sector and provided training sessions for job developers. The Champions also gave a very powerful presentation to the Social Assistance Review Commission during its deliberations.

The Champion’s League, based on a business-to-business, peer to peer approach, has garnered recognition at many levels. Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David C. Onley, has become an ally of the League and engages the members at his office regularly.

His Honour established a Provincial Employer Panel to promote employment for people who have a disability. Two of our Champions and our Executive Director, sit on this panel and two of these panel members, including Network Champion Mark Wafer were appointed to the Federal Panel on Employment and Disability.


Government Relations

Much of the Network’s time and energy has been consumed by our government relations work. Following our provincial forum, representatives of local networks from across the province ratified the need to create a strong provincial voice when it comes to speaking to government. And they agreed that voice should be the Ontario Disability Employment Network.

Working from that platform the Board has adopted a very specific and deliberate strategy – that being the need to find the common ground with government and to work from that platform. The obvious ‘common ground’ or central goal is the need to help more people who have a disability get into the workforce. This would seem to be obvious but often seems to be overlooked in advocacy campaigns.

By identifying and reinforcing the common goal, we are then able to identify and attempt to remove the barriers within the system. And, by ‘system’ we mean the entire system – both government and service delivery operators. In so doing we have been able to position the Network as a resource and, through our success, have been able to influence change from within.

Today, we are experiencing positive engagement with Government. The Network is routinely in communications with all levels of government from Ministers to policy makers and in a variety of Ministries that impact employment service delivery.

Ministry of Community and Social Services

The Network has had a number of meetings with Minister John Milloy. Through these meetings we were able to discuss: the value of our employer engagement strategy, including our Champion’s League and the business case for hiring people who have a disability; barriers within the system itself and how we might remove some of those; and, the need to develop a strategy for student employment. The highlight came in late August when we spent a full day with Minister Milloy, touring employment agencies and meeting employers who hire people who have a disability.

We have had a number of meetings with policy staff of the Developmental Services Branch and Assistant Deputy Minister David Carter-Whitney. These meetings focused on the potential barriers that may be created by the DSO (Developmental Services Ontario) process and the challenges of volunteering in the private sector, which seems to be condoned, if not sanctioned in the supported employment service code descriptions. We also spoke about Student Employment and the need for an Employment First policy framework.

We have had on-going meetings and communication with Patti Redmond, Director of the ODSP Branch. These meetings cover issues related to systems barriers and improvements and the ODSP modernization process. We have also presented our concerns for student employment and the Employment First policy framework as these issues cross several government jurisdictions.

Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities

Many of our members, previously funded by HRSDC under the EAS agreements, have been ‘on hold’ as a result of the transfer responsibility from the Federal Government to the Province. MTCU has positioned services for people who have a disability under the Employment Ontario umbrella. Up until the point where the Network started to engage Employment Ontario, the strategy seemed to be to fold services for people who have a disability into the mainstream, generic EO service delivery model.

The Network, with its EO Task Force spent the better part of a year, educating decision makers at Employment Ontario about the unique needs and challenges facing people who have a disability in trying to access the workforce. As a result, EO has agreed to re-think its disability services strategy and now understands the need for specialized employment services for this target group.

Network members have on-going communications and meetings with MTCU Assistant Deputy Ministers, policy makers and Regional Director, Barb Simmonds. Most recently, the EO Task Force was consulted for input into revising the contract guidelines for service agreements for those agencies that provide EO services for people who have a disability. In addition, EO has made a commitment to engage the Network in the creation of their disability services strategy as it is developed.

The Network has also presented its positions related to Student Employment and the Employment First policy framework to Employment Ontario representatives.

Social Assistance Review Commission

The SAR Commission with its 108 recommendations has the potential to change the face of employment service delivery in Ontario. Not since the introduction of the VRS Act in 1974, has a single commission or act had the potential to make such wide-sweeping changes to the system.

The Network realized this potential early on and engaged the sector and the commission in a number of ways:

• Consultations and round table discussions with members and local networks
• Written submissions to the Commission
• In person presentation to the Commission
• Orchestrated a consultation between the Commission and Champion’s League members
• Position paper to the Commission that included 37 separate recommendations
• On-going telephone and email correspondence with the Commission
• Several press releases and media interviews.

