JOIN Annual Employer Conference

JOIN meets regularly with large national and international organizations supporting them with targeted hiring initiatives and customized accommodation awareness sessions. Because of the general lack of knowledge around what it means to recruit, screen, hire and accommodate persons with disabilities, JOIN launched its first employer conference in 2004.

The Annual Employer Conference has evolved over the past ten years under the leadership of an external steering committee comprised of volunteers from corporations, agency representatives and JOIN core staff. It has now become a premier event for employers in the GTA. Delegate response has grown from 57 the first year to over 400 paid delegates this past year, which speaks to the importance of the event and the growth in supporting organizations with education and awareness around disability and employment, accessibility and inclusion. Despite the 10-year history, the low numbers of employed persons living with disabilities remain dismal. We hope that those who attend will continue to spread the word and share our history of great themes and speakers to motivate others to attend and to, more importantly, hire individuals with disabilities into their workplaces.

The event has long lasting goals, objectives and outcomes. They include:

  • Increased number of employed persons with disabilities
  • Improved job retention for employees with disabilities
  • Ongoing collaboration - amongst "top of class" employers, government, service providers, and community organizations,
  • Sharing of best practices around screening and recruitment, accommodation, duty to accommodate
  • Increased employer commitment to hiring persons with disabilities
  • Improved employer knowledge about disability management
  • Improved employer knowledge about accommodation, the duty to accommodate and undue hardship
  • Increased awareness about the scope of disability, including invisible and episodic disabilities
  • Employer recognition opportunities
  • Exposure to JOIN Business Leadership Network resulting in more BLN Members and new BLN Council Members
  • Opportunity to address populations of people with disabilities who have had more difficulty accessing competitive employment
  • Focused attention on career advancement for persons with disabilities
  • Provision of ongoing provincial policy development to employers
  • Provision of information and updates on standards and implementation plans for AODA compliance

Collage of pictures of speakers from 2004 to 2010Back in history:

This conference featured assistive technology exhibits and a reverse job fair. Breakfast and Keynote Presentation by Christine Karcza, performer and dancer who walks with two canes, using dance to demonstrate overcoming barriers. Luncheon Keynote Speaker - Dr. Mark Nagler - Born with Cerebral Palsy, he triumphed over his disability by becoming the foremost expert in the Disability Studies field. Although he has never been able to write, he achieved an impressive array of professional degrees and has authored 12 books including What’s Stopping You! Living Successfully with a Disability.

Luncheon Keynote – Gord Paynter (now deceased) “Blindness is the best thing that ever happened to me.” Gord Paynter, stand-up comic appearing at Yuk Yuk’s all over the world and renounced author, wowed the audience with his thoughtful and funny account of his life. He also talked about getting a hole in one on the golf course while being a person who is blind. Closing violinist Adrian Anantawan, is a Canadian viollinist who began studying violin at age nine, left the audience members joyful with his musicality and performance. He has performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and at the White House.

Luncheon Keynote – Bob Ramsay, Courage to Come Back Awardee, CAMH - In 1990, after two years of persistent cocaine use, Bob lost his business, house, self-respect. I would swear after each all-night binge that I would never use drugs again. And I would fail. I couldn’t understand it - I have huge willpower, so why could I not stop? I was desperate to. But I was also desperate to use, and my shame at not being able to control my actions drove me into even greater use, which made me more desperate, which . . . well, that’s the cycle of addiction unchecked.

Keynote Presenter - Margaret Trudeau, best-selling author, delivered a keynote address on the healing influence of work.

Keynote Presenters, Terry Evanshen, former player for the Canadian Football League, who in 1988 awoke from a coma two weeks after a car crash and could not remember the last 44 years of his life. With exceptional courage, determination, and family support, Terry has won numerous esteemed Canadian awards, has become a successful motivational speaker, and has been the subject of a book and movie based on his life.
Alvin Law was born without arms, yet with unwavering perseverance he has overcome innumerable obstacles and has gone on to lead a fulfilling and highly accomplished personal and professional life. Alvin has been the subject of two award winning television documentaries, dabbled in acting, and has played a direct role in raising millions of dollars for charities.

Keynote Presenter, Dr. Jenn Arnold, MD, MSc - Pediatrician, neonatal specialist, professor, newlywed, parent and reality TV star speaks about the challenges she had to overcome to initiate a career in medicine.

