Message from the Honourable Tracy MacCharles

I am pleased to present Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities.

This comprehensive, collaborative plan outlines our vision for the future—a province where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential and make a meaningful contribution to our economic prosperity and social growth. We want children and youth with disabilities to grow up confident in the knowledge that they can put their talents to work in our provincial economy of tomorrow. And we want adults of all ages and abilities to know there is a place for their insights and skills in Ontario businesses today.

We are calling employers to join us and take action: if every business in Ontario with 20 or more employees hires at least one more person with a disability, about 56,000 people with disabilities looking for work will gain employment and have the opportunity to help further build and enrich our businesses and economy.

With this strategy, our government takes the first of many steps to provide programs and supports focused on increasing employment for people with disabilities. These will help individuals get training tailored to their abilities and aspirations, while helping employers to diversify their workforce and fill talent needs with services adapted to their business goals.

We have talked to people from across the private, public and non-profit sectors, and we have heard from those with a range of perspectives and lived experiences to inform these first steps. Our conversation continues with Francophone communities, First Nations and Indigenous peoples so that we can adopt more practical measures that reflect the diverse and evolving needs of people with disabilities.

We have also drawn from recommendations made by experts in the field, including the Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities and the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel, as well as the Mental Health and Addictions Leadership Advisory Council and their panels for people with lived experience.

Some of the most successful companies in the world today are those that build diversity into all aspects of their workplace, from recruitment to career development. These businesses know that people with disabilities are an under-represented talent pool and a significant source of new growth. They understand that a diverse workforce leads to increased innovation and productivity, making them more competitive in global markets and emerging sectors.

Since 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act has helped us build a more equal and accessible province. By connecting more people with disabilities to job opportunities and businesses to talent, this strategy will help us grow a stronger Ontario economy and a diverse culture of acceptance. Working together, we can make inclusion the new standard for business in Ontario.


Minister Tracy MacCharles
Minister Responsible for Accessibility


Nearly 1.9 million people in Ontario have a disability footnote 1 – that’s about one in seven individuals. This number continues to increase as our population ages and grows.

Creating a more supportive, dynamic, and inclusive province for people with disabilities benefits us all.

Access Talent recognizes that most people with disabilities want to work and are capable of working. But the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about 16%footnote 2 – far higher than the rate for people without disabilities. This severely limits their contributions to our society and economy.

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

Access Talent will leverage Ontario’s reputation as an accessibility leader, using this strong base to enhance opportunities for people with disabilities seeking employment.

The importance of collaboration

To develop a truly inclusive strategy over the long term, we will continue to collaborate with others. As part of our engagement, we will work with First Nations and Indigenous partners, as well as Francophone communities, to build culturally-specific actions into the strategy.

Moving forward, we will continue to refine our approach in consultation with people with disabilities, First Nations, Indigenous, Francophone, non-profit, and business partners. The idea is to develop a flexible base that can adapt to meet the needs of people across the province.

The vision

We envision a province where people with disabilities are thriving in rewarding jobs and careers, and—together with their employers—are contributing to the province’s prosperity and economic growth.

Access Talent is a starting point. It will evolve over time to meet the diverse needs of people with disabilities, reflect changing perceptions of disability, and respond to the new social and economic forces that will shape our province.


Employees with disabilities won’t do as good a job as other employees.


90% of people with disabilities rate average or better on job performance compared to their colleagues without disabilities — and about 50% have post-secondary education.

In fact, 75% of Ontario small- and medium-sized enterprises that employ people with disabilities report that they meet or exceed expectations.

Source: Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

The foundation

Ontario is known around the world as an accessibility leader. Access Talent builds on this solid foundation to make a difference for people with disabilities seeking employment.

Ontario was the first province in Canada to pass legislation that set out a clear goal and timeframe for accessibility. The landmark Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), has set an ambitious aim for the province–accessibility by 2025.

The AODA requires nearly 400,000 businesses and organizations to remove barriers that would prevent people with disabilities from accessing their goods and services. It includes standards that set a base level of accessibility in key areas of daily life, including information and communications, customer service, transportation, design of public spaces, and employment. The government also provides tools and resources to help organizations meet these accessibility standards.


