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DISABILITY NEWS

GOOD NEWS TRAVELS FAST ON ONE WHEEL AS TRAILRIDER HEADS FOR THE FOOTHILLS

By Paul Gowan

The yawning prairie expanse is no match for one versatile TrailRider – certainly not in the hands of Steven Fletcher or Val Mayes.

This past autumn, a lone TrailRider made the journey from Manitoba to Alberta on a show-and-tell circuit that opened the eyes of Albertans to the original features of this one-wheeled wilderness access device that affords persons with a disability a unique outdoor opportunity.

The TrailRider is a revolutionary, lightweight vehicle resembling a fancy lounge chair with long handles at either end. It carries its occupant across rugged terrain with the help of two able-bodied individuals, one who pulls and one who pushes. Unlike multi-terrain wheelchairs, this non-motorized device leaves little or no environmental ‘footprint’ on the trail.

Steven Fletcher first heard about the TrailRider while participating in disabled sailing’s Mobility Cup in 2001. Unknown to him at the time, the Disability Foundation‘s Sam Sullivan, who conceived the TrailRider in 1998, had been using one to access the backcountry for some time. Word, though, had not yet spread as far as Manitoba.

His first reaction was surprise. “I spoke to Sam Sullivan and he said he was going hiking. I thought he was pulling my leg,” recounts Fletcher.

Not until the next year when he experimented with one himself did he shed his disbelief and fully realize the independence the TrailRider gave him.

Steven, who is 31 and a C4 quadriplegic – meaning he has had no motion below the neck since a 1996 car accident – is a Winnipeg resident and highly active member of the community. Currently, he is Manitoba president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and is on the slate as a candidate for the next federal election, when it occurs.

When he rode the TrailRider, the experience transported him. Remote lakes, trails and mountains he had always been drawn to before his accident – but which he thought were lost to him – opened up once again.

He purchased his first TrailRider in 2002. Then, with the help of two $10,000 donations – from the Winnipeg Foundation and from a private donor – he acquired a second for others to experience and enjoy.

With the support of the Disability Foundation, he formed Wilderness Access Manitoba in 2003, giving others a chance to use the TrailRider to experience the wilderness and feel the same rush of excitement he had.

Last autumn, he received a phone call from Val Mayes, who works with Alberta Recreational Parks Association in Edmonton as a diversity officer and has connections with the association’s Calgary office. At the time, she was also Alberta representative for the Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability (ALACD), an organization that addresses community inclusion for persons with a disability.

She first witnessed the TrailRider during a 2003 Calgary Film Festival, entitled Picture This …, that focused on disability issues..

After conversing a few times, Fletcher phoned Mayes one day in September to announce he was driving to Calgary that night and would bring the TrailRider with him. He was heading out for a political meeting, and would drop the TrailRider off. He was happy to lend it to someone, since the Manitoba hiking season had just ended.

In Manitoba, Fletcher has introduced the TrailRider to the media, shown it off to other disability organizations such as the Canadian Paraplegic Association, and taken it to school presentations. He explains the sense of reward he gets from helping others to enjoy an activity that would be normally be out of reach.

One family rented it and took it to their family cottage for their son who has a very serious case of degenerative ALS. For two months, the son rode around their property and Steven says the family told him that it “just made their summer.”

On Sept. 10, with two health aides and the head of his constituency association in tow, he made the 16-hour trip and handed over the TrailRider to Val Mayes in Calgary.

Mayes took the TrailRider on a custom tour of Alberta. Her first stop was the Easter Seal March of Dimes’ Camp Horizon outside of Calgary, where children with muscular dystrophy took it out for a ride. Later, she introduced it to a physical education class at Mount Royal College in Calgary, and the following day, it was off to a Calgary health care workshop called Activate the Network.

Then, she rented an SUV to accommodate the TrailRider and drove to Edmonton, where she presented it at Alberta Parks and Recreation and Alberta Special Olympics venues.

The next stop was five hours further north to Grande Prairie. Val flew, but dropped the TrailRider off at the Greyhound station in Edmonton for a bus journey.

