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.

Motivation comes from within. When someone is very confident about succeeding then nothing can stop them. They will find ways and means to conquer any obstacles and hurdles that they may encounter. The families become their anchor and support. Their disabilities cannot defeat their determination or their drive. In fact, some people work a lot more than even the normal people do.

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.


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.

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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.

Caucus Member

Sam Sullivan
Mayor (former), City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Sam Sullivan was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1960. Nestled in the Coastal mountain range and a natural jumping off-point for ski enthusiasts, it would be Vancouver’s mountain that would change his life, and subsequently lead to positive change for thousands of Canadians with disabilities.

Sullivan was injured at the age of 19 in a skiing accident that left him a high-level quadriplegic with no finger movement and only partial use of his wrist extensors. His old life was over. When he got to the bottom of his experience, as he puts it, he figuratively “put a gun to my head, pulled the trigger, and killed [the old] Sam.” He was born again as the Sam Sullivan the world knows today.

While re-building his life at Vancouver’s G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre, Sullivan met head on the constant frustrations that his limited physical condition imposed upon his aspirations to lead an independent life. Sullivan strongly desired to live and participate in his coastal community, concurrent with the political tide and community living movement that sought to de-institutionalize people with disabilities. Liberation was what he was after, and the freedom to do as much by himself and for himself as could be imagined and carried out.

Sullivan, along with friends made while at G.F. Strong, needed help with simple mechanical devices that would radically improve their ability to care for themselves; things as simple as an adapted butter knife so he could make toast by himself; a fridge door opener so he could get his own food. Through contacting local volunteer engineers for help with the fabrication and technical aspects of these simple projects, the Tetra Society of North America was founded.

Sullivan went on to found several more non-profit societies that have made significant improvements in the lives of people with disabilities across North America, including the Disabled Sailing Association of North America which provides opportunities for independent sailing for people with significant disabilities; the British Columbia Mobile Opportunities Society whose “TrailRider” – a revolutionary one-wheeled all-terrain access vehicle – has allowed entry to the deepest backwoods and mountain tops for even people with the most significant disabilities.

Post injury, Sullivan obtained his business administration degree from Simon Fraser University and ran for, and was elected to Vancouver City Council in 1993. He served as city councillor for 12 years; was a member of the steering committee that built Vancouver’s Central Library. As vice president of the Metropolitan Board of Health, he helped introduce Canada’s first 100 per cent smoke-free public places initiative to Vancouver. Sullivan was the first politician in Canada to call for “harm reduction” (in dealing with drug addiction) as an official element of public policy.

Sullivan has received the Peter F. Drucker Award for Innovation for the Tetra Society; the Terry Fox National Award for Achievement; and in March 2005, was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada – this country’s highest honor – for his significant work to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. In November 2005, Sullivan ran for and was elected Mayor of the City of Vancouver.

Recalling his entry into elected politics, Sullivan recounts: “I was asked by a very respected political person named Grace McCarthy [the former deputy premier of the Province of British Columbia] to run for city council. I was involved with a lot of community groups and non-profit organizations, which is a form of political involvement. So getting into politics [as an elected official] was a natural extension of this work.”

Of his presence as a person in public office with a significant disability, Sullivan says, “I think it has reconfirmed that disability issues matter, and it’s hard for me to know , but I assume that people are less likely to bring inaccessible options forward [to city hall] when they know I am there. I think there was a natural skepticism at first [from the electorate about his ability to do the job from a wheelchair], but by trying to do a good job, trying to be reasonable and effective [this has been overcome].

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“I don’t consider myself a ‘disabled’ councillor – I consider myself an able councillor. Of course I have a special interest in disability issues because of my personal experience. That would of course color my decision – making process, but I try not to be a ‘one-issue’ politician. I try to make decisions that are for the good of the whole community.

“I think disabled people, just like every other group of people, should get involved in their community as much as they are able, and everyone needs to contribute to the political process in whatever way they can. It could be as an elected official; as a volunteer in political parties, or as a person who gets involved in community groups. There are many ways to contribute to the community. But certainly I believe that political involvement is very important for citizens.”

