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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ODEN Recognizes Disability Employment Awareness Month

Ensuring workplaces welcome the talents of all people, including persons with disabilities, is a critical part of our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy.

In this spirit, the Ontario Disability Employment Network will be recognizing Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM) this October to raise employer awareness of this talent pool and celebrate the many and varied contributions of persons with disabilities.

The 2016 Disability Employment Awareness Month theme is “Engage Talent!” Each week during October’s Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM), we will hear from successful employers who hire persons with disabilities as an integral element of their business strategy.

Text: October 2016 Disability Employment Awareness Month #DEAM Engage Talent! Image: Many hands in the air all giving thumbs up.

ODEN has planned a number of activities during this month to reinforce the value and talent persons with disabilities add to our workplaces. We invite you to take part in these events and will be providing our members with exclusive resources to use throughout the month of October. As well, we will be promoting our members’ DEAM related activities.

Subscribe to our mailing list and visit DEAM Resources for ways you can get involved this October!

Share #DEAM on Facebook
Spread the #DEAM message on Twitter
Visit our LinkedIn Company Page
Join our LinkedIn Group

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ODEN Excited to Announce Addition of Lisa Bondy to the Team

We are thrilled to announce Lisa Bondy has joined the Ontario Disability Employment Network and its Centre for Excellence team as our Communications Strategist. Lisa has won awards on behalf of her clients in both the nonprofit and business sectors, and she brings her in-depth knowledge and unique skill set to ODEN as a consultant for the next three months.  

Lisa looks forward to continuing and expanding her focus in the area of employment for persons with disabilities with ODEN. She has worked with the Ability First Coalition in furthering their mandate of “Business professionals motivating and supporting employers to hire and retain persons with disabilities” and continues to be involved with the StopGap Foundation, a groundbreaking national accessibility initiative.

During the past year, Lisa has also served as a member of The Conference Board of Canada’s Making Ontario’s Workplaces Accessible Advisory Committee, as well as the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association’s Accessibility Smart Business Project Advisory Committee.

In her role as Communications Strategist with ODEN, Lisa will be coordinating this October’s Disability Employment Awareness Month. If you are interested in being part of the Steering Committee or participating in local initiatives, please contact Lisa at lbondy@odenetwork.com.

Lisa Bondy

Lisa Bondy, ODEN Communications Strategist

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ODEN Centre for Excellence Welcomes Bob Vansickle to the Team

The Ontario Disability Employment Network is excited to announce the newest member of the Centre for Excellence team – Bob Vansickle.  Thanks to Community Living Sarnia, the Centre has seconded Bob for the duration of the EMF pilot, until March, 2017. Bob will join the team taking on the role of Training Coordinator.

Bob has worked in the field assisting persons with a disability to find employment for more than twenty years in his role as the Manager of Employment Options at Community Living Sarnia-Lambton.  He has been a speaker at numerous provincial and national conferences.  In addition to supporting many companies to successfully onboard candidates who have a disability, Bob has worked closely with many business owners to provide accessibility training and consulting.

In addition to operating cutting edge employment services including; JobStart pre-employment workshops and the largest youth employment program in Ontario, Bob is also a founding member and the Past Chair of the Board of the Ontario Disability Employment Network.

In 2012 Bob was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for significant achievement and remarkable service for his work in promoting workforce inclusion for persons with a disability.  In September of 2014, the Province of Ontario awarded Bob the Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteer Award.

In January of 2016 he was recognized and entered into Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley’s ‘Mayor’s Honour List’ which stated: “Bob is a tireless advocate for the disabled and intellectually challenged across Ontario.  Through his work Bob has put together the biggest summer job program in Ontario enabling persons with disabilities to find employment.  Bob is the architect of the Mayor’s Challenge which encourages municipalities to hire persons with disabilities.  Bob’s dedication in assisting those with disabilities goes way beyond what is asked of him in his role as a Manager at Community Living Sarnia-Lambton and for this Sarnia is a better community.”

We’re thrilled to add Bob Vansickle to our team. Contact Bob today and see how he can share his expertise with your organization.  bvansickle@odenetwork.com

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June 1st to 3rd – Rethinking Disabilities Conference

Service Excellence Doesn’t Happen by Accident

— Join colleagues from across the Province and learn from some of the top performers in the field of employment for people who have a disability. Whether you’re looking for a competitive advantage or simply to improve your success and create better outcomes for those you support, this event is a must for you and your team.