“The guy at the Greyhound station took one look at it and said, ‘No!'” she recalls. After some “sweet talking,” she managed to persuade him. The transportation was by truck not bus. But still, she was told to “lose the cardboard box (that it was packed in).”

In Grande Prairie, the vehicle attained instant popularity at a resource fair and a workshop at Grande Prairie Regional College.

The TrailRider returned to Calgary in December, and made an appearance in February at the Picture This… Film Festival, 2004.

Mayes sighs that eventually Steven is bound to want it back. She has $3,000 raised from an anonymous donor toward purchase of a TrailRider for Alberta, and hopes she can find another pot of money somewhere in the community to finance the rest of the funding needed.

Meanwhile, Fletcher’s TrailRider has been a popular hit on the hustings.

Related Articles:
— One-wheeling to paradise: TrailRider features
— About Steven Fletcher

Vancouver Adapted Music Society

VANCOUVER ADAPTED MUSIC SOCIETY

VAMS supports and promotes musicians with physical disabilities in the Metro Vancouver area.

We operate Western Canada’s only fully-accessible recording studio, have our own choir, and promote concerts. Our latest CD, The Strong Sessions, highlights VAMS musicians – which we re-created on stage in April 2015.

Follow us on Twitter, join the discussion on Facebook, and, if you can, please support our life-changing programs with a donation.

Caucus Member

Tim Louis

Tim Louis
Persistence and Progressive Politics

Throughout his political and legal career, Tim Louis’ accomplishments as a public servant and disability advocate are significant. Some examples: He founded the Vancouver HandyDART system; a custom transit service for people with physical or cognitive disabilities who are unable to use public transit without assistance. He created the HandyDART operating company, the Pacific Transit Co-operative, as a user-run co-operative. He was a founding board member of the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, and co-founded the Public Interest Advocacy Centre – a law centre that takes on precedent-setting legal cases.

A prodigy of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) political party, Louis continues to give credence to his mentor, Harry Rankin, and to represent and bring forward a progressive viewpoint to politics and to public service.

Louis was born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1958, and grew up in Tsawassen-Boundary Bay on the mainland. He completed high school in South Delta, and entered the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the late ’70’s. He happens to have been born with a physical condition that requires him to use a power wheelchair; a situation that doesn’t personally faze him a bit, or even seem to enter his consciousness unless prompted.

“I don’t even know the name of it myself,” he says about his condition.
Of being a public man in a wheelchair, Louis responds, “it did politicize me to a degree, but it has never been an issue [for me]. As for how it impacts on others, I don’t know – you would have to ask them!”

Louis became politically active during his undergraduate years at UBC, and a choice encounter with his future mentor while advocating for the disabled would shape his life’s direction.

“In the late 1970’s I was organizing around the need for more public transportation for people with disabilities. At that time there was a very rudimentary system funded by the City of Vancouver, so we would go down there [to City Hall] and lobby and demonstrate.”

While there, Louis met city councillor and COPE (Coalition of Progressive Electors) party founder Harry Rankin: the man who would be his mentor.

“Harry Rankin was a lawyer, on City Council, and a very progressive fellow. He inspired me to go into politics. He inspired and motivated me and shaped my political consciousness. I became more political, applied to and got into [UBC] Law School.”

When Louis graduated with a degree in law, Rankin hired him as an articling student.

“It was a fabulous year of articling. I did a lot of criminal work, a lot of advocacy work, a lot of poverty law, and in ’84 I set my own firm up. No money, no line of credit, no assets, no clients, and I waited for the phone to ring. I borrowed three things: a typewriter from the B.C. Federation of Labour; a broken filing cabinet from a non-profit society; and a broken table. Slowly but surely the firm grew.”

At his mentor’s urgings – and sensing that it was “a good place to get started [in politics]” – Louis ran for Vancouver Park Board in 1982. He lost. Inspired by Harry Rankin’s personal example of tenacity and focus – and taking heart that Rankin himself had run 13 times for Council before being elected- he ran again in ’84. He lost again.

