Sarnia has become a provincial leader in the push to create a society accessible to people with disabilities, a fact it will showcase at the 2nd annual Accessibility Summit next week.
“We have developed a culture and a reputation,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.
“We’ve got a different mindset than most of the advocates in the province. We don’t believe in subsidies and we don’t believe in punitive measures.”
What the city does believe in is a cluster of grassroots initiatives that are working to remove barriers and boost the hiring of people with physical and mental challenges.
Among them are Breaking Barriers to Business, a home-grown initiative that’s helping companies and organizations meet and even exceed the requirements of Ontario’s accessibility legislation.
It’s been so successful the Southwest Ontario Tourism Corporation has decided to adopt and expand the program across the region, executive director Jim Hudson said last week.
“We want to become the tourism region that leads the way in inclusive tourism while reaping the financial rewards for our businesses,” he said.
Another success is the Mayor’s Challenge, a partnership with Community Living Sarnia-Lambton that’s seen more than 60 youth hired over the past four years.
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 54%, compared to the national average of 6.9%, according to StatsCan.
“There has always been this feeling when you hear people talking about giving access to employment that it’s like swallowing castor oil,” said Bradley.
“But one key is we’ve got the business community here to come on board.”
In 2005, Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, with the goal of making schools, jobs, housing and stores fully accessible by 2025.
At the 10th anniversary event of the AODA in Burlington on May 13, Sarnia was referenced several times by speakers from across the province, said Mark Wafer, a vocal advocate for inclusive employment who has hired 91 people with disabilities at his seven Ontario Tim Hortons locations.
“No question Sarnia is the model other municipalities need to emulate,” Wafer said last week in an email to city hall.
Despite the progress, attitudes will need to change for full accessibility to be achieved in just 10 years, Bradley said.
“I keep talking about the fierce urgency of now. It’s too slow.”
The 2nd annual Accessibility Summit is Friday, May 29 at the Lambton College Event Centre, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Guest of honour is the Hon. Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Employment, and Infrastructure.
Also appearing are local musician Chris Molyneaux and a keynote by motivational speaker Dan Edwards of **IT HAPPENS.