2011 has been a great year that has provided the Ontario Disability Employment Network the ability to make strides in government relationships, engage other partners, and develop new initiatives and opportunities to make a difference for persons with disabilities seeking employment.
The following represents the highlights of our accomplishments over the past year and our commitment to being a unified voice for our membership. This has been achieved through the volunteer efforts of our Board of Directors, a one-day per week Executive Director and, of course, the contributions of our members.
We would like to take this opportunity to again thank our sponsors and patrons. As you may know, the Network has made a conscience decision not to pursue government funding, so that our advocacy efforts are not limited or impeded. The Network’s revenue sources come from membership dues, revenue from events and training sessions and a few organizations that have generously donated financial and in-kind contributions to help the Network continue its valued work.
It is important to the Network that we continue to remain responsive to the issues that matter most to you as we continue to meet the challenges that face us in finding and maintaining employment for people who have a disability. We are interested in getting your feedback along with your direction and support. This will assist the Network to continue to be a success and a strong voice for the employment services sector.
We have had the opportunity over the past year to develop a number of avenues to spread the message of the Network and also encourage conversation and provide a forum to engage others when issues/concerns have arisen.
• Website – we partnered with eSSENTIAL Accessibility Inc. in May which is a web browser for persons with a disability. This has ensured access to our website is more efficient and effective.
Special acknowledgement goes out to our volunteer contributors, Aerin and Jimmy Guy of SpaceRace! (http://gospacerace.com/), who make having a website possible for the Network. Our site is located at http://www.odenetwork.com/
• Twitter – for the past year we have been sharing news and updates on twitter and you can connect with the Network at http://twitter.com/#!/odenetwork
• Facebook – we are up and running on Facebook with a page that will provide opportunities to share information and engage in conversations. We can be found at http://tinyurl.com/6scvzj2.
• LinkedIn Group – we now have an Ontario Disability Employment Network group where opportunities are available to share resources and converse on topics of interest. Connect with us by going to http://tinyurl.com/7gkewxr.
• Email – we can be contacted also at email@example.com
It is essential that our member organizations continue to be able to deliver quality employment services and therefore the Network has been instrumental this year in developing strong and engaging relationships with government.
• In May the Board of Directors of the the Network became aware of the ODSP-ES evaluations that were being conducted by Cathexis Consulting. It came to our attention, however, that a number of our members were concerned about providing contact information for the employers they work with. THE NETWORK broached this issue on behalf of the membership with the consultants and ODSP. As a result, Cathexis took a different approach to gathering information from employers.
M.P.P. Election Strategy
• The Network developed a tool kit that was made available to services providers to assist them in getting the attention of the candidates for the provincial election in October and also provided key messages that targeted access to services including specialized services, greater investment in employment services and an ‘Employment First’ Policy framework.
Social Assistance Review Commission
• On August 25th the Network submitted a report and presented a PowerPoint presentation to the commission which was very well received and this relationship continues with the Commission’s interest in receiving input from the Network as their work unfolds. At the Network’s Conference and AGM that was held in November Leah Myers, Executive Lead, of the SAR Commission presented an overview of the Commission’s findings and dialogue about how we can help more people who have a disability get into the workforce. A number of the recommendations that the Network made at the August 25th meeting were adopted into the Commission’s findings and recommendations.
The Network’s ‘Employment Ontario Task Force’
• As EO deliberates on its ‘disability strategy’ it was apparent that their policy staff had a very superficial understanding of disability, the barriers facing people who have a disability with respect to accessing the labour market or the services and supports they need to be successful. The EO Task Force created two documents which were presented to the policy leads at MTCU – Barriers to Inclusion and Path to Employment.
• Along with these documents, the Network has attended a number of meetings with the ADM of MTCU and her staff team. This has resulted in the slowing down and delays to implementation of the disability strategy as they consider appropriate service options.
• More recently, the Network has been requested by MTCU to act as a reference group to the Employment Ontario team that is responsible for their disability service strategy.
• The Network continues its efforts in building relationships with ODSP and ensuring policy issues are brought to the Ministry’s attention. The Network has met with ODSP Directors Norm Helfand and more recently with the new Interim Director, Patti Redmond. Some of the issues discussed included the conflict of people supported under the DS branch that are working in private businesses without wages or at less than minimum; the inconsistency in back-dating ODSP applications across the province; the impact of modernization on referrals; challenges of the wage verification process; file review processes; and, the need to develop ‘service standards’ for the sector.
• The Network also had direct meetings and correspondence with the ODSP ‘Modernization’ unit.
• The Network continues to gather and promote input from our sector and shares this with MCSS.
Ontario’s Speech from The Throne
It must also be noted that the Network received an invitation by the Honourable David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in November to attend the Speech from the Throne, which was graciously attended by two of our Board members and Employer Champion League member Mayor Mike Bradley of Sarnia.