Sullivan’s key for successfully running for public office: “Developing relationships; getting to know people and contributing to the community; and developing a constituency of supporters.

Disability Foundation Newsmagazine


By Garry Angus

Anger, frustration, successful approaches and new possibilities were expressed, as ConnecTra unveiled its clerical and general employment staffing service project to the membership. The employment workshop, held Feb. 2nd at the Coal Harbour Community Centre, was an examination of the employability potential of persons with disabilities in an able-bodied job market.

Do you agree that unfair practices keep on denying individuals with handicaps, and laborers who wind up debilitated, the opportunity to work? 66% of the jobless respondents with handicaps reported they might want to work yet couldn’t discover occupations. 33% of the businesses studied reported that people with incapacities can’t viably play out the required activity errands.

The meeting introduced members to the value of creating and joining special clerical and general employment pools from which to penetrate the systemic barriers persons with disabilities face when attempting to enter the regular employment market.

Acting in response to the input of its members, many of whom are seeking part – time employment in the office/clerical field, ConnecTra started the project with the intent of creating a labour pool of job-ready disabled people that the society could market to prospective companies with no additional costs to the employer. ConnecTra would act as a “temp” agency on behalf of its members, directly paying participants while building marketplace relationships leading to meaningful temporary part-time, permanent part-time or full-time work at professional industry standards, with equitable monetary rewards.

“The pot was stirred,” said ConnecTra manager Jim Howard, ” and it was a good thing.”

Guest speakers included Wayne Rawcliffe of Senga Consulting Inc, a human resources and recruiting expert; Paula Katajamaki, district supervisor, B.C. Ministry of Human Resources; and ConnecTra member, and motivational speaker, Darren Childs.

Rawcliffe, an able-bodied consultant with several years’ local experience, was brought in to provide the mainstream labour market viewpoint, and provided insight on how to effectively network and market in that environment. He faced a tough crowd, and was met with some subtle resistance to his message from the “wheel-a- mile- in- my- chair” faction.
In an interview with the Disability News after the event, Kirk Duncan, ConnecTra program coordinator, explained that sometimes bringing in an able-bodied speaker triggers some barriers within the constituency. “It’s easy to say, ‘wheel a mile in my chair,’ but this doesn’t stop us from getting the best people to come in and speak about the challenges and issues they are going to face when they seek employment. It’s the same skill set. The fact that it’s somebody with a disability doesn’t make it any better or worse.”

“People hire people,” Rawcliffe said in his presentation. “It’s not just about ads in papers or on the web, but about relationships.”

He recommended actively creating and participating in existent networks, such as ConnecTra, and being ready to speak unabashedly about oneself and what you would love to do. “When networking, you should always ask people you connect with, ‘Who else should I speak to about my goals?'”

He said, “You have to challenge your viewpoint on what you think work is, where it is, and what you can do in the labour force. Generally, employers are looking for skills other than just the job requirements. Managers are looking for people with certain qualities, and the clearer you are about who you are, the better you can effectively market yourself. Of course, you have to know what is happening in Vancouver, and the labour market trends.”

Katajamaki addressed the B.C. government’s Employment and Disability Services Act, and opened up the floor for questions.

“The act recognizes that persons with disabilities (PWD) face unique challenges in daily living and may require supports to employment or continuous assistance,” Katajamaki said. “Specialized services allow persons with disabilities to take advantage of employment opportunities as they come available. They receive an early exemption of $400 per month, double what it was in 2002, so that’s a stride forward for the ministry.

“These earning exemptions allow those with PWD designation to keep a portion of their after-tax employment income, and are designed to encourage people with disabilities, who are able to work, to maintain their skills, to participate in the workplace as they are able, and to have greater financial independence.”

