Moses Znaimer Presents Honourable David C. Onley with Helen Keller Award

If the “easy road” through life does indeed exist for some, Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor, the Hon. David C. Onley has never seen it. Whether in his fight against the polio that attacked his body at age three and left him with permanent physical disabilities, his ground-breaking career as a television broadcaster, his tireless work on behalf of disabled persons, or in his current post, Onley’s made a habit of blazing his own trail.

Earlier today, the 62-year-old received another distinction – the 2012 Canadian Helen Keller Centre Award. Presented to him by Canadian media pioneer Moses Znaimer, the award recognizes Canadians who’ve helped improve the lives of those living with vision and hearing impairments. Today’s presentation held added meaning, as it was Znaimer who, in 1984, hired Onley as an on-air weather and science specialist at CityTV – making him the first Canadian reporter with a disability.

“(I)t was only after he had hired me that he asked me about my disability,” Onley said. “That’s when I knew I was going to enjoy working for the guy.”

In his speech to assembled guests at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Concert Hall, Znaimer said his decision to hire Onley wasn’t guided by public opinion or popular sentiment, but his own intuition that “it is only in the grind of opposing forces, under massive pressure, that the diamond is made.”

“I knew that what I was betting on was not just someone who would be ‘as good as’ anyone else, not just someone ‘good enough’, but someone with something extra,” Znaimer said, “a deep focus and a powerful drive that cannot be created in any other way.”

Znaimer noted Onley’s will to overcome pessimism and physical limitations – “-.if you start from behind you have to run that much harder just to catch up.  But, once in motion, that very momentum can carry you to the front of the pack” – a trait that helped Onley make history a second time when he became the first person with a disability to serve as Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor.

For his part, Onley credits Znaimer’s willingness to hire him and shoot his full body and mobility device during news reports as a pivotal moment in the shift of social attitudes toward those living with disabilities.

“Obviously what (Moses) did was important for my career,” Onley said. “(B)ut more importantly, it sent a message to TV viewers everywhere that my physical shortcomings were irrelevant. What counted was my ability to do the job.”

Fittingly, Znaimer praised Onley’s humble nature in his closing remarks while imploring others to learn from those with disabilities, who not only contribute to their own betterment, but that of society, in overcoming them.

“Any community is only as strong as it is diverse,” Znaimer said. “The perspective and tenacity that people with disabilities need to succeed often lead to original insights and society would be well served to foster this resource.”

-Mike Crisolago