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Tribute Award of Excellence

Hon. David Onley

Headshot of David OnleyDavid Onley believed fervently in the potential of people with disabilities – and he made it his life’s mission.

A person of immense accomplishment, he is best remembered as a leading and tireless advocate for substantive equality for children, youth and adults with disabilities and their families—before his tenure as Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor, during his term, and after.
David explained his beliefs in 2007, shortly after being appointed Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor.

“I fundamentally believe that words are very, very important. In this case, the word accessibility has come to mean wheelchair parking spots, curb cuts and automatic doors. And while it is all of these things, it is much, much more. Accessibility, quite frankly, is a right. And that is why I believe we need to start using the term in its complete and full meaning. And it is that which allows someone to achieve their full potential.”

A survivor of childhood polio, David first made his mark professionally as an on-air broadcaster and journalist with CITY-TV, a career that lasted more than two decades. He was the first broadcaster in Canada with a visible disability.

He became a beloved Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and made advocacy for people with disabilities a central part of his role and changing the dialogue about disability.

His leadership continued after completing his tenure as Lieutenant Governor in 2014. He was inaugural chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council of the Government of Ontario and worked as accessibility council member for the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre. In 2018, David was appointed to lead a review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. He wrote the seminal Report of the Third Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, commonly known as the Onley Report, making practical recommendations toward making a barrier-free Ontario, and highlighting existing physical barriers, high unemployment among people with disabilities and ableism as major contributing factors preventing inclusion.

While he was a high-profile leader who made a profound positive change to society, David had the ability to connect with everyone. He spoke at thousands of engagements across Ontario, promoting the significance of identifying and removing barriers for all forms of disability, leading the way for kids with disabilities and their families in this province. His dedication as a role model, to empowering children, and to advancing accessibility has had a significant impact on the lives of countless Ontarians, and an indelible impact on our province.

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