She further explained, “If a person with a disability leaves income assistance, due to employment income in excess of assistance rates, they maintain their PWD designation and maintain their medical benefits. You do not have to reapply for the disability status to re-establish your eligibility for assistance. The ministry allows you to go off and on, and retain that status, and to assist you in attaining independence and being able to get out into the workforce to earn a little bit of extra income.”

This was Katajamaki’s first visit to a ConnecTra event, and she graciously answered questions from the floor that she could address on the spot. She stayed on long after her official presentation, meeting member’s concerns face to face, and offering help as to where to turn to get the needed information.

Howard told the membership, “A lot of the companies right now, are a little apprehensive about hiring people with a Disability.”

Apprehension and resultant barriers in the minds and policies of human resources (HR) managers may come down to bottom line costs.

Speaking to an anonymous former HR manager from one of B.C.’s top 16 companies to work for (the company has and does hire qualified persons with disabilities), the Disability News discovered the following:

 • How much will it cost the company if a person with a disability needs to go on sick leave?
 • How will they get around in my buildings, without us having to add ramps, accessibility devices and related infrastructure?
 • How will my customers and staff relate to someone with a physical or developmental impairment?
 • How much educating can I afford, not only for the person with a disability, but also for my core staff, and for my customers?

According to ConnecTra’s Duncan, “It’s a fear of the unknown and what it would cost to bring someone in.”

“You have to explain why it’s a good asset to have you, said ConnecTra Member Candace Larscheid in the spontaneous open discussion that broke out. “I speak from experience in retail, and to get in there, I had to totally convince them why I am a good candidate.”

Larscheid, 36, from Vancouver, has cerebral palsy and functions from a manual wheelchair.

“When you are a person with a disability, you are training them,” she said. “They don’t know how to act around you. I’ve done volunteer work from the age 12 on, and I didn’t get a real paid job until I was 33 years old. So it’s all about showing up in the company’s place, volunteering, and proving to employers that you can do the job. When it comes to hiring, you put it to them why you are a good asset for them to have. People with a disability must train the workforce to see how we are capable.”

“How do I break down that hiring barrier?” was the expressed sentiment in the room.

“We are gradually reducing it,” Howard said, “by working with understanding employers and positioning people in target companies and showing that persons with disabilities are an asset in the workforce. What we are hoping to do with the staffing service project is to send out someone, who has the ability, but may not have the stamina for a regular workweek. With a pool we can segment it, and provide.
a team for the job. Putting it through ConnecTra, we pay you, they pay us, and it takes away the barrier of paperwork, education, other expenses for the employer.”

Motivational speaker Darren Childs, 42, of East Vancouver, presented his experience of how to successfully penetrate and integrate into the work force. Starting at McDonalds’ restaurant at age 20 as the lobby host, he quickly found that the key to overcoming perceived barriers as a person with a disability on the job was to put his best foot forward with a smile. For Childs, who happens to have cerebral palsy, it came down to his attitude first, and how he would present himself.

“Remove the anger (about your disability) and you will remove half the barriers right there,” he said. “Your attitude speaks volumes about how people see you. Focus on your talents, not on your disability. The thing I took pride in, instead of saying, ‘there are so many obstacles about having a disability and getting employment, I’m just going to give up,’ was that I never gave up.

“Sometimes when we are attempting to break down barriers, we have to put ourselves on the front page and be the advocates, the people who put up with a lot of ignorance… so that the next generation of people who try to enter the workforce won’t have the same obstacles.”

Childs recommended the crowd examine on an individual basis whether or not their basic needs were being met, whether through B.C. Benefits, or other kinds of financial support, because people do have choices.

“Then I can ask myself, “What do I want to do?” I get an opportunity to look for the career I would like to pursue.”

The workshop closed with more lively discussion, rebuttals, and new replies from the floor, and resulted in 22 ConnecTra members joining the pools from the 25 in attendance.

“Our next step,” according to Duncan, “is approaching the business community, the HR managers, presenting the project and asking for their assistance and support.”

