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NTEC awards business champions who strive for inclusivity, accessibility

Hiring the disabled is not only the right choice—ethically speaking—it’s the smart choice, says Mike Bradley, long-time Mayor of Sarnia-Lambton

Gary Beynon needed help in his kitchen at Doc Magilligan’s Irish Pub.

“We needed a dishwasher and someone to butter toast,” explained the executive chef, reflecting on his relationship with NTEC (Niagara Training and Employment Agency).

“Within a week, I had two great employees,” said the Niagara Falls business leader. “Job coaches come in and work with the employee the first couple hours of the shift. When Brett came in, he was very shy. He started buttering toast and now he’s a line cook. He cooks and helps out with every aspect of the breakfast. He’s a key player. Everybody loves him. He’s so much more confident than when we hired him. You just have to be willing to take a chance, so I encourage everyone to go out and find their own Brett.”

NTEC hosted a gala awards ceremony last week to celebrate Beynon and other local Niagara entrepreneurs for being business champions, and including disabled people among their work force.

Agencies such as Community Living, March of Dimes Niagara, Start Me Up Niagara, the NRP Diversity and Inclusive Program, the Niagara Parks Commission, and Venture Niagara, were also recognized for their inclusiveness.

“NTEC has committed to finding the best fit for those individuals we support and the businesses,” said John Fast, interim CEO and CFO. "Tonight’s about celebrating success. It is very satisfying to see the growth—a 400 per cent increase in just the past two years—for individuals placed in competitive employment.”

Revealing the agency’s new “Work Now” logo, NTEC’s manager of employment Jodi Delage stated, “Business champions are accessible and inclusive, and from the top down, develop innovation to suit their objectives.”

Mayor Mike Bradley of Sarnia-Lambton appeared as guest speaker at the banquet. In 2012, Sarnia was nationally recognized for its accessibility and inclusiveness, and in 2014, Bradley received the Lieutenant Governor’s award for his personal contributions as an advocate for the disabled, both on the physical and mental spectrum.

Bradley, who has acquired countless additional awards for his inclusive philosophy and activism in his 30 years as mayor of Sarnia, issued a challenge to his fellow Ontario mayors.

“The mayors’ challenge started in 2010,” he explained, “and it was to hire the intellectually-challenged and disabled. In 2016, we changed it from ‘Do the right thing’ to ‘do the smart thing.’ At some point, you’ve got to find something else besides being elected. You need something within your soul as an elected person to inspire you while advancing your community.”

When it comes to accessibility, most communities are doing the minimum, stated Bradley.

“In my own community, we’re building a new sports complex. We did the maximum number of (disabled) parking spots. It’s about creating a culture of inclusiveness in your community; to bring people into your business. You can do much more at the grassroots level than at the provincial or federal.”

Bradley said he struggles with the language of disability and its related issues.

“I don’t like ‘intellectually-challenged’,” he said. “To me, this is not about charity. It’s just about human rights. I hope you won’t just think about one day a year, but think about being a part of the population that’s disenfranchised as a citizen. The unemployment rate for those who are disabled is incredible. The barriers of employment are soul-crushing barriers. Our government said it’s going to change by 2025. It’s not even close. If it were any other segment of society, people would fight back.”

According to Bradley, “I’m not just appealing to people’s good nature. It’s time. We are all full citizens of the community. Some people see employment and accessibility as a medical issue. It’s not. There are 17 million Ontarians who are not included right now, and it’s not right.”