Follow this link for more information or to register:  http://www.rethinkingdisabilities.ca

Get Ahead of the Curve!
at the
Rethinking Disabilities Conference
June 1st – 3rd, 2016

Sheraton Parkway Toronto North


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2016 – 2017 Membership Now Available!

Don’t forget . . . join or renew your membership with the Ontario Disability Employment Network today!


  • Member-driven organization comprised of a diverse range of employment service providers that support all disability groups.
  • Knowing your voice counts
  • Network, information and resource sharing
  • Gain specialized access to resources on odenetwork.com
  • We engage the business and corporate sector, government ministries and branches and all others in Ontario that have an interest in improving employment outcomes for people who have a disability.


Click here to view the application

Click here to learn about our membership constitution

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Photos: Minister’s Public Launch at Vos Independent Grocers in Port Perry

Minister with Vos Team - 1






Dr. Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services, with the Vos Independent Grocers staff (above)


Minister w Vos Team - 4






Dr. Helena Jaczek speaking at event (above)


Minister Jaczek & Mayor Tom Rowett






Dr. Helena Jaczek with Port Perry Mayor Tom Rowett (above)


Gary & Vos Team






Gary Vos and the Vos team (above)


Gary & Terry






Garry and Terry Vos (above)


Vos Team






More of the Vos team (above)


Terry Vos & Team






Terry Vos and the Vos team (above)


Minister w Vos Team - 7






Dr. Helena Jaczek and the Vos team (above)


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Announcement: Centre for Excellence in Employment Services for People with a Disability

The Ontario Disability Employment Network is thrilled to announce the creation and formal launch of the brand new Centre for Excellence in Employment Services for People with a Disability.

This initiative will bring additional resources and help us strengthen our efforts in our employer engagement initiatives and work towards building and enhancing the capacity of the service sector to better understand and fulfill the needs of the business sector when it comes to recruiting and on-boarding people who have a disability.

A brief overview can be found below and the Minister’s public launch at Vos Independent Grocers in Port Perry can be viewed by following this link. (More information also listed below)

Joe Dale, Executive Director


To ensure Ontario builds and maintains the best possible employment service delivery network. A delivery network that is responsive to the employment needs of people who have a disability and that achieves the best possible outcomes by fostering and promoting the highest standards of practice for employment service providers across the province.

The Centre for Excellence will develop a training and consulting capacity and focus its work in 4 key areas:

Training & Development

Establish on-going, low cost training across the province to upgrade skills and establish consistency across service providers and professionals in the province

Work toward providing professional certification/designation for employment service employees

Work with Colleges and Universities to include core curriculum on employment service skills for rehabilitation, counselling, DSW and related degree and diploma programs

Coordinate with MCSS Human Resource strategy to include employment specialization within the context of its ‘core competencies’ work

Marketing and Employer Engagement

Working closely with MEDEI and the Partnership Council

Build on recent employer awareness/education programs E.g. Champion’s League, Rotary at Work, etc.

Innovation & Best Practice

Innovation must be built into the system. It does not happen by accident.

Identify and study best practices and models and develop strategies to replicate these across Ontario. Many can be built into training programs and other existing structures and strategies.

Create a recognition program for superior performers

Community Networks

Coordination of community networks

Assistance to establish networks where they currently don’t exist

Information and resource transfer between networks

How will the employment service sector benefit from a Centre for Excellence?

Resources that will be provided for Employment Service Agencies

  • Training in employment services
  • Consulting assistance in areas of strategic planning, service delivery transition, action plans, etc.
  • Coordination of marketing/employer engagement initiatives
  • Problem solving and trouble-shooting
  • Transfer of information and skills, best practices, etc.
  • Continuous quality enhancement
  • A connection to the business sector

Resources that will be provided for the Business Sector

  • Education and training related to hiring people who have a disability
  • Clearing house
    • Connecting businesses to service agencies to fulfill their need for candidates and support services
    • Connecting businesses to candidates who may not be, or may not need to be connected to agencies
  • Consulting Services for larger businesses that want to create strategies or modify recruitment processes and structures to effectively engage people with a disability in their workforce.

Resources for people who have a disability

  • Information and assistance related to understanding and navigating the employment service delivery system
  • Connection to appropriate employment services in their local area
  • Connection to employment opportunities where no agency involvement is required
  • Assurance that the employment service system is of high standards and quality

Resources that can be provided for Government

  • Consultation on various Government councils, task forces and working groups, both formal and informal
  • Expertise and training for Government employees and managers
  • Assistance to modernize services and supports
  • A connection to the business sector
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$810M Pre-Budget Announcement

ODEN Executive Director, Joe Dale, and ODEN Employer Champion League member, Mark Wafer, were invited to a pre-budget event in Hamilton this morning where MCSS Minister McMeekin just announced $810 million in funding over the next three years.

