By Paul Morden, Sarnia Observer
Monday, April 16, 2012 5:18:22 EDT PM
Boosting the employment rate for disabled people is key to economic recovery, says Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley.
He spoke Monday at the Guildwood Inn in Point Edward during Building a New Workforce, an event to promote the employment of individuals with disabilities.
“I do not believe it is possible for us to achieve economic recovery, as a nation, until, and unless, the issue of unemployed people with disabilities is resolved,” Onley said.
“And, that people who are able to work, want to work, are skilled enough to work, are given the chance to work.”
Onley, who uses a mechanized chair, said he decided to make promoting accessibility and allowing people to achieve their full potential the theme of his time as lieutenant-governor.
Disabled persons make up nearly 16% of Ontario’s population, making them the province’s largest minority group.
“They’re the only minority group you can join in the blink of an eye,” he said.
Unemployment among disabled people is more than 25%: higher than the general unemployment rate the country experienced during the 1930s depression, he said.
“For disabled people,” he said, “it’s not a Great Depression, it’s a perpetual depression.”
Most are forced to rely on government assistance and face a lifetime of poverty, he said.
Giving disabled individuals the opportunity to work saves cost and creates new taxpayers, Onley said.
But many employers mistakenly believe disabled workers require expensive office renovations, are off sick more often and won’t stay in the job, he said
He pointed to surveys of employers with disabled workers that show those fears are unfounded.
Renovations often aren’t required, or aren’t expensive, he said. Disabled workers tend to be absent less often and stay in their jobs, he added.
“They know fewer opportunities are going to be open to them and so they tend to value their jobs much more highly than other people.”A manager who only sees a potential job candidate’s disability during an interview would miss out on hiring a Terry Fox, Rick Hansen or Stephen Hawking, he said.
Onley thanked the Rotary Club and other groups in Sarnia for the work they’re doing and urged them to keep it up.
The Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce and Sarnia Lambton Workforce Development Board presented the talk with the Rotary Club.
Also speaking at the event were representatives of Rotary At Work, a joint program between the service club and Community Living Ontario that encourages the employment of individuals with disabilities.