People with disabilities represent a niche market companies can afford to ignore.


Together with their families and loved ones, people with disabilities represent more than half our population with a buying power that tops $40 billion in Canada and $1 trillion globally. Companies that employ people with disabilities can better serve this growing market.

Source: “Don’t Lower the Bar,” Rotary at Work whitepaper by Mark Wafer

The Accessible Employment Standard and beyond

As of January 1, 2017, all organizations and businesses with more than one employee in Ontario are required to make their employment practices accessible to job applicants and staff with disabilities according to the Accessible Employment Standard.

Beyond the law, the government has taken decisive action to promote accessible workplaces and increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities in a variety of ways. Access Talent builds on the following initiatives:


Someone with a disability won’t be reliable and will miss a lot of work.


86% of people with disabilities rate average or better on attendance than their colleagues without disabilities.

Source: Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

The business case

We need to promote the tremendous business case for hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

Today, many companies in the province are dealing with the pressures of an aging workforce. In fact, close to 30% of Canadian small – and medium-sized businesses have reported difficulties filling job vacancies.footnote 3

At the same time people with disabilities represent an untapped talent pool that can help fuel innovative growth and a measurable return on investment. Already, global innovators and high-performing companies, like SAP and CIBC, have pledged to hire more people with disabilities.

Access Talent will help broaden the scope of talent for Ontario employers and businesses, positioning them for growth in an increasingly diverse province and world. It’s a strategy built on partnerships-one that depends on the participation of people with disabilities, employers, educators and governments.

Building economic and social value by fully utilizing the talents of people with disabilities is a complex set of tasks. It requires the pillars of our economy—business, individuals and government—to be aligned and act together. This strategy acknowledges those complexities while focusing on the two things Ontarians and our economy need most—growth and the jobs that follow. I applaud the government for taking the first intentional step in a challenging path ahead and openly invite business and people with disabilities of all talent levels to join us.

Rich Donovan
Return on Disability Group


Employees with disabilities are more likely to get injured on the job.


98% of people with a disability rate average or better in work safety than their colleagues without disabilities.

Source: Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

The call to action

Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities belongs to every individual, employer, employee and service provider in Ontario. It calls all of us to take action to break down employment barriers—wherever they occur— because government cannot do this alone.

Our goal is to collaborate with Ontario employers—from the private, non-profit, public, and broader public sectors—as partners, so that together we’ll be able to collectively increase employment for people with disabilities looking for work.

With this strategy, we are challenging every Ontario employer with 20 or more employees to hire at least one more person with a disability. About 56, 000 people would get jobs, and 30% of the people with disabilities looking for work in Ontario would be able to apply their talents to our businesses and economy.

This represents a substantial workforce, with the potential to influence our economy and society in vibrant and meaningful ways. It’s why we are calling on everyone to take action and work with us to make this a reality.

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

Next, we’ll work with youth and service providers, while also leveraging the expertise of the Ontario Public Service—one of Canada’s best Diversity Employers for 10 years running. It’s all part of this strategy’s comprehensive and collaborative approach.

Let’s take action to get 30% more people with disabilities working in Ontario based on the number of people with disabilities who are available to work.

The guiding principles

The following principles have guided the development of Access Talent. They were established in consultation with an expert working group that included people with disabilities, business leaders, employers, educators, and service providers.

  • all people with disabilities should have opportunities for meaningful and sustained work regardless of their disability, income source and education
  • individuals should be able to make informed choices, supported by person-centred services and guided by their interests, needs, skills, strengths and aspirations
  • people with disabilities and employers should have easy access to integrated, evidence-based resources and services coordinated across government
  • resources and services should be responsive to employers’ business needs, allowing them to build an inclusive workforce and champion the hiring of people with disabilities
  • from an early age through the school years, and throughout their working lives, the career expectations of people with disabilities should be  supported
  • all parts of society—government, employers, service providers, schools, families, communities, not-for-profits and people with disabilities—should be involved in ensuring people with disabilities are an integral part of the labour force
  • measurable outcomes should be established and publicly reported on to track progress and impact
  • the needs and cultural differences of Indigenous peoples and others should  be respected and acknowledged


There will be a lot of turnover among employees with disabilities


Job turnover among people with disabilities is estimated to be 20% of the rate of other employees

Statistics Canada research indicates that, in organizations with accessible employment practices, employee retention was 72% higher among people with disabilities.