If approved, this will be the largest spending bump in history for the Developmental Services sector.  Five priority areas were discussed for allocation of funding:

1.            Support for elimination of wait lists for direct funding programs such as ‘Passports’ and ‘Special Services at Home’

2.            Support for life transitions, particularly leaving school

3.            Support for improvements in Residential Care, providing 1400 new residential spots

4.            Supporting and promoting innovation and community partnerships, by:

5.            Expanding Host Family Program and Supported Independent Living

6.            Providing support for employment opportunities such as pre-employment training; and, employer awareness as young adults leave school and look to enter the job market

7.            Providing and supporting innovative partnerships that lead to shared community living solutions and cost efficiencies

8.            Support for front-line workers providing community services


Please keep in mind that all of these changes are dependent upon the budget being passed in the legislature.

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Update! Feb. 26, 2014

The Network has just wrapped up a round of employer engagement events, sponsored by Service Canada, here’s a short summary of the results:

Employer Engagement Sessions – Highlights

• 9 immediate hires
• 35 firm job leads being followed up by local service agencies
• 499 employers now better educated about the opportunity to include people with disabilities in their workplaces
• 4 local Mayors, 1 MPP and 3 municipal counsellors present, each making a commitment to develop programs to include people with disabilities in their municipal workforce
• 1 Boston Pizza franchisee who has hired 2 people and already arranged for a presentation at Boston Pizza Corporate Franchise owner’s meetings in March 2014
• St. Catharines was with a collective of Rotary clubs. They are looking at tackling the issue through Rotary clubs in the Hamilton-Niagara region from Hamilton to Niagara Falls, Welland, Fort Erie, etc.
• Local newspaper coverage in Chatham, North Bay, Oakville & Fergus
• Radio interviews in Fergus
• Filmed in Fergus for shows airing on Cogeco TV in the Guelph/Fergus/Elora area
• Oakville event filmed by CBC television for an upcoming edition of ‘The National

Executive Director, Joe Dale and Champion, Mark Wafer took last week to experience an early spring in the Greater Vancouver area. The major Rotary districts in BC are launching the Rotary at Work initiative throughout the province with Joe and Mark’s assistance. They also incorporated several employer engagement sessions while they were there. At the same time, Joe did a full day’s training program for employment service providers in the Surrey/Langley area and Mark did a speaking engagement with the Kelowna District School Board.

Joe and Mark kicked this week off with a Rotary at Work presentation to the Rotary Club of Markham on Monday night.

Be sure to catch The National on CBC television tonight at 9 p.m. & 11 p.m. ET/PT or online using the CBC Video Player where there will be a feature presentation on employment for people who have a disability.

Thursday Joe will update DREN members on the Network’s efforts and Friday, he ventures into Queen’s Park for a meeting of the Minister’s Advisory Council on Social Assistance Reform, followed by meetings with ISAC (Income Support Advocacy Centre) and the new MCSS Developmental Services Branch Director, Barb Simmons.

As usual, working hard for people with a disability and our members.

Joe Dale
Executive Director

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Update! The Last 3 Weeks for ODEN

It’s almost been too busy to keep up so ‘This Week with The Network’ is going to span a few weeks.

Week of January 20th

The week kicked off with ODEN Employer Champ Mark Wafer and Joe Dale doing a ‘Rotary at Work’ presentation in St. Catharines at noon on Monday and then a quick trip to the airport and flight to Sault Ste. Marie.

Tuesday in the Sault, Mark and Joe did a one hour presentation to 160 business owners/managers followed by a 2 hour training session for local job developers.

A 5:55 a.m. flight on Wednesday landed Mark and Joe in Toronto for a meeting with Board member Gordon Ryall and Service Canada rep, Davin Kamino (is it Friday yet?) No!

On Friday, Joe managed to slip in a keynote presentation and moderate a panel at Community Living Ontario’s Commence Conference.

Week of January 27th

The week of the 27th started off somewhat easier, thanks to a couple of snow days that prevented Joe from getting to Belleville.

Thursday, however, started off with a meeting with Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley and an introduction to Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment and his new Accessibility Directorate team. Subsequently, both Joe and Champion’s League member Mark Wafer, have been invited to join Ontario’s new Partnership Council on Labour Market Opportunities for People with Disabilities. From Queen’s Park, it was a short drive to North Bay for an employer engagement presentation hosted by Northern Voice.