For the sector and the Network the real work has only just begun, now that the Commission has released its final report.

Ministry of Finance

In evolving our understanding of the government relations arena, it has become clear that the Network cannot overlook the Ministry of Finance. This past year, the Network has started to ensure that the Minister of Finance is aware of the Network and the needs of its members. We have made submissions to the pre-budget consultation process and responded to the release of the Drummond report.


Professional Development


The Network continues in its effort to bring education, training and networking opportunities to its members. This past year, the Network held its Job Developers Roadmap training session in Tillsonburg along with its annual Champions for Change conference and Annual General Meeting in Alliston. We also held a number of half-day regional training events in North Bay, Kincardine and Markdale.

We have started to explore other ways to get training and materials out to members. This past year, we held our first webcast of our consultation on the Social Assistance Review Commission interim report. While we need to work out some of the glitches, this format has the potential for much greater reach in a much more affordable way.


We continue to keep our website current and interactive so that all members can use this resource. This year, we partnered with eSSENTIAL Accessibility Inc. to provide a web browser that makes our website totally accessible for people who have a disability. This has enabled the access to our website to be more efficient. We’d like to acknowledge our volunteer contributors, Aerin and Jimmy Guy of Space Race and our volunteer webmaster, Mike Adair, who make the website possible for the Network.

We are also active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn with lots of discussion groups and ways to stay connected and up to date. Our membership email lists are also very active as we post information as soon as we get it to ensure members are ahead of the curve.

Public Relations and Media

The Network and its Executive Director have been featured a number of times this past year through press releases, newspaper articles, local TV shows and National radio interviews.

This has included articles featuring our Champion’s League and the business case for hiring people who have a disability; responses to legal and Human Rights cases related to employment and disability; the launch of the Federal Panel on Employment and Disability; our response and input into the Social Assistance Review Commission reports; letters to the editor about news stories; and general positions that have been reported in disability periodicals and reports.

All this serves to bring attention and credibility to the Ontario Disability Employment Network as we position ourselves as the ‘go to’ organization representing employment service agencies in Ontario.


A Look Ahead

Employer Engagement

We see a year with tremendous opportunity for people who have a disability. The momentum in the business community is at an all-time high. More and more businesses are coming on board, looking to include people who have a disability in the workplace. Strategies like our Champion’s League have made a substantial contribution to this momentum. As we proceed we will need to continue to both build and support the League. This will enhance our capacity tenfold.

Specifically we need to:

• Help and support taking the Lieutenant Governor’s employer panel to a formal ‘provincial employer association’
• Transition the Rotary at Work partnership to the Network. The Network has been the primary support to this initiative over the last year and it is a natural fit with our Champion’s League
• Develop new marketing strategies and specialized initiatives that engage new sectors in creating employment opportunities for people who have a disability.
• Entrench the Champion’s League in the office of the Lieutenant Governor. His Honour David C. Onley will conclude his term of office in early 2013. We need the support of this office to ensure continued credibility and support for our employer engagement strategies.

Government Relations

While our employer engagement strategies present a bright future, we may face significant challenges in adapting to a new government and policy environment. Our work with government will be on-going.

Already, despite the proroguing of the Legislature, government departments and branches are launching into ‘service improvements’ that are in line with the Commission’s recommendations. We must be at the table for the discussions and decisions that will be made in the coming year.

• Monitor and track activities related to the SAR Commission implementation, irrespective of government ministry or department
• Ensure our voice is heard with respect to any potential merging of employment services
• Work with the ODSP branch on system improvements
• Continue to work on the Employment Ontario disability strategy
• On-going work with the Developmental Services Branch
In addition we will continue to pursue cross-ministry strategies that relate to creating a coordinated approach to student employment and the establishment of an employment policy framework in Ontario.

To see real change in employment for people who have a disability we must invest in student employment. Summer and part-time after school jobs are imperative to ensure people who have a disability have an immediate attachment to the labour market upon graduation. Services and supports that can make this a reality must be entrenched in the system with adequate investment to achieve effective labour market participation.