“Two years later in ’86 I ran again, and lost again. And in ’88 I ran again and lost again. Finally in 1990 I got elected. By then they turned into three year terms, and in 1993 I got re-elected to the Park Board. So I served six years with the Park Board.”

Louis recalls that his proudest moment on the job came when they were able to bring an end to ‘perks’ for Park Board commissioners and re-divert monies into children’s programs and services.

Feeling that he had accomplished “pretty much all that he could” with the Park Board, he put his mind to serving on Vancouver City Council, as his mentor Harry Rankin had done before him. As Louis puts it, “council, had a lot more impact on people’s lives, and it also afforded a greater opportunity to give profile to progressive issues.”
Louis ran for City Council in 1996- and lost. He ran again in ’99 and was elected. He ran again in 2002 and was re-elected. He ran again in 2005 and lost this time round.

Louis, who now devotes more time to his legal practice, recalls that his proudest accomplishments on City Council have been: “Helping to put an end to the public transit strike in the summer of 2001; opening up City Hall to public scrutiny; and putting a progressive perspective forward on the issues that came before Council.”
Would he run again for elected office? Louis responds: “Never say never!”
Louis’ advice for success in getting elected to public office: “Persistence and consistency and principles.”

Louis’ advice for those who want to enter into politics for change: “Become active around issues. Take a position on those issues, and be consistent.”

Caucus Member

Steven Fletcher
Member of Parliament (Conservative) for Charleswood-St. James Assiniboia, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
www.stevenfletcher.ca

Steven Fletcher, the son of a Canadian mining engineer, was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1972. He followed in his father’s profession: He completed his engineering degree from the University of Manitoba and worked as a mining engineer in Northern Manitoba at the Bissett Gold Mine.

Fletcher’s career path seemed set until a fateful automobile collision with a moose in 1996 left him a C3 – 4 quadriplegic, wheelchair-dependent, and with a new cause and course.

Fletcher had served his community since his high school days. Now, his accident, hospitalization and rehabilitation polarized his perceptions of healthcare and quality of life issues, and significantly, reawakened his political activism.

Before his injury, he hadn’t thought much about public policy or disability issues. Going through the healthcare “recovery system” forced Fletcher to recognize what he refers to as “society’s contradiction.”

Fletcher has stated, “On the one hand we ‘save’ or extend the lives of individuals and then we do not provide the resources to help these individuals, young or old, to have a reasonable quality of life. This contradiction is what initiated my first major political initiatives. In particular, I focused on Manitoba Public Insurance to insure that they meet their mission statement: ‘Bring the quality of life of a victim as much as practical to the level it was before the accident.’”

Ten years later, Fletcher is still in court battles with Manitoba Public Insurance, fighting for funding to live a normal life and the right to be in politics. Due to pushing the envelope of what has traditionally been possible, Fletcher has encountered a lot of institutional inertia due to the old style of thinking about what a person with a disability can accomplish.

Fletcher returned to the University of Manitoba for his masters of business administration (MBA) degree, and became involved in the student movement and provincial politics. He was elected president of the student body, and based on his accomplishments, was re-elected for a second term as president of the University of Manitoba Student’s Union. He served as member of the board of directors of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations; completed his MBA; and received his professional manager designation (P. Mgr.) and chartered manager designation (F.CIM.) from the Canadian Institute of Management.

Fletcher broadened his goals and became more involved in provincial politics to serve the complete community – which includes issues going far beyond healthcare or disability issues. In a highly contested election, he became president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba in November 2001. At age 29, he was the youngest person ever to hold this office, and the first with quadriplegia.

In 2003 Fletcher was instrumental in bringing the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties together into the union that is now the Conservative Party of Canada. Fletcher was nominated as a candidate for the Conservatives for the 2004 provincial elections, and on June 28 of that year, was elected as the federal member of parliament for the Charleswood-St. James riding in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He made history as the first person with a permanent disability to be elected to the House of Commons in Canada, and was re-elected for a second term in January 2006 in the new riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia..