Luncheon Keynote, Val Lougheed, Founder and President of Northern Lights Canada – In 2003 Val almost died in a head-on collision, sustaining catastrophic orthopedic injuries and a brain injury. Val shared her experiences both as a practitioner and as a patient/client.
Closing Keynote – Ben Barry, PhD. Founder and CEO of Ben Barry Agency, the first modelling agency in the world to promote models with disabilities.

Collage of pictures of speakers from 2011 to 2012

A Two Day Conference – Luncheon Keynote - Alex Valdez, Entertainer Extraordinaire, Alex’s programs: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Diversity” and “Disabilities are from Within,” allow him to entertain as well as educate. His goal is “not only to help audiences accept his own and others’ disAbilities, but to recognize that while we may all appear very different on the outside, on the inside we are all very much the same”.
Closing Keynote – Montel Williams, television icon, New York Times bestselling author. In 1999, after almost twenty years of mysterious symptoms that he tried to ignore, Montel Williams, a decorated former Naval intelligence officer and Emmy Award-winning talk show host, was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After receiving a serious diagnosis, Montel says a person must learn to deal in his or her own way. “I could quit and say, ‘That’s it.’ Stay in bed and not get up,” he says. “Or I can get my butt up every single day being a contributing member to this society and try and figure out how I deal with it.” These days, Montel tries to think of his disease as a gift. “This is what God gave me,” he says.

Luncheon Keynote – Randy Lewis, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Logistics for Walgreens, ‘There Is No Greatness Without Goodness’ Walgreens’ Senior Vice President of Supply Chain (SC) and Logistics Randy Lewis was instrumental in introducing a new concept to Walgreens that would transform the company’s Distribution Centers (DC) while creating new employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
In 2002, he was the driving force behind a business model to make technology, efficiency and accessibility all top priorities under one roof for the company’s next generation of DCs. Five years later, it became a reality when Walgreens opened its Anderson, S.C. site. Another DC built with the same advanced technology and employment goals opened in Windsor, Conn. in 2009. All Walgreens’ DCs provide employment to hundreds of individuals with disabilities. Lewis shared an inspirational story of how he created a hard-working and loyal workforce by tapping into a market of employees that most companies overlook.
Closing Keynote – Cyndi Desjardins. Cyndi was a successful business manager, working in product development and sales management, and a new mom when necrotizing fasciitis (otherwise known as flesh eating disease) entered her life, and altered it forever. She awoke after five weeks of battling this disease, to find her hands and feet had been amputated in an effort to save her life. With a passion for life she overcame many obstacles in her rehabilitation; recapturing her relationships with her children, learning to walk, swim, and dance through life again.

Luncheon Keynote was Geri Jewell, Actress, Comedian, Advocate - An award winning author, performer and motivational speaker, Geri Jewell received worldwide recognition being the first person with a disability to be cast in a prime-time series, NBC’s The Facts of Life. A role model for millions of people with disabilities and LGBT youth, she has had many television appearances, and earned Emmy consideration as “Jewel” in HBO’s Deadwood. Geri’s critically-acclaimed autobiography, I’m Walking as Straight as I Can,is an honest and bold account of her life.
Closing Keynote was Kristine Barnett, author - Mother of Jacob Barnett, a child prodigy with an IQ of 170 — higher than Albert Einstein’s estimated IQ — he was diagnosed with autism at age two and didn’t speak for a year and a half until he asked a question at a lecture on astronomy. By age eight, he was sitting in on university math lectures in Indiana. He completed his state’s entire high school math curriculum in two weeks. By nine, he was writing his own physics theories, an exercise that had him covering his home’s windows in complex formulas. His extraordinary mind earned him a coveted spot at Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, where he’s studying physics in a master’s program that selects from the best students in the world. His mother, Kristine Barnett, detailed all this in her book The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius.


The Luncheon Keynote speaker was Michael Gottheil, Executive Chair of the Social Justice Tribunals Ontario. Michael used his humour to provide insight of heartfelt and frustrating moments he has experienced  in his life and career as a person who is blind. The Closing Keynote Speaker was Naki Osutei. Naki is the Director of Public Affairs and Social Legacy for the Organizing Committee of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and ParaPan Am games. Naki discussed how the Games are working towards providing more awareness of accessibility.

Read the 2014 Conference report


This year's conference focused on disability on a global scale. Large scale organizations spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion both locally and abroad, as well as highlighlighting some ogf their global projects. Keynote speakers for the included the Honourable Mike Lake, the Honourable Dr. Helena Jaczek, and Dr. Helen Evrard.

Read our 2015 final conference report