Professional Development

The Network remains committed to ensuring members have access to the training, resources and supports that keep them vital. This can be achieved in many ways. One of our concerns is that in today’s environment, training may not always be seen as affordable or necessary by organizations that are facing financial pressures. The Network needs to re-think the way it holds conferences and training events with an eye to finding alternate ways to bring training to the sector.

Membership Services

We have not done the best we can when it comes to engaging our members. Members need to know what’s going on, new trends in the sector and have access to the support that will help them meet the challenges of day-to-day operations. We can do better.

The Network needs to:

• Find better and more efficient ways to engage members
• Improve member communications
• Find resources to engage at the local level

In Summary

Much has been achieved in a very short period, all due to the hard work and diligence of a few committed volunteers. We must continue to dig in as we strive to improve the employment prospects of people who have a disability.

The challenge, however, lies ahead in what may be our most critical of times. We remain dedicated and committed to undertaking this work. We cannot do it alone and we need your input and assistance. Without a strong membership base, we will not be successful.

We encourage you and your organization to join forces with the Ontario Disability Employment Network. Help us maintain our ‘Habit of Excellence’.

Bob Vansickle, Chair

(Click here to view/download .pdf file)

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Employment advocates receive Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medals (

Joe Dale, Bob Vansickle, Cheryl Massa ‘making an important contribution to our society’
Wednesday June 20, 2012 — Natalie Hamilton

Champions of meaningful employment for people who have a disability were among the Ontario residents honoured Monday evening with Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medals.

Community Living Sarnia-Lambton supervisor of community employment options Bob Vansickle and Ontario Disability Employment Network executive director Joe Dale were two to receive the recognition.

“I was thrilled to hear that Joe and Bob were being honoured with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for their work in promoting employment for people with disabilities in Ontario,” Gordon Kyle, Community Living Ontario’s director of social policy and government relations, tells Community Living Leaders.

Kyle says both men have devoted many years of their time to the issue. Dale and Vansickle understand the challenges people face related to employment and have developed clear strategies to overcome the barriers.

“Through their talent in networking, their willingness to share their vast knowledge with others, and their passion and commitment, they are making an important contribution to our society.  This recognition is well-deserved.”

The medal pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-year reign.

Other allies in the movement to create an inclusive workforce – Community Living London employment services supervisor Cheryl Massa, Tim Hortons franchisee Valarie Wafer and Cohen Higley LLP partner Joe Hoffer — also received medals.

“I was so humbled to receive this recognition and am honoured to be in the company of so many dedicated and deserving people,” Massa tells Community Living Leaders.

“It is my hope that this medal increases awareness amongst the community and more people with a disability are able to realize their goal of meaningful employment.”

The Diamond Jubilee Gala ceremony took place at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto and included performances by Canadian artists, Susan Aglukark, Molly Johnson, Ben Heppner and Gordon Lightfoot.

Reprinted: CLO Website

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Mark Wafer Responds to “Finding jobs for disabled Canadians”

Read the article by Alison Griffiths here

Hello Alison.

I read your article this morning.  I am a Tim Hortons franchise owner and an
advocate for people with disabilities especially in the area of employment.
Your daughter’s story is one I hear all the time.

Having met Jim Flaherty a few times and discussed this issue with him I can
say without question he does get it.  He gets the problem of employment and
he gets the overall cost factor.

I am deaf.  I have about 20% hearing and have been since birth. I could not
keep a job as a young man but became a successful business owner. Since I
understand first hand the barriers people with disabilities face in order to
get work, I began hiring people with disabilities in my first Tim Hortons in
1995 and to date I have hired 82 PWD’s and currently have 33 out of a
workforce of 210 in my six locations.

Why did I do this? Simply because I saw a business benefit as time went on.
Of course it was the right thing to do but that isn’t reason enough for
business owners to hire PWD’s. My employee turnover went down, my WSIB
claims went down.

I quickly realized that employing PWD’s was good for business, low
absenteeism, higher staff morale, lower turnover (very expensive), higher
productivity and so on. Several of my employees with disabilities have been
employee of the year.

