In 2005, the Ontario Legislature passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to improve accessibility across the province. The disability community saw the legislation as a milestone in the government’s commitment to creating a level playing field for all Ontarians. But many businesses and municipalities across the province responded with skepticism, believing the act would result in increased costs and result in few benefits.
However, a new study by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management, the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity and the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, titled Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario, finds that improving inclusivity and accessibility in Ontario provides both economic opportunity and benefits, which could increase the size of the provincial economy by almost $5 billion.
The need to improve accessibility is becoming more pronounced in Ontario as the population ages and the labour force shrinks. Between 2001 and 2006, the percentage of Ontarians with a disability grew from 13.5 per cent to 15.4 per cent, and more than half of this increase is directly attributable to the aging population. Disability tends to increase with age, with the highest incidence occurring among individuals 45 and older.
As Ontario’s economy comes out of recession, the demand for educated and skilled workers will increase. The looming labour shortage from retirements in Ontario, with a predicted shortage of over 1 million workers by the year 2030, is adding additional pressure to ensure that skilled workers will be available to meet this demand. Improving the accessibility of education for individuals with a disability, and improving their skills to meet the demands of the emerging knowledge economy, can help to overcome part of this labour shortage, say the report authors, Kevin Stolarick of the Martin Prosperity Institute, Alison Kemper, a PhD student at the Rotman School, Jutta Treviranus of the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, and James Milway of The Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity.
Currently, persons with disabilities tend to have lower labour force participation rates than persons without a disability. In addition, the average employment income for persons 15 years of age and older with disabilities is lower than persons without disabilities and has declined between 2001 and 2006. The report finds that the participation rate of individuals with a disability could increase anywhere from between 2 per cent to 15 per cent, thanks to improvements in accessibility. The report also finds that the increased productivity could increase the province’s per capita GDP anywhere from $49 to $653 as a result of these changes. In fact, increasing employment among individuals with a disability could result in a total increase in employment income of up to $4.8 billion per year.
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