Friday started off with another Employer event in Sturgeon Falls. Upon arriving home at 4:15 on Friday afternoon, Joe decided to take the rest of the day off.

Week of February 3rd

This week started off in Christine Elliot’s office first thing Monday morning. Christine is an MPP for Durham Region and member of the Select Committee on Developmental Disabilities. Joe and Mark Wafer met with Christine for an hour and a half, discussing employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities and the barriers inherent within the system and DSO. This was followed up with interviews of both Joe and Mark by Moira Welsh of the Toronto Star’s editorial board.

Off to Chatham Monday evening for an employer engagement event first thing Tuesday morning. 70 business operators in attendance and good press coverage.

Wednesday, Phil McColeman, MP Brant, debated bill M-430 addressing the needs for employment for people with a disability in the House of Commons. Champion Mark Wafer and the Federal Panel on Labour Market Opportunities is mentioned.

Wednesday evening, despite the raging snow, 90 business operators showed up in Oakville to hear Joe and Mark present the business case on hiring people with disabilities. CBC television was there to film for an upcoming episode on CBC’s The National that will include interviews with friends and colleagues, Rich Donovan from 5th Quadrant Analytics and Randy Lewis from Walgreens.

Thursday morning Joe kissed his wife Teresa goodbye and said he’d see her later that evening. She laughed – “Joe who?”

The ODEN Board met on Thursday to look at where things are at with various Network issues, but focused largely on our Government Relations issues.

Later that day (Thurs), Joe was interviewed by Laura Kane, for an article that appeared in the Star on Friday morning (click here to see the article).

Thursday evening Joe and Mark Wafer gave an update on Rotary at Work at an ‘All Presidents’ meeting for Rotary District 7070. It’s been reported that Joe did see his wife later that evening as he crawled into bed.

Friday, for the first time Joe says he misses Bob Vansickle, Board Co-Chair, and says he sure hopes Bob has a speedy recovery from his surgery and gets back into action. We really need his help.

Your Network, working hard on behalf of you and the people you support!

Debbi Souci – Board Co-Chair

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Photos From “Employment First: Is It Right For Ontario?”

Wendy Parent-Johnson

Wendy Parent-Johnson, Ph.D., CRC, CESP, discusses “Employment First: Expanding Transition Options for Youth”

Pat Rogan

Pat Rogan, Ph.D., presenting “Organizational Change from Facility-based to Community-based Employment Services”


Laura Owens

Laura Owens, Ph.D., presenting “Transition Planning and Employment First: Raising Expectations”

Joe Dale

Ontario Disability Employment Network Executive Director, Joe Dale, introduces the speakers

David Mank

David Mank, Ph.D., presenting “Aligning What We Do with What We Know – Supported Employment in Context of Time” to the group

David Hoff

David Hoff, M.S.W., presenting “Employment First – What It Is, What It Isn’t, What It Means”


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Press Release – Dec. 4, 2013

Ontario Disability Employment Networks Launches New Website in Conjunction with Employment First Conference

December 4, 2013

Toronto, ON: The Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) hosted Employment First: Is It Right For Ontario? on December 4, 2013.

ODEN is a non-profit organization of employment service providers advocating for policy changes that increase opportunities for people who have a disability. Employment First: Is It Right For Ontario? brought together a diverse group of stakeholders in the area of employment and disability through a round-table discussion format that focuses on the Employment First framework and how it facilitates the full inclusion of people with significant disabilities in the workplace and community.

Employment First is a community-based, integrated approach to services for people who have disabilities that places employment as the first option for services for youth and adults with a disability. The Framework is sweeping through the United State with 45 states that have adopted or are in the process of adopting the policy framework.

“Employment First Policy Framework is not new to the Network. We at ODEN have been supporting this policy framework and have referenced it in discussions and position papers. Employment First strategy was included in our report to the Social Assistance Review Commission. ODEN has also had discussions with Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), Employment Ontario, Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) Developmental and Ontario Disability Support Branches and Ministry of Finance regarding Employment First Policy Framework,” says Bob Vansickle, co-chair of ODEN.

“We are pleased to be able to take this next step in providing this opportunity to learn more about Employment First Policy Framework. For many service agencies, this approach will not be foreign as they already deliver supports and services with the same or very similar values.”

