Interview: David Onley Accessibility

Jenny: I guess one of my first questions to you is just to get a little bit of background. What careers have you had in your life and what would you say the highlights of those careers have been?

LG: Great question. The longest portion of my working years was at City TV as an announcer, a broadcaster sometimes producer. That was 22 and a half years. And prior to that I'd had a whole series of jobs in radio part time, I worked for a real estate company. I did a number of things and looking back it's difficult when you're a student because not a hundred percent sure at all what you want to do, or you think you are, and then it leads to one dead end after another. It certainly did for me but I look back and realize that the different work experiences all contributed, and they all were funnelling me towards where I was supposed to end up being anyway. My career was in television but I got there through a route that took me through many different stops along the way. And in total it was the combined life experience that gave me the opportunity of becoming the lieutenant governor and without that combined life experience, had I simply just gone into radio and television arts coming straight out of high school, which is exactly what I wanted to do but my parents were adamant that I not go directly in, they wanted me to get experience in other areas. Bless their souls, they proved to be right. So...

Jenny: Well that begs to ask the question when you were younger did you ever think that you would be in this position being the LG?

LG: No...

Jenny: Did you have an idea about politics?

LG: No, I mean I was always interested in politics and had it in my mind that some day I'd like to be Prime Minister. You know in my early 20's I was involved in politics and I enjoyed it immensely but, you know, after a short period of time in my 20's I realized that, no, that wasn't really the calling that I had. And yet I was always fascinated with politics and one of the great advantages of being on television, as I was, is that it gave me opportunities to interview and meet politicians and cover election nights. So I really thought that was going to be the fulfilment of my career. So when the opportunity came along to be the queen's representative in the province of ontario it was an opportunity that simply could not be turned down.

Jenny: What I typically find in school is that it can be hard to empower yourself to make decisions that are life changing. Like to decide whether to go into science or into music or the arts. So how did you empower yourself to achieve the success that you wanted to in your life?

LG: That's a very good question. Um I think one of the key things that I had I was very fortunate to have some excellent teachers and very good mentors and sometimes they're not the same person. Sometimes your best mentor can be a teacher. You don't even have one of their classes but perhaps you know them through sports or some other club function at school. So I think that's the start point , is seeking out a mentor that you can trust. And I was very fortunate in that regard, that I had a number of people along the way who gave me individual wise words of advice that in some instances were nothing more than a single conversation that just stuck with me my entire life. I think the other thing is and this is a quote that I just heard recently, “ Your internal motivation must be greater than your external circumstances.” Now, it's really simple to say but you can have a lot of really adverse external circumstances but I think you have to draw upon yourself and realize that you know for the most part that no matter the difficulties you're encountering right here, right now, that in this country, we have more opportunities and you have more advantages than just about anywhere else on the earth. And that if you look for mentors that you can strengthen your own motivation that you can get through difficult times and that you are going to succeed in whatever you end up doing. You have to have that faith and that belief.

Jenny: Who was your mentor and what types of messages did they bring to you?

LG: I was very fortunate I had a series of mentors. My high school principal was quite a mentor, just for one simple conversation he had with me. And he took me aside and he, just I think it was in the last 15 or 20 minutes that I was in the school getting ready to go out the door and he said 'Dave, you have the potential of actually being the prime minister of this country' and that caught my attention. (laugh) He said '...but you are an ideas person', he said 'your strength is not in organizing or administrating.' And he said 'so I want you to promise me that if you ever get yourself into a position of responsibility that you will make sure that you have a very good administrator and a very good organizer who accompanies you and who is a part of your team.' And yet for all those years I never had the opportunity of using that piece of information but the day I took office as LG it became real. So, there was a piece of advice from the late spring of 1970 and I was not able to apply that message until September 5th 2007. And yet there was that piece of advise that I held on to.
The reality is, is you go through life even as a young person in high school, look to be that kind of person yourself. Look to say that one sentence in that one moment that might just stick with someone in a moment of adversity or difficulty that they're going through. Or just a moment where someone needs encouragement cause you just don't know how it's going to stick in their minds, the rest of their lives.

Jenny: So, with all the teacher mentors that you've had I'm sure you have some advice to give them. What advice do you think you'd give to teachers who are teaching students with disabilities and how they can incorporate those disabilities into the classroom?

LG: Well I think the message would be... is that the vast majority of people who are in high school who have some kind of a disability don't want to be treated especially different. They just want to be treated as individuals. And I think that was, in a sense, how I was treated. There was no favouritism that was given to me, there were expectations that were given. Were there allowances in different areas? Yes, but not many and only when it was appropriate. I think the other message I would say to teachers is to be mindful of, I would even say, depression on the part of the disabled student. That there can be and likely will be times where just the sheer coping with the disability is just about all that student is capable on that given day. I've often said in speeches that I've delivered over the years that, and I say it with great respect to anyone who, even right now is listening, is coping with a recent death in the family. But I think in many many ways that coping with a disability on a daily basis is more difficult than dealing with death. Because when you have a loved one that passes on there is grief, there's deep sadness, there's a deep sense of loss. And then time goes on and time changes things and you still miss the person but it lessens over time. And that's a reality. On the other hand, in a lot of instances a disabled person A reminder, and sometimes it's a big reminder and other days it's a smaller reminder. So that's something that I would remind teachers about to be mindful of that. The other thing though is almost a flip side of it. Is that a motivated student a student who has been able to transcend disability someone who has been able to move above their disability is in fact a very highly motivated person. And the teachers can spark that motivation even more and encourage them even more and uh see very significant accomplishments come of that student. So those would be the messages that I would give.

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