Access Challenge

Access Challenge is an annual wilderness expedition that provides an opportunity for people with significant physical disabilities to experience the beauty and wonder of British Columbia’s backcountry. That opportunity is made possible through the TrailRider, a multi-terrain vehicle designed specifically for BCMOS, that is powered by two or more able-bodied team-mates, or “Sherpas.”

Founded in 1985 by Sam Sullivan, the British Columbia Mobility Opportunities Society (BCMOS) has been working to expand the boundaries of accessibility for people with significant disabilities. The BCMOS vision is that hikers with disabilities will become a common sight on wilderness trails throughout British Columbia and, eventually, all of Canada. To this end, BCMOS has developed a series of unique summer hiking events, including the signature Access Challenge, the year’s most ambitious event.

Previous Access Challenge three-day events have taken as many as eight teams of hikers through parts of Manning Provincial Park (east of Vancouver) and to the peak of Garibaldi Provincial Park near Whistler/Blackcomb.

The Challenge

Each team consists of four or five members, one of whom will have a significant physical disability. Overcoming obstacles through teamwork and strategy constitutes the “challenge” part of Access Challenge.

Participants work together to navigate a designated wilderness route, overcoming obstacles along the way. The challenge takes place over several days. Teams use navigational tools provided, as well as other innovative equipment designed by the group.

When a differently abled person is a part of a group taking part in a challenge, then you can see that they feel responsible for the team and work more than you can ever imagine. They also follow all the instructions carefully and are disciplined. These are the right traits that can be used while trading using a platform like Bitcoin Trader.

There is a period of preparation prior to the challenge when all safety and emergency procedures are covered and environmental concerns addressed. Teams must practice “no trace” camping, resulting in minimal impact on the environment.

In the wilderness, common human needs begin to outweigh physical differences and everyone must work together to achieve a mutual goal. Discovering you can adapt and succeed in a wilderness environment helps to overcome the challenges of everyday life


Goals and Objectives

To facilitate access to wilderness environments for people with significant physical disabilities.
To create an adventure expedition that combines competition with education.
To promote the message of integration through participation in a team environment.
To help people with disabilities develop self-confidence and self-esteem through challenging physical activity.
To show that wilderness access for people with disabilities does not have to alter or harm the natural physical environment.
To improve the overall quality of life for persons with significant disabilities.
To raise awareness of the capabilities and fortitude of people with disabilities.
To break down barriers.
To set a precedent for other interested parties.

Testimonials“This was the first time in 14 years that I really felt one with nature. Our teamwork on the mountain can be duplicated in office settings or anywhere else in society. Access Challenge should be mandatory for everybody!”

Roger B. Jones, Access Challenge participant. A star college basketball player in Halifax, a car accident left Roger a quadriplegic in 1986.“It [Access Challenge] allowed my spirit to get away somewhere it hadn’t been in awhile, and definitely needs to be. I felt like I was back home again. It gave me balance, and that’s important.”

Brad Jacobsen, Access Challenge participant. Now working for the B.C. Paraplegic Association at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver, Brad became a quadriplegic in 1994 in a diving accident.

“The experience of getting back into the mountains, though bittersweet because of my dependence now on others, was uplifting. I found that being up on that mountain looking down at the view and feeling the breeze on my face made me feel ‘normal’ again. I felt less handicapped, more like myself. It was a great feeling!”

Alexis Chicoine, two-time Access Challenge participant. Alexis works at CTV in Vancouver. In 2000, while honeymooning in Venezuela, her tour bus went off the road, leaving her a quadriplegic.

“There is nothing else designed anywhere in the world that gets you into such inhospitable surroundings. I mean, why should that part of nature only be reserved for non-disabled people?”

Mike Nemesvary, Access Challenge participant. Mike is President and CEO of ‘Round the World Challenge, Ottawa. A former World Cup champion freestyle skier and Canadian junior trampoline champion, Mike injured his spinal cord in 1985 during a routine trampoline workout. In 2001, Mike became the first quadriplegic to drive around the world, raising $10 million for spinal cord research.