Employer Engagement and Marketing Initiatives
This area is extremely important not only to the Board, but also our members. It is vital that we develop opportunities and initiatives that will continue to improve the participation of people with a disability in the workforce. We have found that ‘employer champions’, as recognized through the Network’s Champion’s League, is a vital and effective way to extend our capacity and gain positive results.
Finding and working with Champions is a tremendous help to moving forward and creating positive changes in the employment situation for people who have a disability.
• At our second annual AGM and Conference we were able to recognize and acknowledge a new Champion, Mr. Dennis Winkler who, as an employer, fit the criteria of someone deserving to be part of the Champion’s League.
• Our past Champion’s League recipients continue to demonstrate the value in hiring people with a disability and the work being done in our sector. The formation of this league has provided a venue to continue to promote and plan initiatives to advance the work being done on behalf of persons with disabilities.
• The Champion’s League continues to receive strong support from Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley. The League continues to hold strategy meetings with His Honour regularly at his offices at the legislature as well as participate in events geared to promote hiring to the business community in Ontario such as Rotary at Work and others.
• Once again this year we have had the support of Mike Bradley, Mayor of Sarnia. His dedication and willingness to speak on behalf of the Network and its membership to other organizations and mayors has continue to provide an awareness and has challenged other communities start “Doing the Right Thing” by including a person with a disability in their workforce.
• Organizations across the province continue to approach their mayors to also put into action the need to respond to the hiring of persons with disabilities.
• A Mayor’s Challenge Toolkit has been made available on our website for Network members.
Other Niche Opportunities
Each of the Champions has continued to explore new opportunities. Joe Hoffer has been instrumental at gaining access to the Ontario Police Services Board and the Law Society of Ontario. We plan to exploit these opportunities in the coming year with strategies that will help bring education to these two major organizations. This will lead to further employment opportunities for people who have a disability.
• Mark Wafer has worked tirelessly to promote inclusive hiring practices through the Rotary at Work program. He has put in countless hours and helped expand this program to four districts of the province and is in discussions with three more. This has directly resulted in over 130 hires with very little staff input on the job development side. This leaves organizations free to use their resources on finding a good match and in follow up supports. The Network is currently in discussions with Community Living Ontario about taking on future responsibility for Rotary at Work under the Network’s umbrella.
Our continued success and the importance of having a voice are integral in getting the attention from the media on issues and perspectives that the Network and our members have. We had a number of opportunities throughout the year to engage the media.
• The continued recognition of the members of the Champion’s League in newspapers and trade publications and their great work with employing persons with a disability was highlighted in local newspapers.
• The Mayor’s Challenge and the ongoing media coverage of Mayor Bradley continues to draw attention to the benefits to hiring persons with a disability.
• The work that went into ensuring that our members and the people we support had a voice during this year’s provincial election.
We believe the Network has been able to work very hard over the last year to provide our members with the many benefits of their membership with us. We are a member-driven organization and our strength is with the membership. Please share all the information that has been provided in this review with other colleagues and encourage others to join Ontario’s only Provincial Network that continues to work on behalf of employment service providers. In addition the Network has been a part of some other initiatives.
• We have been able to provide a voice at committee levels (Canadian Disability Policy Alliance, ODSP Action Coalition, Canadian Association for Supported Employment, Community Living Ontario, JOIN and others).
• Executive Director Joe Dale has done a number of speaking engagements in the Niagara Region, Ottawa, North Bay, Belleville, London, Toronto and others.
• Provide training opportunities to our members. Co-sponsored with Southwest Employment Network ‘Job Developers Roadmap’ in May and then our own AGM and conference ‘Champions for Change: Leadership in Workforce Development’ in November.
• The Network hosted a forum in April – ‘Creating a Common Voice’, which gave regional networks and provincial organization the opportunity to take the first steps in having a unified voice to represented the needs of people who have a disability when it comes to accessing the workforce.
• Received recognition by JVS Toronto as one of their community partners at their 9th Annual Strictly Business Awards Luncheon in May.
• To continue to build our organization with more membership.
• Provide training and networking opportunities for the sector.
• Build on the great work that has been accomplished through the Mayor’s Challenge and the Champion’s League.
• To continue with strategies for employer engagement.
• Look for other funding opportunities and private fund resources that share the same goals and objectives of the Network to ensure sustainability.
• To build on the work that is being done with government relations and ensure that policy and funding issues do not become the barrier to employment for people who have a disability.
• To continue to be responsive to the needs of our members. Please share what is important to you and how we can help.
From the Board of Directors of the Ontario Disability Employment Network we want to extend our thanks for your continued support in our journey to make positive changes for Ontarians who have a disability and are seeking employment.
We wish you much success in 2012 and look forward to the consolidated effort by this Provincial Network and its members to continue to remove barriers to employment for people who have a disability and our primary objective; to find meaningful and sustainable employment for those we serve.