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The annual Premier’s Council Awards publicly acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of individuals, groups, businesses and organizations to develop barrier-free, inclusive communities in Alberta.
The 2019 recipients of the Premier’s Council Awards are:
Gary McPherson Leadership Award
Donna Desjardins (St. Paul)
Donna Desjardins is a long-time advocate for people with developmental disabilities. She and her husband Ray are proud parents of two sons, one of whom, Daniel, has Down syndrome. Her advocacy is fuelled by her own experiences with exclusion and segregation to ensure her son has equal opportunities in life. Daniel, now 41, is an entrepreneur and advocate for himself and others.
Donna has worked passionately for over 40 years to ensure individuals with developmental disabilities are valued members of the community. She served as a member of the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) Board for six years and spent nine years as vice-chair of the Northeast Alberta PDD Community Board. Donna also served on numerous provincial boards and committees, including Inclusion Alberta, Inclusion St. Paul and Portage College Advisory Committee.
One of Donna's most recent accomplishments is her leadership in advocating for inclusive post-secondary education at Portage College in St. Paul.
Marlin Styner Achievement Award
Joseph Sask (Grande Prairie)
Joseph Sask was born and raised near Grande Prairie. He worked as an oilfield welder until experiencing a spinal cord injury in 1987. Following rehabilitation from the injury, he attended Grande Prairie Regional College to study business and accounting. He then joined the insurance industry where he still works today.
After his injury, Joseph volunteered for many years as a provincial board member for the Canadian Paraplegic Association and became Alberta President from 1992 to 1996. He participated in wheelchair basketball through the Wolverines Wheelchair Sports Association, first as a player and later as a coach. Since 1993, Joseph has been a member of the Wolverines executive team and is the current president.
Under his leadership, the Wolverines have expanded their programs to include people with greater levels of disability through sports like power soccer, sledge hockey, hand cycling and fitness programs. His credo is to always include people no matter their situation. Developing abilities, giving people a team experience and helping create positive memories has always been Joseph’s purpose.
Award of Excellence in Community
Beaver River Fish and Game Association (Bonnyville)
The Beaver River Fish and Game Association is a non-profit conservation group in Bonnyville. Members of this group demonstrate creativity, inclusivity and dedication in supporting a member with limited mobility to participate in their archery program. The group reached out to engineers and archers to design an adapted bow to meet the mobility needs of the member.
The new bow features a release system that is controlled by the user’s mouth and places the weight on the user's shoulder. The group worked with the member to make adjustments and improvements to the system. It is important to the club that the member not only participate, but excel at archery. He will be returning for another season.
Disabled Transportation Society (Grande Prairie)
The Disabled Transportation Society started as a support group for people with disabilities in Grande Prairie during the early 90s, after Grande Prairie Public Education System opened a unique and barrier-free school. The support group consisted of parents and individuals with disabilities and led to the development of an accessible transportation system.
The Society opened its doors beyond students, to people who experience difficulty accessing public transit or even taxis. With considerable support from the City of Grande Prairie, ridership grew to over 600 people with up to seven busses dispatched at a time. The growth became more than a volunteer board could handle and, as of September 2019, the bus is now managed as the City of Grande Prairie paratransit.
The children of the original group of parents grew to be fully engaged in the community of Grande Prairie and other cities. They are participating on community boards, gainfully employed and have families of their own.
Hope 4 MVC Kids Society (Mountain View County)
Hope 4 MVC Kids Society was co-founded in 2013 by Lisa Nicholson and Suzanne Young. This volunteer-run organization helps families of children with disabilities in the Mountain View County area with the cost of adaptive equipment and adaptations to homes and vehicles.
As a parent of two children with disabilities who also works with children with disabilities, Lisa learned there was a great need for supports for families, but found limited resources in the local area. Hope 4 MVC Kids was born after Lisa found out her daughter required a therapy pool. The local community helped raise much of the money needed and Lisa wanted to pay this forward while ensuring families had local support.
The majority of the Society’s board members have personal or professional experience with children who have medical challenges. To date, Hope 4 MVC Kids Society has helped over 50 families to ensure homes, vehicles and schools are accessible.
Lac Ste. Anne East End Bus Society
The East End Service Bus began in 1996 and evolved to become Lac Ste. Anne East End Bus Society. The Society is a co-operative effort of the Lac Ste. Anne County, Alberta Beach and the Town of Onoway to provide affordable transportation for seniors and people with disabilities.
With access to transportation, seniors and people with disabilities maintain an independent lifestyle and stay in their homes longer. Wheelchair and ambulatory assistance is provided in a clean, safe and reliable vehicle to transport individuals to their destination. On arrival, the driver will accompany individuals into the facility. This inclusive service is available to all community residents. Offerings include scheduled shopping/medical trips to West Edmonton Mall and Spruce Grove, along with excursion and rentals by service clubs and community members.
This unique venture by the three municipalities is all about community. The impact from this service will be felt for many years as friendships are established, medical resources are made accessible for a reasonable cost and people are able to continue to stay in their own homes.
Terri Duncan (Edmonton)
Terri Duncan is the founder and executive director of Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton, a not-for-profit organization that provides intervention and support for children and families.
Since working as an aide for a four-year-old boy with autism, Terri has been fascinated by the complexity of autism and the resilience of families dealing with the associated challenges they face on a daily basis. Terri has been a speech language pathologist for more than 22 years and believes that all children belong. She has worked tirelessly in homes, in schools and in the community across Northern Alberta to make space for children with autism to be included and accepted.