Fletcher’s disability has not been a hindrance to himself in his work, though it has created awareness of the needs for accommodation and access for people with disabilities in Ottawa. He recalls a lunch function at the British High Commission in 2004, when his hosts found out that their building was not wheelchair-accessible. Of note, Fletcher reports that things are changing and becoming more accessible.

“I don’t have a view per say [on any influence the disability may have on doing the job]. I conduct myself as if I didn’t have a disability. Of course there are some obvious differences; I am in a power wheelchair; I have an aide with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But I focus on my role as a member of parliament and fulfill those duties and meet the expectations and often exceed the expectations of the people who elected me.

“I love what I do. I really enjoyed helping the people of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, and all Canadians, and I was very fortunate to have the position of senior health critic in the last Parliament, at a time when the healthcare debate is so important. . I am honored to be appointed by Prime Minister Harper as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health. Since the cabinet is small, I can have a major influence on health policy in Canada.

“In addition, I am very much looking forward to being the parliamentary secretary for the Minister of the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario. I enjoy dealing with the economic side of government. There is a lot of interaction between Manitoba and Northern Ontario, and I look forward to increasing economic opportunities for both provinces.”

Fletcher’s key for successfully running for public office: “Make sure you represent the people who elected you. My views on the world are by and large consistent with the majority of the citizens of my riding. I represent my riding to Ottawa, and not Ottawa to my riding.”

Fletcher’s reflections on a political life: “For anyone entering politics, the rewards and personal satisfaction of the position are significant; the risks are extraordinarily high. So make sure you have a balanced life, because politics can be all consuming.”

Caucus Member

 

Nancy Starnes
Vice President and Chief of Staff, U.S. National Organization on Disability (NOD)

Nancy Starnes was 30 years old, with 15 years in the business and financial industry when a small plane she was traveling in crashed. She left the plane alive and with T12/L1 paraplegia. She was unable to complete her licensing exams to become a stockbroker, because, at that time, the testing site was not required to have wheelchair accessible washrooms.

This was in the years before the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (1991). This was in the era when even Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy wheelchair ramps had been removed from the White House. Public access for people with disabilities was a cause that needed champions. And Nancy Starnes developed an interest in public service. Her business skills, charm and subtle approach have paved and smoothed miles of roads and ramps for the disability cause in America.

Starnes was born in Kansas City, Missouri (1943), and grew up in Dallas, Texas, in a semi-rural community. Her parents had a small business in town and a small 5 acre farm with 200 chickens, 10 sheep, three horses and a sow. Her father liked nothing more than to come home from work, get on the tractor and plow some ground, recalls Starnes. Her mother inspired her to become a business woman.

“Back in that day, most of the women who went to college were looking for that coveted ‘Mrs.’ Degree – which means they went to college to meet their mate and get married,” says Starnes. “But my mother was part of my father’s business, so I assumed I would somehow be involved in business from the management side.”
Starnes graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in business administration,

She joined the light manufacturing firm where she worked as a summer student, married, and followed her husband and his career to New York. Rather than live in the big city, they chose a rural area in New Jersey as home, and Starnes put down roots there as a business person and mother.

“The only way to get to the corporate offices back then was to have an executive assistant’s position – a very high level one – and I was very fortunate to have one of those with a holding company, where I was assistant to the president. That was where you got the contacts and learned what happened with the decision makers.”

She was moving up in the world of business and finance, when she decided after the third corporate office relocation and her boss’ death to look for something closer to home. With financial skills in her portfolio, she was in the process of getting her stockbroker’s license when she was injured in the plane crash. She returned to work after six weeks of recuperation, and the very first handicapped parking space in Sussex County, New Jersey was established for her.

Starnes was involved in her Sussex County community, with plenty of time in the evening for extra-curricular activities. She was asked to run for public office as an elected member of the Sparta, New Jersey Town Council in 1981. She was elected, and in 1984, was appointed by the council members of Sparta to become their mayor. She was the first female ever to serve on the town council, and the first person with a disability.