Source: Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

The pillars: Ontario’s strategic areas of focus

Access Talent is supported by four pillars. Success in the long term will rely on sustained efforts to strengthen and connect these strategic objectives.

  1. Start early – inspire and support youth and students with disabilities.

    Young people are the decisive force shaping Ontario’s future. Supporting the development and employment goals of all youth is critical to the province’s long-term success.

    Young people of all abilities benefit from work experience. Evidence demonstrates that early work experience while in school can lead to increased school completion rates, improved secondary-to- postsecondary and school-to-work transitions, and higher future earnings.

    This is especially true for youth with disabilities, who often have a harder time connecting with employers. The multiple barriers they face include limited work experience, inadequate support when transitioning away from school, and insufficient career preparation.

    The unemployment rate for youth with disabilities in Ontario was reported to be about 30% in 2012, almost double that recorded by youth without disabilities. When employed, some youth with disabilities also report under-employment—working part-time or working in a job for which they are over-qualified.

    That’s why we want to connect more youth to community supports, local employers, and career-focused educational programming. Building the workforce of tomorrow is a shared responsibility. All of us must do more to develop, promote and support the employment goals of young people with disabilities

    Post-secondary education attainment is supposed to be the gateway to gainful employment and career opportunities. We must make this the reality for persons with disabilities.

    Larry McCloskey, Director, Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities
    Carleton University

    The strategy will start with:

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

    Fact: 60,000 people with disabilities aged 18 to 29 receive assistance through the Ontario Disability Support Program. Ontario will be piloting a new approach to supporting the employment goals of these youth. The focus will be on providing early upfront assessment at the point of application, collaborative planning, and individualized and coordinated wrap-around services and supports to help youth on their path to employment.

    Mapping out a successful startup

    Going out with new university friends is a rite of passage for many young adults. But for entrepreneur Maayan Ziv, such an outing was a light bulb moment. It hatched her idea for AccessNow, an app that uses crowdsourcing to gather and share global information on the accessibility status of locations.

    Maayan, who has muscular dystrophy, says one of her biggest problems in life is constantly having to ask whether places are accessible. AccessNow currently answers that question for roughly 10,000 places, from hotels to stores to restaurants, on an interactive map. Its success helped Maayan win the Startup Canada Resilient Entrepreneur Award in 2016 for epitomizing the spirit of Canadian entrepreneurship.

    Maayan’s ingenuity has also served her well in her work as a fashion photographer, where she’s modified lighting gear to be able to use heavier lenses. She believes sitting on a wheelchair gives a unique perspective to her work. Maayan’s recent feature in national magazine Flare has put her innovative artistic and entrepreneurial perspectives on the map.

  2. Engage – support and encourage employers as champions and partners.

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

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

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

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

    By promoting and investing in the hiring and training of people with disabilities, Ontario is creating more employment opportunities and addressing the skills gap.

    Graham Henderson, Chair, Ontario Chamber of Commerce

    The strategy will start with:

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

    Tapping into talent and innovation

    It’s a frustrating disconnect: only about half of the people in Ontario with disabilities are employed, while many small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada are having challenges filling job vacancies. Helping to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and businesses is Dolphin Disabilities Mentoring Day, an annual event founded in 2011 by Dolphin, a communication technologies firm that uses technology in innovative ways to tackle social issues.

    • The one-day event connects business mentors with mentees who have a disability in an effort to build contacts, skills and confidence in this qualified talent pool. The exchange helps tune employers into the skills of people with disabilities and dispels myths about hiring.
    • From just four employers participating in the 2011 event, 75 businesses signed on for 2016. The latest mentoring day in Ontario took place in six communities across the province. 98% of the mentors polled after the event said it increased their confidence in working with a person with a disability. And only a few weeks later, 18% of mentees were hired.
    • Dolphin cofounders Scott and Jamie Burton feel that many brilliant minds have been excluded from the job market, so they’ve taken action to connect Ontario businesses to this overlooked source of talent and innovation. For their inventive approach to employment and recruitment, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters honored them with the Innovator of the Year Award.
    • Fact: Ontario is bringing together business and non-profit leaders from across the province to form a new Employers’ Partnership Table. This dynamic group will advise the government on innovative ways to include more people with disabilities in our workforce. It will be empowered to influence businesses and non-profits across the province through coalitions building and targeted outreach.
  3. Integrate – create seamless, person-centred employment and training services.