In conjunction with the event, ODEN has launched a brand new accessible website to engaging their membership, share important information and events, and integrate the organization’s strong social media presence. The new website was designed and developed by SpaceRace, a Canadian boutique digital agency that serves progressive people and organizations.

“We are so pleased to work with the ODEN team on the launch of their new website,” says Aerin Guy, SpaceRace’s Director of Digital Strategy. “We really believe in the work of this organization and are excited to help them share their messages through a site that is accessible to everyone. ODEN is at the forefront of thinking on disability and employment issues and we are proud to support their work.”

To learn more about ODEN, visit: www.odenetwork.com

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Welcome To The New ODENetwork.com

Welcome to the new and improved Ontario Disability Employment Network website. We hope you like it.

Please bear with us over the next few weeks as we work out all the kinks.

This site is a critical tool for us to share our message, and in turn, a critical tool to increasing employment opportunities for people who have a disability in Ontario. Our friends at SpaceRace have been working hard to ensure that we can share this site with everyone, and we have all done our best to ensure we have provided you with a fully accessible web presence. If you experience any issues with the new format, please let us know.

Click here to e-mail us


Click here to discover more ways to connect with us

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Update! Dec. 2, 2013

There continues to be a lot going on with The Network. Here’s a short update:

This Week:

Monday, Nov. 25
Executive Director attends the Minister’s General Advisory Council on Social Assistance Reform – agenda includes discussions on adequacy of social assistance rates and accountability for ODSP recipients as it relates to participation in labour market programs

Tuesday, Nov. 26
Rotary at Work presentations in Oakville and Fergus

Wednesday, Nov. 27
Rotary at Work presentations in Etobicoke and Palgrave

Friday, Nov. 29
Government Relations update with Quinte Employment Network

Next Week:

Wednesday, Dec. 4
Employment First Symposium, Toronto Eaton Chelsea (Registration Closed)

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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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Update! Oct. 28, 2013

There continues to be a lot going on with The Network. Here’s a short update.

Monday, October 28th Joe Dale meets with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Social Assistance Reform. Also this week, The Network’s Government Relations Committee meets to continue its discussions about the Canada Jobs Grant.

Don’t forget to to mark your calendar as The Network will be hosting the ‘Employment First’ Day Conference on December 4, 2013. The event will be held at the Eaton Chelsea, Toronto.  (Registration now closed for this event)

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Update! Oct. 22, 2013

The Government Relations Committee met last week and among the topics discussed were: the status of the ‘On-hold’ disability service providers under Employment Ontario; and, the Canada Jobs Grant status that could have a major impact on the Federal-Provincial Labour Market Agreements (LMA) and subsequently, employment services provided for people with disabilities.

The Federal Throne Speech referenced the LMA’s: “take further steps to see that those traditionally under-represented in the workforce, including people with disabilities, youth and Aboriginal Canadians, find the job training they need.” The Speech went on to say: “Our Government will work with provinces and territories on a new generation of labour market agreements to more effectively connect Canadians with disabilities to employers and in-demand jobs.

The Network will continue to monitor the LMA negotiations and will keep you informed of our key messages and strategies going forward.

Don’t forget to to mark your calendar as The Network will be hosting the ‘Employment First’ Day Conference on December 4, 2013. The event will be held at the Eaton Chelsea, Toronto.  Further details and registration information are coming soon.

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Update! Oct. 6, 2013

There’s a lot going on with The Network and we thought it would be beneficial to provide you with this short weekly update.

All Week – The Network’s ED, Joe Dale, and Business Champion Mark Wafer are in BC this week. They are meeting with the B.C. government about improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities and to help launch Rotary at Work as a province-wide initiative for all B.C. Rotary Clubs.

October 10th – Network Board Member, Debbi Soucie, to be panelist at a screening of  “A Whole Lott More” in Toronto.

October 15th – The Network’s Government Relations Committee will be meeting in Toronto.

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Update! Sept. 29, 2013

Here’s something new! There’s a lot going on with The Network and we thought it might be beneficial to provide our followers with some short weekly updates.

Tuesday, October 1st – the Network’s Executive Director, Joe Dale and Champion, Mark Wafer (above) give a keynote presentation to more than 500 delegates – store owners and suppliers – at the annual conference of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

Wednesday, October 2nd – The Network’s Executive Director, Joe Dale, joins Premiers Christy Clark (BC) and David Alward (NB) at the national Skills Training Roundtable to discuss the Federal-Provincial/Territorial Labour Market Agreement renewal strategy.

