Autism Ontario Helps Celebrate the Legacy of David Onley

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Autism Ontario

Recently, a new exhibition, Championing Disability Inclusion in Employment: The Legacy of David C. Onley, opened at Withrow Commons in Toronto. Autism Ontario staff were there to support in celebrating the legacy of Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor. 

Attendees included members of the Onley family, the current Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Edith Dumont, and the Minister of Inclusion, the Honourable Raymond Sung Joon Cho.

Mr. Onley was Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 2007 to 2014, a determined advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and an example to all who had the great privilege of meeting him. As Vice-Regal Patron of Autism Ontario, he attended many of Autism Ontario’s events during his tenure. He always brought with him a deep personal interest that created a lasting connection with those around him.

As a visibly disabled person working as a broadcaster at a time when people with disabilities were not routinely in the public eye, before he became Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Onley set a trail for the acceptance of people with disabilities in the workplace.

He also led the 2019 review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which found that the province had a long way to go before the stated goal of making the province fully accessible by 2025. 

The David C. Onley Award for Leadership in Accessibility was established in his honour in 2014.

“Through employment, I feel like a contributing member of society, and it empowers me,” says Stacey Feldt, an autistic self-advocate employed by Autism Ontario as a Transition Specialist who assists other autistic adults. Being paid for her work and being able to spend her earnings allows for economic participation, she says. “Being employed makes me feel good about myself, gives me a dose of much-needed daily social interaction, and allows me to be a part of the economy, a key aspect of being an adult.” 

David Moloney, an autistic self-advocate who works as a Mutual Fund Indexer at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and is on the Board of Directors of Autism Ontario, acknowledges the debt of gratitude he owes to trailblazers like David Onley. “I have strongly benefitted from the invaluable support of many talented professionals. These highly experienced leaders have been essential role models and highly sought after resources that played crucial factors in the person I have become.”

Mr. Onley once compared negative ideas about people with disabilities in the workplace to myths about dragons. “Myths are falsehoods, and worse yet, they are the falsehoods that replace critical analysis,” he said. “The myths surrounding hiring people with disabilities are modern dragons. And what we need today to solve this problem are dragon slayers.”