The Ability First Coalition was formed and the first annual Ability First Conference was held, attracting over 250 London and Middlesex business leaders.
The 2007 Ability First Conference went one step further to give businesses information needed to hire more employees with disabilities. Focus was on how to interview a person with a disability, tools available to accommodate people with disabilities in the workforce, and available financial incentives from all levels of government to help businesses hire more people with disabilities. The attendance goal for the 2007 Conference was 200 and total attendance came in just below this at 173. Statistics showed that 55% of tickets were sold to different businesses and that the Ability First message was getting out.
Results from the 2007 Conference feedback survey, completed and returned by 85 attendees, indicated that the information was valuable, important, relatable, and well presented, as there was 85% satisfaction with the overall presentation of information. Attendees found the motivational speakers to be excellent and inspirational; however, it was suggested that perhaps fewer would be needed. Attendees appeared to want more in-depth information, specifically about assistive devices and other means of accommodation throughout the selection process. A more hands-on approach was suggested for this. Employers also wanted more information on invisible disabilities, rather than purely physical disabilities. Attendees suggested they would like to see some success stories, specifically for small and medium local businesses and suggested the idea of an Ability First accreditation program.
The 2008 Ability First Conference took into consideration these suggestions, and went on to specify the purpose of the Ability First Coalition and those involved. This effort was made in order to better market the Coalition itself and to encourage local businesses to join the growing list of Ability First employers. The 2008 speakers gave insight into the economic impact of employing people with disabilities and how doing so can improve the business bottom line, as well as highlighting mental health issues and invisible disabilities in the workplace. Displays of accommodation devices were made available, as well as information pertaining to local service providers and employer resources—where to go and how to access them.
In 2009, the Ability First Coalition created a marketing/communication plan as well as a survey to find out how employers wanted to hear the Ability First message. The survey was conducted online and at two London Chamber of Commerce Business After 5 events.
As well, the Ability First Coalition made itself more visible by attending events such as Student2Business and the HRPLD of London and District annual conference.
The Coalition, in partnership with the London Chamber of Commerce, hosted a presentation by the Manager of Compliance Training in the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, Ministry of Community and Social Services around the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service. This presentation was the first in Ontario.
In 2010, the Ability First Coalition and the Employer Sector Council of London/Middlesex co-hosted a workshop with the Manager of Compliance Training in the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, Ministry of Community and Social Services around the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service.
The first Ability First Employer Recognition Awards Gala was held. The keynote speaker was Paralymian Adam Purdy and musician Justin Hines performed. In attendance were 135 businesses, employers and organizations.
Aktiv Kapital Canada received an Honourable Mention, Starbucks Canada was presented with the Large Business Award and Cordeiro’s Auto European was awarded the Champion Award.
The second Ability First Employer Recognition Awards Gala was held. Alvin Law, motivational speaker and former radio broadcaster, was the keynote speaker and over 130 businesses, employers and organizations were in attendance.
The Large Business Award was presented to TD Bank, the Small Business Award to Kelsey’s Restaurant, Masonville and the Advocacy Award to Aroma Mediterranean Restaurant.
2012 brought a new focus to the Ability First Coalition. The logo and the website were updated and given a new look. A new media strategy was created with a focus on employer engagement.
The Coalition attended the diSTRICTLY Business Trade show to share the Ability First message and conduct a second survey.
An application was submitted to Trillium to fund a Social Media Consultant, pay for ads in London Business Magazine and produce a TV ad, which would air on CTV.
In 2013, the Ability First message was placed on an ad on the back of a London Transit bus for one year, with smaller ads inside 20 different buses.
Shortly after, the Ontario Trillium Foundation application was accepted and funding was received. The new Consultant created a social media campaign directed at engaging employers and has been executing it since April 2013. The Ability First Coalition invites you to follow us on Twitter and join our LinkedIn group.
In October 2013, the Tuesdays at Ten initiative was launched; featuring monthly Q&A sessions with various London and area employers.
Two Ability First ads were placed in Business London magazine featuring London employers and a television ad aired on CTV.
The Coalition also participated in numerous local events, including the diSTRICTLY Business Trade Show for the second year.
The Ability First Awards were changed to a breakfast event. On November 1, 2013, the Ability First Champion Awards were attended by over 150 businesses and organizations. These Awards celebrate and honour businesses, companies, organizations and individuals that have hired and retained people with disabilities in London and Middlesex County. Jeff Adams, Canadian Paralympian and six-time world champion in wheelchair sports, as well as President and CEO of Icon Wheelchairs, was the keynote speaker. The Master of Ceremonies was Sean Irvine from CTV London.
Nominees for the Large Business Award included: Cohen Highley LLP; Home Hardware, Woodstock; and Remark Fresh Market. The winner of the 2013 Large Business Award was Cohen Highley LLP.