“I hadn’t really thought of myself as a public official,” Starnes recalls. “I thought of myself as a good citizen, and very much interested in how my community was growing, and the community agenda, and honestly didn’t see many other people with disabilities participating at that time. I still wanted to contribute to my community in any way I could that would be productive and helpful”

During this period, the Board of Chosen Freeholders (the title held by New Jersey county commissioners) selected her to be the liaison from the county to the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981). This is where she learned about the vision of Alan Reich, the founder of the National Organization on Disability (NOD), which was established the next year. Reich would tap her skills and hire her for NOD. She worked with him until his passing in 2005, and continues to serve NOD today.

In 1988, Starnes was asked by the New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders to set up a unit of county government to deliver programs and services for its citizens with disabilities. It was people with disabilities who taught Starnes about their diverse issues, she recalls, and she developed programs and services to meet the needs of the New Jersey rural population.

The 1990’s were public years for Starnes. She was encouraged to run for the Miss Wheelchair New Jersey Pageant, which she won. There she met her future husband who encouraged her to head up the largest U.S. non – profit members organization for people with spinal cord injury and disease – the Paralysis Society of America, where she served as chief operating officer. She did significant work for the Paralyzed Veterans of America, (The chief funders of the Paralysis Society), meeting Senator Bob Dole, President Clinton and other high – level politicians, giving visible credence to the message of people with disabilities through her presence as a woman with a wheelchair. In 1998 she was commissioned by the United Way to bear the torch on its way to the Atlanta Olympics. And in 2001 she joined Alan Reich, and was honored to serve along side him as NOD chief of staff.

Starnes’ accomplishments for people with disabilities come from her unique ability to work behind the scenes and make people comfortable with new ideas. There are several keys to the way she successfully serves the disability community and its needs.
“Coming out of public life and public service, and hopefully having learned something from the civil rights movement of the ’60’s and the women’s rights movement, in a large-scale movement like this, there have to be connection points that are comfort zones for people who are not already part of that movement. It doesn’t mean that the person leading that parade – the most aggressive one – is going to be the place where everyone is comfortable coming into that company. So I tend to be more subtle, probably work more behind the scenes, and really appreciate a broad background of people’s views.”

Starnes’ business experience has been invaluable in her work as a public servant.
“My business background helps me recognize what the barriers are for the people and find ways to break down some of those barriers. When somebody says, ‘you can’t do it because …’ then you start thinking about things from where you want to go to how you put that shovel in the dirt. How do you begin to build the foundation that will lead you to the end that you desire?”

Starnes continues to work at the head and behind the scenes to help people with disabilities fully participate in their communities.

“You have to recognize that there are a lot of people who are affected by folks who have disabilities; whether that means an economic impact because people with disabilities can or cannot get jobs, shop in stores. It’s a matter of thinking things through and being sensitive to a lot of different perspectives and elements that must be considered if you are going to be successful.”

Nancy Starnes continues to live and work in Washington, D.C..

DISABILITY CAUSUS

 

Jim Langevin
U.S. Representative (Democrat),
Rhode Island Second Congressional District
www.jimlangevin.com

Congressman Jim Langevin has moved fast and accomplished much as an elected public servant for his home state of Rhode Island. At the age of 22, he was State Delegate to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention, serving as its secretary. At 24, while still an undergraduate in college, he was elected to the State House of Representatives. At 30, while completing his master’s degree in public administration, he was elected Rhode Island Secretary of State, defeating the Republican incumbent and becoming the youngest state secretary in the nation. He held this position from 1994 until 2000, when he was chosen by the voters to represent them in the U.S. Congress.

A cornerstones of Langevin’s administration as Secretary of State included transforming that office “from being an ‘old records-keeping office’ to being a vibrant office of public information. He founded Rhode Island’s Public Information Center, and lived up to his campaign promise of making the office “the people’s partner in government.” Langevin also made it his priority to do away with what was the oldest voting equipment in the country and implemented a new modern voting system.