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2013 Provincial Budget Synopsis

2013 Provincial Budget Synopsis

As it relates to enhancing employment opportunities for people who have a disability

The ‘Up’ Side

First of all, it should be seen as significant that employment for people with disabilities received the attention it did in the provincial budget. The spotlight, so to speak, is encouraging in that the importance of this issue has risen to the surface with the provincial government.

The budget also announced that people who have a disability who are working or who take new jobs will be able to retain the first $200 earned before the claw back of 50 cents on each dollar earned. While not stated in the budget, Ministry of Finance confirmed that other employment-related benefits will be retained including the $100 monthly work-related benefit. This is a move in the right direction with respect to providing incentive for people to work and allowing them to keep more of what they earn. This will take effect September, 2013.

On the benefits side, ODSP Income Support will increase by 1%, effective September, 2013 as well. Ontario Works candidates will also receive the 1% increase and those without children will receive an additional top up of $14 per month. This will take effect in October 2013.

Cautiously Optimistic

The Government announced “a new Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, composed of government and corporate leaders, to champion the hiring of people with disabilities”. This appears to mirror the work of the Ontario Disability Employment Network with the development of the Champion’s League and, obviously, we believe that Champion Employers can be a great asset in moving the employment agenda forward. At this stage, our only reservations are to determine the makeup of this Council, the role that Government will play in it, and to ensure we don’t have too many vehicles of this type that are not coordinated or that seem to compete with each other. Our preference is that they should explore the option of tapping into and supporting existing structures.

Of Concern

The Finance Minister announced an investment of $295 million over 2 years to bolster an Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy. In the text they state: “Employment opportunities would be available across Ontario, with an added focus on areas with high youth unemployment, including at-risk youth (e.g. youth leaving care, youth receiving social assistance), Aboriginal youth, recent immigrants and visible minority youth, and youth in rural and northern communities.” Nowhere is there mention of youth with disabilities. In conversation with Ministry of Finance officials, this was an omission that had not been picked up on. We will need to pursue this with MTCU managers, who will be responsible for the implementation of these programs.

Service integration is still not clear. While there are lots of references to service integration, integrating employment services with Employment Ontario, it is not clear that this includes those employment services operated by ODSP.

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Joe Dale Presents To The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development

The following was presented to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development on Thursday March 7, 2013 by the Executive Director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network, Joe Dale.

(Click here to download a PDF version)

Good morning.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee today. My name is Joe Dale. I have worked in the disability field for over 35 years, spending much of that time working in, training and consulting on issues related to employment opportunities for people who have a disability. Currently, I am the Executive Director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network, a professional network of employment service agencies from across Ontario, and I am the founder of the Rotary at Work initiative in Ontario which has been a catalyst for a number of employer engagement initiatives and strategies.

I have three key issues I’d like to speak to this morning. They are: ensuring effective services and supports for people who have a disability; employer engagement and support; and, youth employment for kids with disabilities.

Providing Effective Services and Supports

People who have a disability can work and have the capacity to make a significant contribution to the workforce. This is a fundamental fact that we must understand and accept. Another fact is that we, in the non-disabled community – in both government and in the disability profession – have only just begun to scratch the surface in our understanding of how to recognize this capacity and how best to exploit it.

There is no tool or instrument, that we have today that can effectively measure or assess capacity or help us determine the ‘employability’ of people who have a disability. Whenever we set out to measure employability or capacity to work, we invariably set the bar too high and discriminate against those who we deem to be too severely disabled to work.

This was made imminently clear to me recently when I was fortunate enough to travel to Connecticut and visit a Walgreens Distribution Centre where 47% of the employees have a disability. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Walgreens story.

What was of particular interest to me was a statement made by Executive Vice President, Randy Lewis. Mr. Lewis recounted their early hires when they embarked on this journey of hiring people with disabilities. He talked about a young man with severe autism and significant behavioral problems who was to be their first hire. Mr. Lewis was asked the question: “Mr. Lewis, it seems that you deliberately started out by hiring someone with very significant challenges. Was that intentional?” Mr. Lewis responded: “Yes, we did, because we thought if we could get that first, difficult one right, the rest would be easy. What we learned though, is that we didn’t go low enough because the capacity of people was far greater than anything we had ever imagined.” A very profound statement!

Indeed, perhaps the most effective measure of employability is more properly gauged by each individual’s motivation to work.

Having said that, it is important that the services and supports each person needs is available and available in a way that makes sense.