All are in meaningful positions, no charity. That means competitive salaries
as well as having to be replaced if sick. This includes every department
from managers to front line staff, production and logistics.

In 2008 I began a program through my local Rotary club along with the
programs founder Joe Dale. This is known as Rotary at Work.

Joe, who is a past director of Community Living Ontario, developed this
program that shows business owners how they will benefit from hiring PWD’s.
Joe and I travel the province speaking at Rotary clubs, chambers of
commerce, HR groups and to private business owners. This is a peer to peer
program as business owners are hearing from myself as a business owner.

The result since 2009 is huge. 137 people with a disability hired in a
meaningful position with many more at Tim Hortons stores as I was able to
leverage my position.

Now we know that this is the way forward. We cannot use the same old message
that service providers have used in the past. The unemployment rate for
people with disabilities is the same today as it was in 1970 so clearly it
isn’t working but if we can show business owners that there is a benefit to
hiring PWD’s we will see a lot more doors opened.

Here are a few more facts, studies show that employees who have a disability
work 97% safer, have attendance records 86% greater, stay on the job up to 5
times longer, increase morale to the point that non disabled staff stay
longer (huge win for me). Accommodations average $500 but in most cases its
zero and best of all productivity is 20% higher.

Why? Because the job is precious, it took a long time to get that job.

I cannot buy the loyalty my disabled staff have for my company. What
business would not want this? Education is going to be key.

Now let’s look at the financial side of this problem. The unemployment rate
for PWD’s is actually closer to 70% because so many have given up or are
considered unemployable. The unemployment rate during the great depression
was 25% and was considered a national tragedy yet society is comfortable
with a 70%rate for PWD’s.  This equates to an ODSP cost to the province of
Ontario of $3.2b. This is growing at 5% per year, totally unsustainable and
this is why the province set up the review commission on ODSP and welfare.

However, even though this number is huge it also means that the maximum
payment for an unemployed person with a disability is about $11,000
annually. Well below poverty and that’s only if they qualify for the maximum.

Taking a person off of benefits and creating a new taxpayer is a win/win.
The 137 people who got employment thru our project saved the province $1m in
this manner.

Employers don’t hire people with disabilities because they buy into a series
of myths and misperceptions. This is exactly why Quinn isn’t getting a job;
it has nothing to do with her work experience and all to do with attitude.

My best baker is deaf. Her ovens have chimes, bells and warnings. This
hasn’t prevented her from being an awesome addition to our staff. In one day
she figured out how to get around those audible warnings.

PWD’s are more innovative. Quite frankly a person in a wheelchair has to be
innovative just to get through the day, imagine how that mindset helps a pod
or team at a workplace.

Alison, we are going to fix this problem. It will take time, education is
the key. The AODA will now be focusing on employment, this in itself won’t
help as the legislation is toothless (story for another day) but it will
provide much needed awareness. Canada has a looming labour shortage with
many companies noticing this already yet still don’t hire PWD’s. There is a
huge disconnect but we will fix it.

Best of luck to Quinn. Her attitude, not an employers, will win at the end
of the day.

Mark Wafer

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Strategies Used by Employment Service Providers in the Job Development Process

Strategies Used by Employment Service Providers in the Job Development Process: Are they consistent with what employers want?


Dr. Luecking, President of TransCen Inc., was one of the keynote speakers at the Ontario Disability Employment Network’s Conference in Alliston this past November.  Dr. Luecking collaborated on this recently released technical report which focuses upon strategies used by job developers and how they resonate with employers.  Although this study was undertaken in the U.S,. it may contain lessons for providers of employment services here in Ontario as well.

We asked The Network’s Employer Champion Leauge member, Mark Wafer, who owns a number of Tim Horton’s stores in the Toronto area for his opinion of the study and this is what he had to say:

“This is a very well written article, in fact it mirrors very closely to what I say all the time about nurturing relationships with employers, using strategies that work for the business and following up constantly to ensure success.  Any time I speak with service providers this is the message I present.

This article would be a good handout to a lot of the service providers i have met recently who still use the same old charity approach.”

