While studying at U of T Scarborough, where he received a specialist certificate in political science alongside an Honours BA in 1975, he served as Student Council President, and learned about the intricacies of government.
After working in radio, Onley was offered the job as CityTV’s Senior Newscaster in 1984. As a result of having polio as a child, he is partially paralyzed from the waist down. When he first began reporting, cameras would shoot him from the waist up. But, Moses Znaimer, who hired him, insisted that he be shown from the ground up like all other reporters. Breaking down such barriers has made him a role model for people with disabilities.
After Onley had written the best-selling book, Shuttle: A Shattering Novel of Disaster in Space, he moved on to become CityTV’s Science and Technology Specialist, and a Newscaster for Cable Pulse 24, at which time he received the call from the Prime Minister inviting him to become the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.
"We have to be willing to see the ability and not the disability, and in doing so, it becomes possible to change lives for the better."
As Lieutenant Governor, in his Installation Speech, he said “Accessibility is that which enables people to achieve their full potential. It is inclusion. Accessibility is a human right and accessibility is right.” Onley has observed that there are far too many barriers to employment for people with disabilities based on myths about productivity. “Myths like these, need to disappear,” he says. Amongst his many projects since being in office, he has brought like-minded employers together who have hired persons with disabilities as excellent investments, and thus have seen greater corporate success.
His legacy as Lieutenant Governor has raised public awareness about accessibility, established partnerships between numerous organizations with the same dedication to this cause, and has also focused on those facing more subtle impediments to realizing their potential on account of “Invisible disabilities”, such as mental illness, poverty, and illiteracy. He as well used the profile of his office to highlight the achievements of extraordinary people with disabilities and was Canada’s official state representative at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
Published November 2013