Langevin has now served Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for three consecutive terms; being re-elected in 2004 with an overwhelming 75 percent of the vote. Since joining Congress, he has worked on issues that affect the lives of all of his constituents, including healthcare, education, national security and economic policy. He has played an instrumental role in creating election reform legislation, an area of keen interest and concern in his life. He is currently seeking re-election to the U.S. Congress.

Jim Langevin grew up in Warwick, Rhode Island. He was born in 1964, and like other young men of his generation, his dream was to become a police officer. That path would lead him to serve not only his community, but his country.

A catastrophic injury at the age of 16 left Langevin a C5 – 6 quadriplegic and with only partial use of his arms and hands. As a Boy Scout participating in the Explorer program he worked for the Warwick Police Department to gain experience in law enforcement. A chance discharge from a policeman’s revolver (thought to be empty) sent a bullet into his throat, permanently damaging his spinal cord; permanently ending his police force aspirations.

This would not direct Langevin into self-pity. Through an outpouring of support from his family, friends, and the community, he was inspired to give of himself in public service.

“I saw what positive things would come when a group of people came together for a common purpose, experiencing it firsthand,” recalls Langevin. He graduated from high school in 1983, and in ’86, ran for and was elected to serve as a State Delegate to Rhode Island’s Constitutional Convention. Having been exposed to politics as an early teen by his mother, he found his passion in public service as an elected official.

“I had to think about what I was going to do with my life [now that law enforcement was no longer an option]. I thought about it, and became more and more interested in government and public service in the political field. My parents were very insistent that I finish my education and go on to college – again, failure was not an option. They were bound and determined that I was going to make something of my life, and with their support and the support of the community, it all tied together and I found a new passion in life.”

Reflecting on his early political appointment at the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention in 1986, Langevin recalls, “Not only did I feel that I was giving something back, but I found something that I really enjoyed.”

His passion was recognized and ignited and his political career has taken him to Congress, serving Rhode Island and the U.S. from 2000 to the present. He has served on Armed Services and Small Business Committees as well as the Homeland Security Committee; sponsored bills to increase gun safety; and pursued his desire to improve government for the people. Langevin’s youthful injury polarized his concerns about the lack of universal healthcare, and affordable prescription drugs for most Americans. This issue has become a continued focus and priority of his work in Congress.

Langevin’s key for successfully running for public office: “I have always tried to be as honest and straightforward as I can possibly be. But I also have a passion for public service. I believe there is no higher calling than public service, and working hard to represent your neighbors, your community, your state and nation. I think we all have a desire within us to make a difference in the world, to make it better than when we found it and through public service in elected office I have been given the opportunity to touch people’s lives in a positive way.”

Langevin’s key for a successful life: “It’s important for any individual to follow their passion, no matter what it is. If you have an interest, especially in public service, I encourage you to pursue it. We can all make a difference if we chose to try.”

Langevin on his disability: “I hope my involvement in public service has inspired all people with challenges. I also hope it has raised awareness of the challenges of those with disabilities but also our capabilities. Despite my limitations, I had a goal and a dream – something I had a passion for. I pursued that passion and I have given back to my community. I believe I have made a difference.”

Jim Langevin is the first person with quadriplegia to serve in the U.S. Congress.

Disability Caucus

Doug Mowat
A Tribute to a Life of Service
(b.1929 Vancouver d. 1992 Vancouver)

“Doug Mowat truly did lead a life of service, giving selflessly of himself for the betterment of all his fellow citizens. In doing so, he left an indelible mark on those who knew him, and knew of his work.”
– Right Hon. Brian Mulroney (former Prime Minister of Canada).

Doug Mowat was born in 1929 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The son of a tow boat chief engineer, he soon took to the waters himself and mastered the double winches on local steamships in the summers of ’46 and ‘47.

“He was a ‘harem-scare-em’ kind of guy,” recalls best friend John Allan, who shared the deck with him on the Lady Pam steamship. “We went to sea together for two summers. He was very anxious to go to sea and become a professional seaman, which ran in his family.”

But his life’s course changed heading.

At the age of 17, he was injured while at a rugby party and became a quadriplegic. Though limited physically by the quadriplegia and wheelchair he would now use to propel his body, his vision and imagination held to no such boundaries.