Mark Wafer

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ODEN Employer Champion Mayor Mike Bradley wins national “Corporate Social Responsibility Award”

The City of Sarnia was nominated along with two other organizations for the Corporate Social Responsibly Award, a national award. The nomination was for the “Mayor’s Challenge” for public and private corporations “to do the right thing” and hire the disabled and intellectually challenged’ Last night in Toronto the City of Sarnia was named as the winner of the award and the recognition was accepted by Mayor Mike Bradley.

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City of Sarnia Named as Finalist in 2012 HR Summit Awards

Picture Displaying the Media Release from the City of Sarnia

City Manager, Lloyd Fennell, announces that the City of Sarnia has been named as a finalist in the 2012 HR Summit Awards. The City has been nominated in the Corporate Social Responsibility category.

The category in which the City has been nominated recognizes a team, organization or individual who has successfully championed corporate social responsibility in the organization.

The nomination was the result of an article in the HR Reporter publication and recognizes the City’s efforts through the “Mayor’s Challenge” to give students with disabilities summer jobs so that they could gain the experience they need and make money to continue their education.

The City believes that with an unemployment rate of more than 25% for youth with disabilities (which may be closer to 50% if the numbers include those who have ceased looking for work) the situation required action to modify attitudes and provide opportunities.

The other two finalists for this award are United Way Tri-Hospital Campaign Committee – Trillium Health Centre and Human Resources – Hydro Ottawa.

The awards will be presented in Toronto on January 31, 2012.

Fennell stated that “having the City family – Council, department heads and staff – recognized for their efforts and commitment to improving opportunities for youth with disabilities is completely gratifying regardless of the final outcome of the judges’ decision”.

Click here to download PDF of this press release

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ODEN Representatives Attend Throne Speech at Queen’s Park

Mayor Mike Bradley, ODEN Employer Champion and originator of the "Mayor's Challenge to Hire Persons' with a Disability" just prior to the Speech from the Throne

Mayor Mike Bradley, Employer Champion, and Cheryl Massa, ODEN Board Member

Cheryl Massa, ODEN Board Member, with The Hon. Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care for Ontario on the floor of the Legislature

Bob Vansickle, ODEN Board Member, seated on the floor of the Legislature waiting for the Speech from the Throne to begin




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Winks Eatery owner recognized as champion for change (London Community News)

Monday, November, 07, 2011 – 6:06:45 AM

Winks Eatery owner and Community Living London board of directors member, Dennis Winkler, was awarded the Second Annual Champions League Award last week at the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) Champions for Change – Leadership in Workforce Development Conference in Alliston, Ont.

The Champions League Award recognizes employer champions who have made outstanding progress in the movement of hiring people who have a disability, promoting this movement and making a commitment to continue it in the future.

“Community Living London is thrilled that Dennis’ commitment to employing people with a disability has been formally recognized,” said Michelle Palmer, executive director Community Living London, in a news release. “Dennis’ commitment dates back to his days owning local Burger King Franchises and continues today with his hiring practices at Winks Eatery.”

David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and special guest speaker at the conference, presented the award. Onley’s own experiences with polio and post-polio syndrome, his successful career as a broadcaster, and his appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, made him a very inspiring role model.


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Equal Opportunity in the Workplace (National Post)

Equal opportunity in the workplace

National Post · Oct. 6, 2011

Mark Wafer, who owns six Tim Hortons stores in the greater Toronto area, believes legislation to make workplaces accessible to people with disabilities is necessary, because in many cases companies simply wouldn’t invest the money and effort without it.

“But there’s a far better reason for making your business accessible to people with disabilities, both as customers and employees,” he says. “It just makes really good business sense.”

Over the past 16 years, Mr. Wafer has hired more than 70 people with disabilities, and he has no doubt that it has given him a competitive advantage.

“I’ve hired people with disabilities for jobs ranging from customer service all the way up to management. They’re in meaningful positions. That means they get equal pay. There are no subsidies from the government,” Mr. Wafer says.

“What happens over a period of time is you start to notice that people with disabilities tend to stay with you for much longer, because it’s taken them so long to get the job in the first place. That’s a tangible benefit, because turnover is expensive. The other upside is because you’ve created an inclusive workforce the other employees want to stay, too. They want to be part of something special.”