“Our team got along fabulously. Everyone had different expectations, but everyone was open-minded and flexible. Everyone’s willingness to learn how to pitch in and adapt was key to completing the expedition successfully.”

Kurt Turchan, Access Challenge volunteer.

“I had four volunteers, none of whom I’d ever met. When we all got together in that beautiful context it had a kind of holistic effect. Something amazing happens to people out there.”

Linda McGowan, four-time Access Challenge participant. Linda, a former nurse, lives in New Westminster. She was an avid hiker until she lost her ability to walk in 1981 due to Multiple Sclerosis. Prior to Access Challenge 1999, it had been 19 years since Linda had been on top of a mountain.



By Garry Angus


She had come so far, and in just three and a half years, made it to the 2004 Paralympics as Canada’s Grade II rider. Were it not for difficulty executing a perfect ‘halt’ during competition (bringing the horse to a complete stop on command), she would be on the podium wearing precious metal. An Athens medal was that close for Lauren Barwick, 27, of Aldergrove, B.C., and her mount “Dior”.

Barwick  left Athens maintaining her rank as one of the world’s top ten athletes in her sport.

Barwick’s road to the Greek games began shortly after the June 17th 2000 work-related accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Prior to that date, she had been a professional rider; a competition jumper; a horse wrangler for the movie industry. She had a high skill level on a wide variety of horses. Even though therapeutic riding was available for people with spinal cord injuries, the last thing Lauren wanted was to do was be led around on the back of a horse after the level of mastery she had attained prior to her injury.

“When did I decide to go riding again?” She remarks, “I had wanted never to ride again. I had ridden at such a high level previously, and trained.”

After adjusting to life with a wheelchair, Barwick, took up sailing and boat racing at Jericho Beach with the Disabled Sailing Association of B.C.. The solitary control of the vessel reminded her of what it was like to ride. She tried other activities, such as kayaking and mountain biking, but “nothing really filled that void.” Her passion was for all things equestrian.

Confidence gained from disabled sailing and her innate athlete’s competitive drive set the stage for her comeback to the saddle.

People can feel confident when they can get the right response for their hard work and endeavor. They can do anything they want to do as long as they have the confidence in their abilities and in the equipment that they are using. We agree with this point of view as we have seen time again that people with disabilities work harder than others to achieve their dreams.

After some initial steps at the stables, she visualized competing again, this time in equestrian dressage as an athlete who just happens to have a disability. While searching for the right equipment to accommodate her in the saddle, she met Sandra Verda, the riding coach with expertise in able-bodied and disabled riders. Verda specializes in coaching those riders who seek independence and competition, because it is her love and passion, and as she puts it, “there really isn’t that opportunity.” She would shape Barwick’s riding, inspire her and support her mentally, and take her to the Athens Paralympic games as a world-class athlete.

Barwick’s saddle was adapted by Verda with Velcro thigh straps, padded knee rolls and elastic bootstraps to keep her legs in place as she rides – all devices designed for a quick breakaway if she needs to fall. With inflatable gel pads strategically placed on her saddle to protect her tailbone and the seat of her spine from pressure and percussive sores, she was ready to train hard.

Being paralyzed and having no sensation from the waist down, she balances on her mount through the use of her abdominal muscles, and where an able-bodied rider would apply leg pressure to guide the horse in controlled movements, she would shift her core weight and use special adapted riding whips.

Barwick was classified by the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee (IPEC) – the regulating body for the sport for riders with disabilities – as a Grade II.3 rider out of four competition grades (Grade I riders being those with the most severe disability). She would ride against athletes in her grade with various disabilities, including amputees and those with cerebral palsy, and thus far, has only competed against three other riders with paraplegia.

