The executive director of Independent Living Sudbury Manitoulin has a message for business owners: please hire more people with disabilities.
“What I'd like to say is give that person with a disability an opportunity,” said Rob DiMeglio, speaking to Sudbury.com at the 10th annual Persons with Disabilities Breakfast Nov. 30.
“I think it's an untapped market … We have degrees, and we went to school, and we work to become a pro at our disabilities. Give us a chance to work and be a contributing person to our community.”
Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, who gave the keynote speech at the event, which celebrates the United Nations Day of Persons With Disabilities, said it's illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of disability.
“Employers cannot discriminate against employees who become disabled,” she said. “They have to find a way to accommodate their disability. And an employer cannot discriminate against people with disabilities when they hire, either.”
She said a big deadline is looming for all public establishments and workplaces in Ontario a little more than six years from now.
A statute called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was enacted by the provincial government in 2005.
Its purpose is to improve standards with physical and mental disabilities at all public establishments by 2025. Compliance deadline dates depend on the size of the institution and the sector in which it operates.
“Most of those changes require planning, they require resources,” Gélinas said.
“They require people to do things, and if you do nothing for 20 years, you can't expect that you will meet the deadline of 2025. It's not that far off anymore. It is time for everybody to really look at it.”
Businesses need to think not only about removing barriers for people with physical disabilities — whether they're employees or clients — but also things like making websites accessible.
“Your website should be able to scale up for people that are visually impaired,” Gélinas said.
The politician said she decided to speak about the legislation to show people at the breakfast how it can help those with disabilities.
“It has a lot of tools, but a lot of people don't know that it exists, don't know how they can use it, and don't know the power that it has,” Gélinas said.
DiMeglio, who is visually impaired and uses a guide dog to help him get around, said he's noticed a lot of accessibility improvements over the past decade.
That includes wheelchair buttons, wider doorways, and braille and large-print signs in government buildings.
“You know what I've noticed too, just in the downtown core, is having those push buttons to cross the street are huge,” DiMeglio said. “I think the City of Greater Sudbury is becoming more friendly for seniors and people with disabilities.”
Independent Living Sudbury Manitoulin provides a number of services to people with disabilities, including skills development, peer support and information and networking.
Those with disabilities who require support workers for their personal care can also hire their own workers through the agency's direct funding program.
For more information about the services provided by Independent Living Sudbury Manitoulin, visit its website.