We need to consider ease of access to employment services and supports. That it makes sense to the individual job seeker and that when they show up at the door looking for help, they can get that help as soon as possible and in a seamless way. Nothing takes the motivation out of someone faster than being bounced around from service to service, process to process, assessment to assessment and so on.

If the job seeker comes looking for help and they are sent to one door for an assessment or an eligibility determination, a different door to get an employment plan, another to get the case manager they didn’t even know they needed and so forth, not only have we lengthened the process out and made it extremely costly to deliver, but that person is at very high risk of losing their initial motivation and much less likely to follow through to the end goal of getting a job. Even those who endure it all, often end up back at the original door they first went to with the agency that offers the employment support services of job preparation and job development.

Services should be available using a wrap-around process. There is little, if any value in having silos of service with multiple agencies each providing a different part of the service. Employment agencies should be entrusted with providing as much of the supports as are needed to assist people to meet their career and job goals. If through the career exploration process, it is determined that a competency-based assessment or specialized training is required, the employment agency should broker or case manage these services on behalf of the job seeker to ensure continuity.

Job seekers with disabilities need access to the full spectrum of services and supports – pre and post-employment.

Those with limited education, training and work experience often need pre-employment supports. This includes employment-related life-skills, an understanding of workplace culture and responsibilities, resume preparation and interview skills training and so on. This should be based on time-limited, curriculum-based programs or training modules. These programs also serve to help the employment agency assess motivation; help determine the skills, abilities and aspirations of the job seeker; and, give a solid understanding of the supports needed to ensure a successful job match.

Supports don’t stop at the point of job placement. Employers also need support and it is the post-placement support that has the greatest impact on job retention and career growth. Employers need to see the employment agency as a specialist or  as a disability consultant. As one employer once told me; “I’m an expert at making coffee, not at understanding disability”. Workplaces evolve and jobs change. Often retraining and even revisiting and revising accommodations are necessary.

Preventative maintenance, in the form of customer service with the business owner or manager can often prevent terminations, nipping problems in the bud before they become too much for the business to contend with.

The Ontario Disability Employment Network recommends that the HRSDC Opportunities Fund ensures that the full range of employment supports be available to people who have a disability, including both pre and post-placement services. Secondly, we recommend that services not be carved off into silos with different services provided by different agencies, particularly case management and assessment.

Employer Engagement

Through the Rotary at Work initiative we have learned two very important lessons:

First, that we must make a solid business case for hiring people who have a disability. We can no longer soft sell on the basis that ‘It’s the right thing to do’ or by appealing to charitable and feel good notions.

And secondly, that the peer-to-peer method of delivering the message works best. People respect and listen to their peers. In the broadest sense, this is evident when we use the business-to-business approach. Business operators speaking to other business operators, in the same language and understanding each other’s motivation of profitability gets traction.

On another level, however, the peer-to-peer method can be used within employment sectors as evidenced by the Mayor’s Challenge, where we have the Mayor of Sarnia challenging his colleagues and peers in other municipalities to hire people with disabilities within the municipal workforce; or the Police Chief’s Challenge, where London’s police chief, Brad Duncan has put out the challenge to other police chiefs across the province. These challenges are followed up with in-person contact and support from the Champion.

This peer-to-peer approach is also transferable on a more micro level. Using the peer-to-peer approach, we are now working with some major Canadian Corporations to develop strategies within their own ranks. Deliberate strategies that have department managers talking to their counterparts and peers in other divisions, departments and branches not only about why they should include people who have disabilities in their divisions, but also about how to successfully on-board new hires.

There is still a lot of work to be done to engage employers in many segments of business and industry but we are now seeing the tide turning on this issue. For many businesses, the question is changing from why hire to how do I hire.

In this regard we would recommend establishing a business-driven association of experienced employers, along the lines of the UK Forum on Abilities. Such an entity could carry on the important educational work that has begun while adding to its capacity, peer support, advice and consultation services to assist those who are having difficulty with implementing pro-active recruitment strategies and on-boarding new employees from the disability sector.

Wage subsidies, as a strategy to gain employment opportunities for people with disabilities is hotly contested across the country. The Ontario Disability Employment Network, and its members, does not support wage subsidies as an employment strategy. We have seen far too many abuses, where there was no intention to retain an employee beyond the term of the subsidy. Wage subsidies also undermine the ‘value proposition’ of hiring from the disability sector and set people up to be seen and often treated differently from their co-workers.