Barwick had come so far, so fast, and achieved international standing in her sport. She qualified early on for consideration for the 2004 Athens Paralympics, but, with only three spots available to Canadian riders, there was contention between the Canadian Paralympic Equestrian Team selection committee and the athletes as to who would get to go. By IPEC rules, the Canadian team had to consist of at least one Grade I, and one Grade II rider. It came down to what permutation of grades and number of riders per grade the committee would select for the three spots for Greece. Near the end, almost all riders had lawyers for their seven-hour conference calls with the team selection committee. There were three court case appeals. The team changed three times. But Barwick got the spot as Canada’s Grade II rider for Athens.

At the games, she competed in her grade against the world’s 20 elite Paralympic dressage riders, the top 10 each having over 15 years experience in top-level competition, and her with but two years’ experience. A Paralympic medal was so close, were it not for the elusive “halt” in competition tests.

Perhaps it was the excitement of competition, perhaps nerves and the expanded sensitivity brought out in Dior, but Barwick had difficulty. When she went to stop him in her routines, he wanted to “Piaffe” – dance on the spot. Without the physical use of her legs to push him into compliance, she couldn’t get him to halt. The problem struck twice.

“I had amazing artistic marks and some of the judges gave me second place marks,” Barwick sighs, “but I could not get Dior to halt. And the judges’ comments were ‘such a spectacular ride! Your horse and you go so well together, a pity about the halt.’ That can make you cry. But we needed to do that. We went from mellow and safe to ‘here we are in Athens and we need to take that chance and hit it’. So that’s what happened.”

In her Championship test, Barwick got a total score of 68 (out of a potential 100) and placed seventh. Bronze went to 68.7%. She had individual scores of seven, eights’ and nines (out of 10) in everything but the halt where she got fives. Had she gotten a score of six in the halt, she would be wearing Athens silver. It was that close.

“The thought that I qualified for Athens in two years was remarkable to me,” says Lauren, “because I had such a short time to train, and the thing with dressage is its preciseness. I only had a short time to put together a whole test, and couldn’t go back and make every part perfect. I had to keep moving on. I had to keep learning new stuff so I could at least come to the arena with something.”

Lauren, Dior and Sandra returned to Canada, regrouped, relaxed, and started preparations for the road to the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Barwick will be at her prime then, and fully prepared to stand with the best in her sport.

“The European championships are this year and the worlds are next year,” she says, “and then Beijing.”

Disability Foundation Newsmagazine


By Paul Gowan

HandyDart is a public transit service that accepts people with disabilities who are unable to access regular public transit without assistance.

The opportunity to approach private and open transportation is urgent to the capacity of individuals with disabilities, to partake completely in network life. These administrations might change significantly on the level of adaptability they give their clients by checking the helpful site on the web. At their least complex, they may comprise of a taxi or little transport that will keep running along a pretty much-characterized course and after that stop to get or release travelers on demand.

Using specially designed vehicles, HandyDart in the Lower Mainland is a perfect example of transit fitting the needs of the community. Or is it?

HandyDart is operated by different contractors in different Lower Mainland service areas, loosely based on municipalities or municipal groupings. Each operator has a separate contract with Translink, Greater Vancouver’s public transit authority.

Some clients don’t get their needs met. Carla Felip, a disabled Delta resident, was working at Hydrecs, a B.C. Hydro subsidiary located in downtown Vancouver. But she didn’t take HandyDart because it wouldn’t get her to work when she needed.

Felip is recovering from an accident that left her with limited mobility. She used Skytrain, but had to walk three blocks to her job, exhausting her so much she was forced to quit her job after only two months. Felip said she would be looking for another position in a more convenient location.

She also can’t get a HandyDart at a time of day when she needs one to take her to rehabilitation appointments at G.F. Strong – so her father drives her in from Delta. She wishes HandyDart were a little more flexible about where they will take someone and when.

Coordination of service problems are common when HandyDart buses travel from one service area to another.

Unlike regular Translink service, which operates one automated set of schedules for much of the Lower Mainland, HandyDart currently relies on separate schedules created manually in each service area.