As a result, while the typical turnover rate for Tim Hortons stores in southern Ontario is between 70% and 80%, at Mr. Wafer’s stores, it is 35%.

It’s time to dispel some of the myths that hold back employers from hiring people with disabilities, says Joe Dale, project manager at Rotary at Work and executive director at Ontario Disability Employment.

“There are all sorts of myths: that it’s going to cost them more, that productivity is not going to be as good and employees with disabilities are going to miss a lot more work. While there isn’t enough of a strong research base that dispels those myths, we do have lots of anecdotal information that does,” he says.

“What’s more, I think people are pretty resilient, but particularly so people with disabilities who have found ways to get around their disabilities and can be more creative than others. They develop great problem-solving skills. I am not sure most employers necessarily understand that yet, or what a valuable labour source that people with disabilities can be.”

Rotary at Work has helped a growing number of employers dispel the myths by connecting them to employees with disabilities.

“Rotary at Work reflects an important partnership between Community Living Ontario and Ontario Rotary Clubs to assist Ontarians with disabilities to find appropriate employment by forging relationships with businesses,” says David Onley, Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor.

Mr. Onley is a shining example: Afflicted by polio at a young age, he suffered partial paralysis. After extensive physical therapy, however, Mr. Onley regained the use of his hands and arms and partial use of his legs. He is able to walk with leg braces and canes or crutches, but he generally prefers to get around using his electric scooter. He is able to drive a car using hand controls for acceleration and braking.

Another issue many companies don’t understand – much to their detriment – is the fact that when they make their business accessible to employees with disabilities, they’re also making them accessible to customers with disabilities.

“If you use the same business model when looking at creating accessible retail space, the cost/benefit ratio also favours a return on your investment,” Mr. Wafer says.

In fact, Statistics Canada pegs the number of people with disabilities at around 16.5% of the population. “If you think about it in other terms, that’s the combined population of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” Mr. Dale says. “It’s the largest minority in the country. It’s a significant niche for businesses to tap into.”

And that’s what Mr. Wafer has found to be the case. At one of his stores, he worked with Excellence Canada to ensure the building met Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) standards. Included in the upgrades was a simple system in the drive-through for people with any communication disabilities.

“It’s just a sign with a bell that says if you are deaf or have other communication barriers, please press the button for better customer service and drive to the window,” Mr. Wafer says. “When they come to the window, if they can’t tell us what they want we have an order-assist pad they can use to order.”

Today, his Tim Hortons drive-through attracts customers who would never have previously have used a drivethrough.

The opportunities for businesses that understand the advantages of hiring disabled people as well as developing goods and services for them exist in every industry. One industry where there is enormous potential, however, is technology, which, through a combination of legislation and efforts by organizations such as the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC), has seen progress in developing technology and applications that are accessible to people with disabilities – although there is still a long way to go.

The IDRC is a research and development centre at OCAD University that works with an international community of open source developers, designers, researchers, advocates and volunteers to ensure that emerging information technology and practices are designed inclusively.

“We really need legislation for cultural change,” says Jutta Treviranus, professor and director, Inclusive Design Research Centre and Inclusive Design Institute at OCAD University.

“Even if people don’t follow the letter of the law, it increases awareness. It’s a necessary way for organizations to realize that yes, this is a right people have and we do need to attend to it. But the practicality needs to be supported by other things, the tools and necessary resources.

“There’s also an amazing opportunity here. The market size of individuals with disabilities around the world is approaching the market size of China, so if there’s an organization that takes this on and begins to support that market, the growth opportunity is huge.”

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Mayor Bradley recognized as ‘catalyst’ by Community Living Ontario

June 14, 2011 — JD Booth

Community Living Ontario recognized Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley as a “community catalyst” in an awards ceremony at its 58th annual conference last week.

Conference Committee chair Doug Cooper, who made the presentation, called Bradley a “staunch supporter” of the community living movement.