Nominees for the Small Business Award included: Legate & Associates LLP; Ontario Panelization; Westmount Neighbourhood Pet Clinic; and Williams Fresh Cafe. The winner of the 2013 Small Business Award was Ontario Panelization.
Nominees for the Advocacy Award included: Chil Frozen Yogurt Bar and Willie’s Café. The winner of the 2013 Advocacy Award was Chil Frozen Yogurt Bar.
In April 2014, funds were received from the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services to continue and expand the contract with the Ability First Coalition Media Consultant, in order to engage more employers in London and area.
On April 15, the Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, Partners in Employment London & Middlesex, and the Ability First Coalition, hosted the event “Making Employment Practices More Accessible in Ontario – Workshop for Employers on the AODA Employment Standard” in London. This was the inaugural workshop and employer attendance exceeded expectation.
Four more ads were placed in Business London Magazine during 2014, again featuring London employers and the Ability First Coalition continues to attend numerous local events.
In November 2014, in partnership with Platinum sponsor Digital Echidna, the Ability First Coalition launched the new Ability First website. Digital Echidna is a leader in online accessibility and worked to ensure the site meets stringent accessibility standards as per the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). In addition, the Digital Echidna team worked to combine those accessibility standards with premium usability and functionality protocols and responsive (for mobile) design principles.
The second breakfast Ability First Coalition Champion Awards were held on Friday November 7, 2014. Keynote speakers at the event were Greg Boyle, Owner of Tim Hortons in Sarnia, Ontario and Leo Plue, Executive Director of the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ontario; Master of Ceremonies was once again Sean Irvine from CTV London.
Nominees for the Large Business Award included: Buffalo Wild Wings; Cuddy Farms; Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes; Jones Packaging; and ToyotaTown. The winner of the 2014 Large Business Award was Cuddy Farms.
Nominees for the Small Business Award included: Digital Echidna; Laser Sales Inc.; Mark’s Work Wearhouse, Strathroy; Smith Cheese Inc.; Stax Packaging Services Inc.; and Tim Hortons, Sherwood Forest Mall. The winner of the 2014 Small Business Award was Tim Hortons, Sherwood Forest Mall.
Nominees for the 2014 Advocacy Award included: Dennis Winkler and Write.On Communication Services International. The winner of the 2014 Advocacy Award was Dennis Winkler.
In April 2015, funding was once again received from the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services to continue the work of the Ability First Coalition Media Consultant in actualizing the coalition’s revised mandate of, “Business professionals motivating and supporting employers to hire and retain persons with disabilities.”
During 2015, the coalition welcomed three new members: Lesley Oliver, Diversity & Accessibility Consultant, Western University; Mary Forret, Marketing Manager, 3M Canada; and Amy Grant, Human Resources Manager, 3M Canada.
The Ability First Coalition 2015 Champion Awards were held on Friday October 30, 2015. A record-breaking 23 nominees from the business community were honoured during a breakfast ceremony, with Mike Mulligan, Founder and Owner of Moving Forward Rehabilitation and Wellness Center as Keynote Speaker. Awards were presented in three categories: Large Business Award, Small Business Award and Advocacy Award.
Nominees for the Large Business Award included: Best Western Lamplighter Inn & Convention Centre; Corus Radio London; Diply; Four Points by Sheraton London; King’s University College, Physical Plant Department; Lerners LLP; Lowe’s Home Improvement; Minto Properties; HomeSense at London North Centre; and ZTR Control Systems. The winner of the 2015 Large Business Award was Corus Radio London.
Nominees for the Small Business Award included: Brown’s Auto Supply; Burger King at Oxbury Mall; Diagnostics Biochem Canada Inc.; Extreme Indoor Golf; Hampton Inn by Hilton London; Lone Star Texas Grill; Meals on Wheels; Scene Magazine; TriHQ Inc.; and Wok Box. The winner of the 2015 Small Business Award was Hampton Inn by Hilton London.
Nominees for the Advocacy Award included: Chief Brad Duncan (Retired); Farmers’ and Artisans’ Markets; Strathroy District Chamber of Commerce. The winner of the 2015 Advocacy Award was Farmers’ and Artisans’ Markets.
In December 2015, the Ability First Coalition received the 2015 City of London Diversity, Race Relations and Inclusivity Small Business Labour Award, in recognition of the coalition’s Tuesdays at Ten initiative.
The coalition welcomed three more new members in early 2016: Brigitte Neale, Selection Committee Coordinator, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry; Kate Huner, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Human Resources, The Corporation of the City of London; and Doug Mantle, Assistive Technology Support Specialist, King’s University College.
In February 2016, the Ability First Coalition was invited to be a guest on AXSChat, one of the largest and fasted growing chats on Twitter. This particular event reached over half a million people and helped highlight the ability first message on the global stage.