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OCAD U fondly remembers David Onley

David Onley image courtesy of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Image courtesy of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

The OCAD University community is deeply saddened by the passing of the Honourable David C. Onley, the 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and fierce supporter of OCAD U.

Onley, who passed away on January 14, 2023 at the age of 72, was a champion of accessibility and persons with disabilities, and the first person with a physical disability to hold the post of lieutenant-governor.

“The OCAD U community mourns the passing of David Onley. He worked closely with the Inclusive Design Research Centre to fuel change in the accessibility space, and he signed the legislation that formally recognized OCAD U as a University in 2010. His legacy lives on. We send our love and condolences to his family and friends,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Ana Serrano.

Onley further supported OCAD U in September 2013, when he joined with the University to officially launch Reimagining Accessibility, an international student challenge to complement the traditional wheelchair sign by designing a more encompassing and inclusive accessibility symbol or set of symbols. The contest garnered more than 100 submissions from around the world and drew international attention.

Dr. Jutta Treviranus, Professor and Director of Inclusive Design Research Centre said that Onley set an ethical and just compass for Ontario with determination, humour and grace¾as a journalist, a Lt.-Governor and later as a professor.

“He gave the disability community greater courage to speak out and demand respect. He was a valued friend, supporter and collaborator of our centre and the program,” said Dr. Treviranus.

“In his review of accessibility progress within the province David boldly concluded: ‘For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.’ He laid out numerous implementable steps to reverse this state. We are deeply saddened by his death and evermore determined to continue our mutual mission,” she noted.

Remembering David Onley

David Onley led an exceptional and advocacy-centered career as a communicator, which began in the broadcast media with a focus on science and technology reporting. He served as chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and as a member of the Accessibility Councils for the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre. He took office as The Queen’s representative on September 5, 2007 and served as Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor until September 23, 2014.

“While in office, his commitment to accessibility fostered an acute awareness that access to opportunity for all is a powerful force for transforming individual lives, and society as a whole,” recounted current Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honorable Elizabeth Dowdeswell in a statement.

In 2010, he signed the legislation that formally recognized OCAD U as a University as part of Bill 43, the Post-secondary Education Statute Law Amendment Act, 2010.

“Mr. Onley expanded existing literacy and education programs for Indigenous Peoples in Ontario while emphasizing the importance of reconciliation and the value of bringing people together in dialogue,” said the Hon. Dowdeswell in her statement. “Later in life, he shared his experiences with others while acting as a special advisor on accessibility within the provincial government and as a senior lecturer at the University of Toronto-Scarborough.”

He is survived by his wife Ruth Ann, their children Jonathan, Robert, and Michael, and extended families.

Dr. Jutta Treviranus
Lieutenant Governor’s statement
End of Mandate Report