After his injury, Mowat had an extensive and painful recovery and rehabilitation at Vancouver General Hospital. His nerves were still firing and his legs would occasionally spasm, leading to burns when he’d kick off the light bulbs used to bake the plaster casts he was put in.

But this didn’t get Doug down. Allan recalls that Mowat never once complained about his fate. He was determined to make it. He was so popular, Allan says, with streams of people constantly visiting, the hospital needed to create a separate waiting room just for his friends. Doug Mowat had that kind of charm and charisma, even as a teen, his friend remembers.

“As far as Doug was concerned, ‘anything you can do, I can do,’” recalls John Allan.
His new condition on discharge wasn’t going to pose insurmountable barriers. Mowat drove himself home from hospital using hand-control levers to steer the car. Later in life he would host car rallies to remove driving restrictions from people with disabilities who used such levers – proving that they were just as good – if not better drivers – as the regular guys.

The Boy Scouts instilled the values of fellowship and leadership in young Mowat and crystallized his commitment to service to his fellows. He was a Boy Scout before his injury, and a Boy Scout Rover ( the Scout organization for young men age 18 -22 ) after.
“We used to go camping [after his injury and discharge],” remembers Allan. “We had a Scouting crew and Rover crew. We had to be careful that we didn’t get Doug’s feet too close to the fire cause he wouldn’t know if his feet were on fire, because he had no feeling. I remember one camping unit when I was sleeping beside him. He had a leg spasm and managed to kick himself outside the tent under the flap. He had to wake me up to say, ‘Pull me in!’ He was lying out there in the pouring rain with his face getting washed!”

Fortunately, Scouting also taught Mowat how to work well with others and manage people- skills he would use throughout his career of public service.

In the mid ’50’s Mowat needed a job, and was hired by the Dueck family to work as the late-hours salesman in their tire shop at Broadway and Fir. “His attraction to people was such that it soon became a common meeting place,” recalls Allan.

Soon Mowat became involved in the beginnings of the sport of wheelchair basketball at the gymnasium of the Western Rehabilitation Centre. With him as manager, and Allan as referee, they would play pick-up games with service groups and with the local kids at Vancouver schools. Enter sponsorship from the Dueck’s, and later on the world would see the “Dueck Powerglides” and the B.C. Wheelchair Basketball League. He would follow the sport through his life and go on to manage teams that competed in Israel and Germany.

“While Doug couldn’t play himself, he was an interesting manager,” recounts Allan. “He understood the game, and was a very positive person. He would be able to give direction that made good sense and kept things going. He had no patience with people who weren’t able to follow through with what they should do.”

Mowat took an active social position in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s. He had the strong emotional support from his mother and father – and boosts from his friends in dealing with his quadriplegia – and he was to give back using all of his skills and gifts. He joined the Vancouver Gyro club (a non-profit fundraising organization for charities) with Allan, eventually becoming president. He helped found the B.C. Paraplegic Association (BCPA) in 1957 – expanding the association to assist other wheelchair people both physically and psychologically. He held the post of executive director of the BCPA from 1962 until his passing. In 1961 he married his wife and dedicated partner, Ann – an incredible source of support for him.

Mowat was largely responsible for bringing the first wave of wheelchair accessibility to the City of Vancouver. Curb cuts in sidewalks, better bus and taxi access, and wheelchair accessible public washroom doors can all be traced to his legacy of public service. For his work on behalf of people with disabilities, he received the Order of Canada in 1982, recognizing his life of service and achievement. But he was not done yet.

Mowat became more politically involved, and in the early ’80’s, ran and was elected to the Vancouver Park Board. He was persuaded by colleagues to consider running for provincial politics and ran as MLA for Vancouver Little Mountain in 1983.

“I remember him very clearly talking to me: ‘should I do this?’ Allan recalls. “Doug and I were very close friends. I told him, ‘Doug it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of difficulty because for one thing, [people may think] how could a quadriplegic possibly serve his community with his paralytic condition? And also [some] people think if you broke your back, you broke your head!” I said, ‘it’s very hard for you now to turn down the chance to achieve this so that people will realize that a quadriplegic can serve his community very well.’”