Employers, who understand the value that people with disabilities bring to the workplace, rarely, if ever, access wage subsidies. Smart employers tell us that, when they pay wages, they are, in fact, investing in that employee and through this investment, are more vested in achieving a successful outcome. When it’s free or subsidized the relationship is not the same.

If we are doing a good job at making the business case for hiring people who have a disability, wage subsidies should not be required. We believe these precious resources could be better utilized in other areas with greater impact.

Rather than wage subsidies, consideration should be given to accommodate businesses for any ‘real’ out of pocket costs that may be incurred by hiring someone with a disability. Consider financial support for accommodations, whether they be physical accommodations, technical accommodations, personal supports and job coaches, skills training and so on.

Perhaps consideration can be given to provide a subsidy where an individual, due to their disability, may take longer to learn the job than would be expected. But, a blanket approach where employers are paid to hire people who have a disability, without any long-term commitment is bound to end up with abuses and less than desirable outcomes.

Student Employment

Much greater emphasis and resources must be invested in kids who have disabilities. Students with disabilities are also shut out of the labour market. They graduate from high school, colleges and universities without any work experience on their resume. We must get kids engaged, at 15 and 16 years of age, in summer jobs and part-time after school jobs so they can gain the experience they need to learn workplace culture and life skills, and to establish career goals and paths.

A 2012 US study found that the number one indicator of successful labour market attachment for people with severe disabilities, upon graduation from school was having had a paid job while in school.*1 Through the Rotary at Work initiative, we have experienced this first hand. In 2010 we were approached by a young man,

Adam, seeking help to find a job. Adam had been called to the Ontario Bar in 2004 but due to his disability, had never worked. Not just in his chosen profession, never worked in any job and he was willing to do anything including serving coffee if that’s what it took. We were fortunate in connecting Adam with Deloitte, where he was eventually hired to work in one of their legal departments. Adam’s manager, however, clearly stated that they went out on a limb for Adam. That he was sorely lacking in the ‘soft’ skills and had a poor understanding of workplace culture. Fortunately Adam was a quick study and has maintained his position with Deloitte.

We have seen this example over and over again – accountants, computer programmers and many other qualified professionals as well as those simply looking for entry-level positions. In the HRSDC report, Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector, there is a notation about the significant increases in the proportion of adults with disabilities that have post-secondary degrees. If we can’t do better than a 51% labour market attachment for these individuals once they graduate, we have wasted, and are continuing to waste a lot of resources and talent.

We must engage kids with disabilities in the labour market, just as we do with kids who are not disabled.

We have an excellent example of where this is being done. Community Living Sarnia Lambton has operated a summer employment program for people who have a disability for over 15 years and it has been growing exponentially in recent years. In the summer of 2011 they found paid summer jobs for 82 kids with disabilities. All types and degrees of disability, students from high school, colleges and universities, and all types of jobs – 95 jobs in total as some kids had more than one job.

There are many benefits and layers to the successes of this program. The agency accesses multiple funding opportunities through the provincial government and federal Opportunities Fund, along with corporate sponsorship and agency fund-raised dollars. In this way, public funding is leveraged to maximum benefit.

Another element is that the ‘job coaches’ are themselves University and college students, without disabilities, and hired through federal and provincial summer jobs programs. These future business leaders also learn about the benefits of including people who have a disability in the workplace.

The most telling aspect of the program, however, is the change in dynamics within the families of those with disabilities and educators. The agency notes that the greatest change is in families who suddenly gain a sense of hope and expectation as they realize their kids can work and will have a place in society. This change in expectation that work is the next logical step after school is significant. Young people with disabilities in Sarnia are now graduating from school and approaching the agency immediately for assistance to find work. No longer is social assistance the first step. For many, it has become the fallback, as it rightfully should.

At the end of the summer the students created a video to celebrate their success. It can be accessed at: http://tinyurl.com/2b56zh8

While Community Living Sarnia’s summer employment program supports people with all types of disabilities, the agency was asked by Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services to track the movement of those in the program who had an intellectual disability. Those results are in the table below:

In summary, I would like to say that we need to invest in youth with disabilities; we must engage the private sector in a different way and ensure that we can support them to be successful; and, that we need to ensure efficient and seamless access to the services and supports people who have a disability need in order to be successful contributors to the Canadian economy.

For more information, contact:

Joe Dale, Executive Director

Ontario Disability Employment Network




*1 Carter, E.W., Austin, D. & Trainor, A. (2012). Predictors of Post school Employment Outcomes for Young Adults With Severe Disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 23(1), 55-63.


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