Booking procedures and hours vary from one area to another. Clients can “subscribe” to regular trips or book trips three to four days ahead on a “casual” or one-time basis. Each HandyDart operator tailors trips to its particular clientele. Work, medical appointments or post-secondary education are given top priority.

Surrey HandyDart runs a scheduled trip into Vancouver Monday to Friday, arriving between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. depending on the drop-off point. But it only runs one regular Vancouver trip per day. For this trip, HandyDart customers must be ready for pickup by 7 a.m.

The Surrey return trip leaves Vancouver at 11:30 a.m. (There is an added 12:30 p.m. departure on Tuesdays and Thursdays only). This only leaves an hour and a half for appointments and any other stop-offs.

Delta HandyDart also runs one trip per day into Vancouver, arriving between 12:30 and 1 p.m., again depending on the location. If Delta residents want to go earlier, they can piggy-back on Surrey HandyDart’s Vancouver run, but only if they live in certain areas of North Delta and are also registered with Surrey HandyDart, which they must do separately.

Simon Fraser HandyDart, which covers Burnaby, New Westminster and the Tri-Cities, runs two trips into Vancouver per day.

Translink administrator Jim Dawe said that HandyDart has some coordination issues, with contractors doing things differently in different geographical areas. He said the program tries to meet demand, but that HandyDart service operators find it hard to keep up, especially for trips through two or more municipalities.

He admits that problems with scheduling are made worse by the manual scheduling system, under which schedulers are constantly struggling to meet varying demands and special requests for service.

HandyDart recently purchased hardware for a new automated scheduler. Dawe hopes the new system, due for a trial in Richmond and Simon Fraser in March and April, will resolve some of HandyDart’s current Lower Mainland scheduling issues. Implementation in other Lower Mainland communities is set for the summer.

“We’ve been gradually working toward homogenization of the service hours and everything else,” said Dawe.

HandyDart isn’t like the bus system, he said.

He said people can sometimes get an extra trip or arrange a HandyDart transfer when travelling from one service area to another.

“If [HandyDart] is able to provide the trip directly, they will. But what happens is, each HandyDart has their specific service area, so basically the bulk of their trips are going to be within the service area. What happens is the buses become booked into that area so it’s very difficult for them to go outside the area. But they do that. It’s just that it’s a little more difficult to go outside the service area.

“Then they have the ability to transfer from bus to bus [between zones] as well, and they do that as the next step.” If a client wants to travel from Surrey to Vancouver, for example, they can attempt to arrange a trip to Vancouver and then transfer to a Vancouver HandyDart at a cluster point, such as Vancouver General Hospital.

But to do this, Surrey HandyDart needs to call Vancouver HandyDart to see whether or not a link can be made. The process takes time and a transfer isn’t always possible.

Dawe was surprised to hear that Surrey HandyDart, when contacted, didn’t mention the availability of extra trips on top of the once-daily “subscription” trips. Nor did they mention the possibility of a bus transfer when travelling to another municipality. “The operator is supposed to offer an alternative,” said Dawe.

He said they might not have mentioned other options because they were simply overloaded and had nothing available.

For people like Carla Felip, who need to travel from one municipality to another for work, Dawe suggested negotiating start times with an employer.

“It’s a give and take thing between the customer and the HandyDart,” he explained. Some options are good and some are not good.

In Vancouver, the HandyDart contractor is Pacific Transit Cooperative. Riders own the company, and the company manages the drivers. Translink provides the vehicles and the funding.

All HandyDart operators in the Lower Mainland are non-profit societies or similar, except for two, Dawe said. The two private operators are on the North Shore and in Maple Ridge.

Dawe said HandyDart has a five- to seven-year plan, but beyond that, concerns arise about the ”baby boomer bubble.” Geriatric-related disabilities will place extra stress on the system. “We really don’t have a handle on that yet,” he said.

Seventy per cent of HandyDart clients are female, and 70% are also over 75 years of age. A fare is $2 for two zones and $3 for three.

The Disabled Sailing Association