“He believes in people’s capacity to be productive, contributing citizens and knows first-hand the value of people who have a disability and what they bring to the workplace,” said Cooper.
– See more at:

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Sarnia Pushes for Faster Accessibility (Sarnia Observer)

May 10, 2011

The begining portion of this article discusses Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley’s support for accessibility issues.

By CATHY DOBSON, The Observer

The sooner, the better.

Sarnia council wants the quick removal of barriers that create additional challenges for the disabled in Ontario.

The city’s politicians went on record Monday opposing efforts by the Association of Municipalities and the Ontario Public Transit Association to delay the province’s Integrated Accessibility Regulation (IAR).

At Mayor Mike Bradley’s urging, council voted to support the IAR and asked Lambton County council to do the same.

Council also endorsed a request from Coun. Bev MacDougall to ask the provincial government to commit dollars to assist municipalities meet the new standards.

“As an aging community, there’s going to be greater need for our buildings to comply and the costs will be significant,” MacDougall said.

Coun. Jon McEachran said he’s heard local business owners say they are concerned about the cost.

“When push comes to shove, it could cause some small businesses to go out of business,” McEachran said.

“I’m all for the legislation, especially for new construction, but I’m leery of voting for something if it is retroactive.”

City staff said they believe the legislation relates to new construction only.

“The key is that this is a good business opportunity to expand customer base,” said Bradley, who has aggressively taken up the cause of access issues.

It’s also a matter of respect, he added.

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Mayor Mike Bradley Speaks out Against Associations


Mayor Mike Bradley Speaks out Against Associations


Sarnia, Ontario, May 6th, 2011 – Mayor Mike Bradley spoke out against the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) as well as the Ontario Public Transit Association (OPT A).

Both organizations have each urged the McGuinty Government to delay enactment of the Integrated Accessibility Regulation (IAR) made under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (commonly known as the AODA) and to weaken its protections for persons with disabilities.  Mayor Bradley spoke out against the groups after receiving recommendations from top-ranking City staff based upon recommendations made by the Sarnia Accessibility Advisory Committee.

Bradley likened this move by the AMO and OPT A to slow changes related to the rights of persons’ who have a disability to similar moves that were made in some of the southern United States during the American Civil Rights movement for African Americans in the 1960’s.  “Ontario’s population is made up of close to 20% of persons who have a disability and combined with family and friends it amounts to over 50% of the population,” he said.  “Do municipalities really want to disenfranchise that amount of their citizenry?”  He went on to quote the late great Martin Luther King and the “fierce urgency of now”.

Mayor Bradley also announced his plans to request Sarnia City Council this Monday evening to follow the recommendations made by The Sarnia Accessibility Advisory Committee requesting that Sarnia City Council pass the following resolutions:

1. That the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation and its vision of an Accessible Ontario by 2025 be supported; and

2. That a copy of this report and resolution be forwarded to Lambton County Council and the Lambton County Accessibility Advisory Committee for their consideration and support.

Hoping that this will lead other municipalities to do the right thing and follow the recommendations of the AODA Alliance Group in Ontario.

Mayor Mike Bradley is well known for his on-going Mayor’s Challenge to the other Mayor’s in Ontario – – “to do the right thing and take up the challenge of hiring persons’ who have a disability.”

Mark Wafer, who owns 7 Tim Horton’s stores in Toronto, area also spoke out in support of Mayor Bradley’s comments.  Wafer is a business owner who is out in front of AODA as the first fast food franchise in Ontario to be certified under AODA.  Wafer stated, “This argument that business can’t afford to comply with the AODA is simply ridiculous.  It’s stupid not to comply.  As a business owner complying with all of the requirements of the AODA has allowed me to see a whole new demographic of customers and I have the increased profits to prove it.”

Contact:                               Mayor Mike Bradley  519-332-0560  Mike Bradley

Contact:                       Mark Wafer, 416-258-4231,

Backgrounder:                        AODA Report.  Download Here.

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Change Begins with Leadership (Belleville Intelligencer)

From the Belleville Intelligencer on Jan. 25, 2011 – An article about Joe Dale and Mark Wafer’s efforts through the ‘Rotary at Work’ initiative to educate other Rotarians  about the benefits of hiring a job seeker who has a disability.

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