Mowat was elected to the B.C. Legislature in 1983, holding his position until 1991. In 1984, he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health and to the Minister of Social Services and Housing. He served all of his constituents well, according to colleagues from both sides of the legislature, and along the way, inspired, shaped, and mentored young people who would go on to choose a life of public service as elected officials.

“It didn’t matter what party Doug was with, in a matter of ways,” recalls his protégé since the ’70’s from the BCPA, Al DeGenova. “He got along so well with the [other politicians], and they respected him on the opposition better than anybody. They could never really pounce on Doug because they knew he was there for all the right reasons.”

DeGenova, Vancouver’s current Park Commissioner (for the fifth term running) recalls, “Before he passed away, Doug met me and encouraged me to run for the Vancouver Park Board. He encouraged me to make the city more accessible.

“Doug was a huge influence in revitalizing Vancouver’s Chinatown in the early ’80’s. He helped raise funds for the lighting program with B.C. Hydro, back in the days when Chinatown was really struggling. He left a number of legacy things through the City and Park Board for youth and seniors- it didn’t mean everybody had to be a quadriplegic or paraplegic, he just helped to make things accessible in a lot of ways.

“He taught me to be who I was [as an elected public servant]; to be genuine. It was your credibility; your integrity and genuineness. There were never ‘political’ strategies or ways with Doug. He was the best politician because of his charismatic way; his genuineness.

He was shrewd, no doubt, in getting things done, but he did things for all the right reasons. That was his key to a successful life as a public servant, and for running the [BCPA] and everything else that he sat on.”

Doug Mowat served his community well, and passed away in Vancouver on August 11, 1992.

THE DISABILITY FOUNDATION CONSISTS OF SIX AFFILIATED SOCIETIES:

ConnecTra Society
ConnecTra serves as a connecting agency, linking people with physical disabilities to activities and programs that will, over time, allow them to grow, gain confidence and become increasingly more active and involved in community life. It aims to get people with significant disabilities living in the Lower Mainland as socially active as possible, setting the stage for many to consider training, education and work. Includes the Abilities Business Cooperative, a networking group for the self-employed. ConnecTra also has a Facebook page.

Programs: workshops – presentations – outreach – information centre. 

Disabled Independent Gardeners Association
Disabled Independent Gardeners Association provides people with significant physical disabilities the opportunity to become involved in gardening. DIGA recognizes gardening as a recreational activity that can enable people with disabilities to develop skills, build self-confidence, learn and grow. Also visit DIGA on Facebook.

Programs: workshops – one-on-one volunteer gardening help – accessible community gardens. 

Disabled Sailing Association of BC (DSA)
Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia promotes freedom and independence by providing people with disabilities the opportunity to actively participate in an exciting and challenging outdoor sport. Uses a specially designed adaptive sailboat, the Martin-16, which allows joystick or (mouth-operated) sip ‘n’ puff control. DSA has affiliates in Victoria, Chemainus, Kelowna, and other cities across Canada. For a less formal take on it all, see the DSA blog, Sailing is Freedom. While you are at it, also check out the DSA boat donation website. DSA is also on Facebook.

Programs: recreational sailing (novice to expert) – regattas.

Tetra Society of North America

Tetra Society of North America provides volunteer engineers to design and construct customized assistive devices for people with significant physical disabilities. Volunteers work one-on-one with people with specific needs that cannot be met by commercial assistive devices. Tetra also has a Facebook page.

 

Vancouver Adapted Music Society (VAMS)
Vancouver Adapted Music Society works with musicians of all levels of ability. Provides karaoke and entry-level music making, along with a fully equipped, professional-standard recording studios at GF Strong Rehab Centre, Vancouver which is used by musicians of all levels of experience. The society also promotes more accomplished musicians through its website, by arranging performance opportunities, staging concerts and through recordings. VAMS also has a Facebook page.

Programs: karaoke – music workshops – concerts – studio & practice facility.