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

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

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

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

    Individualized support for personal success

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

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

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

    The strategy will start with:

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

    Supported Employment

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

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

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

    I am so proud to have a paid job. I love my job. My family and my support network believed in me, encouraged and supported me. I feel honoured to be part of a great team, who believe in me and help me at work. I am happy to be just like other members in my family — with a paid job.

    Dewlyn Lobo, Federal government employee

  4. Trail blaze – establish the Ontario government as a leading employer and change agent.

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

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

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

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

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

    The strategy will start with:

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

    From defenceman to dean

    Jim Kyte’s father used to say, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” The message resonated with him as he faced adversity along a winding career path that lead him from hockey to hospitality.

    Jim played about 600 games in the NHL, where he was the league’s first legally deaf player. He developed his own methods to keep track of the game, playing for teams including the Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks. Jim would use the reflection in the rink’s boards to see whether players were behind him and had the goaltender raise his arm if there was an icing call.

    His hockey career ended in 1998 due to post- concussion syndrome, but Jim didn’t let that sideline him permanently. He became a newspaper columnist, motivational speaker and eventually moved into the world of academia, where he’s become an Ontario Public Service leader at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Today, Jim is dean of its School of Hospitality and Tourism, promoting inclusion at the college and in the community.

    Jim has also helped make hockey more accessible for others. He co-founded the Canadian Hearing Impaired Hockey Association and started his own hockey school for the hearing impaired. He’s blazed a trail in the sport, as well as in academia and public service.

Ontario’s opportunity

If we work together to help every employer in Ontario with 20 or more employees hire at least one more person with a disability, about 56,000 people looking for work will gain the benefits of employment, enriching our workplaces and communities like never before.

Building on Ontario’s past success, this strategy aims to break down barriers for people with disabilities and offer everyone equal employment opportunities.

  • start early: improve employability and career planning for young people through skills development and early work exposure.
  • engage: increase employers’ leadership, education and support for hiring people with disabilities.
  • integrate: offer a seamless and coordinated employment and training system that is flexible and responsive to the needs of people with disabilities and employers.
  • trail blaze: raise awareness and improve attitudes about the talents of people with disabilities, promoting a vibrant culture of inclusion in our businesses and communities.

Let’s take the next step on Ontario’s journey to include people of all abilities in our society and economy. Together we will build a more innovative, inclusive—and prosperous—Ontario.

The myth buster

People with disabilities often face false assumptions about their capabilities when looking for a job. Business owner Mark Wafer can relate. He was born partly deaf and was discriminated against in his youth. Today, Mark is a highly successful businessperson, who owns six Tim Horton’s franchises and has employed more than 150 people with disabilities over 20 years.

Mark says his employees’ dedication and creativity help his franchises thrive. His current staff of 250 includes 46 people with disabilities. They helped his businesses beat the national average on nearly all of Tim Horton’s key performance indicators. That’s not the only measurable benefit of being an inclusive employer: the yearly employee turnover in Mark’s stores is less than 40%, far below the industry average of 100%.

Mark is passionate about promoting the economic benefits of employing people with disabilities whenever he can. He cofounded Canadian Business SenseAbility to encourage companies to hire more people with disabilities. As a myth buster, he’s also a sought-after speaker, letting international audiences know how inclusion boosts businesses and bottom lines.

Ontario can best reach its full economic potential when we address the issue of unemployment for people with disabilities, and the Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities is an important step forward in this effort. By including all people in the hiring process and by looking past the disability, we will help build a more creative, more inclusive, more diverse workforce, and a stronger economy for all Ontarians.

The Hon. David C. Onley,
Former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
and Special Advisor to the Minister Responsible for Accessibility