Terri’s work includes hosting annual conferences, delivering workshops, offering training for people who volunteer or work with kids and expanding inclusive recreational programs. Her strong relationships with government, stakeholders and families help Terri shift the culture to acceptance and accessibility for Albertans with autism spectrum disorder.
West End Bus Service
The West End Bus Service began in 2012 and has evolved to provide affordable transportation to seniors and people with disabilities in the County of Lac Ste. Anne, Woodlands County and Mayerthorpe.
Two wheelchair accessible vans, one holding six people plus two wheelchairs and one personal minivan, along with a 15 passenger Sprinter Van, provide transportation to people with mobility barriers. People who use the service enjoy shopping and social events and don’t have to worry about getting to and from medical appointments. As a result, seniors and people with disabilities experience more independence, form friendships and live healthier, happier lives in their own homes.
All community residents can use this service for scheduled shopping/medical trips to Edmonton, along with a free seniors’ taxi in the Town of Mayerthorpe. This service is a great example of municipalities working together, crossing boundaries and making services work for the community.
Award of Excellence in Education
Alberta Schools Athletic Association
In 2015, the Alberta Schools Athletic Association partnered with Special Olympics Alberta to bring Unified Sports to Alberta high schools. This was the first official partnership between the organizations and the first school-based Unified Sports program in Canada.
Unified Sports provides people with and without intellectual disabilities the opportunity to play on the same sports team, creating a space for friendships, physical activity and fun. Research has found that Unified Sports athletes with intellectual disabilities experience improved social competence and social inclusion. Unified Sports athletes without intellectual disabilities also improve their attitudes toward people with disabilities as a result of participating in the program.
Unified Sports in Alberta schools helps break down barriers between students and teachers and creates a culture of inclusion. At the end of the 2019 school year, a five-year plan was established to ensure sustainable growth and expansion into underserved areas of the province.
Award of Excellence in Employment
Gateway Association (Edmonton)
The Gateway Association builds meaningful, paid employment relationships that work for both employers and job seekers who live with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Gateway is unique in that they engage clients in a three-part one-on-one process to help job seekers discover their fields of interest, find a place of employment and ultimately maintain meaningful employment. Gateway’s support is ongoing for both the employer and the job seeker throughout the entire working relationship to ensure the process of employment goes smoothly. Gateway’s methodology has attracted research and peer-reviewed publications as part of the nationwide Canadian Disability Participation Project.
Since its inception in 1975, Gateway has become one of the go-to organizations in the city for family support, education and employment. The organization is dedicated to assisting the community better understand disabilities. Gateway offers a variety of workshops for people with disabilities and their families to live full, authentic, meaningful lives and helps organizations build diverse and inclusive communities.
Gateway believes deeply in the power of family support and devotes itself to help people with disabilities and their families navigate systems and services.
Award of Excellence in Public Awareness
Linda MacDonald (Edmonton)
Linda MacDonald is a former physiotherapist and English Second Language teacher who performed as a Celtic folk musician throughout Alberta in the 1990s. She’s spent the past 15 years advocating and bringing awareness to her own conditions: myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) along with Fibromyalgia. Her goal is to reduce barriers experienced by those with ME/CFS, a complex neuro-immune disease with high levels of disability, unmet health care needs, poverty, food insecurity and social isolation.
Linda was the first to survey research funding for ME/CFS in Canada. She was also instrumental in spearheading the creation of Alberta’s first clinical guidelines for ME/CFS. She received an accolade from the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities for her work in this area.
Over the past 10 years, Linda has worked to ensure disability accommodation and accessibility for people with severe MCS in several Edmonton-area organizations. She also taught improved fragrance-free protocols to local health professionals for safer, fragrance-free access to care and increased inclusion in society for MCS. These amended services remain in place to this day.
CommuniTEA Infusion (Edmonton)
CommuniTEA Infusion is an innovative social change initiative in Edmonton. A rebuilt Volkswagen van acts as a mobile tea house to create a ‘pop up’ town square atmosphere where people gather, chat and share in community over a cup of tea. This sparks conversation and sets the stage for community members to get to know one another.
People with disabilities are the key leaders of this initiative, taking on the role of community builders who make and serve the tea. Community builders help build our communities by bringing enthusiasm and warmth to the space, welcoming people as they approach the van and striking up conversation. Community builders are able to develop their social skills, problem-solving abilities, build new friendships, receive a wage and to bring joy to others.
This initiative shows how people with a wide variety of strengths are leading community building in Edmonton. It also encourages citizenship and belonging for people with disabilities, as well as the general public.
Susan Littlechilds (Westlock)
Susan Littlechilds is described as full of energy and always on the go, whether she’s working on assignments to complete her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology, volunteering in the community or working as a disability support worker.
The word idle does not exist in her vocabulary. She sees time as an opportunity to do something productive and helpful. Susan is an avid volunteer. She’s a Rick Hanson ambassador, a CNIB champion and is chair of the Westlock Accessible Coalition.
She’s been a key player in all stages of Westlock's accessibility challenge, where community stakeholders had the opportunity to experience moving around Westlock and doing day-to-day tasks as individuals with mobility challenges or other disabilities. This event highlighted the accessibility challenges present in the community. As a result, elected city officials are considering including people with disabilities in discussions about planned infrastructure and a local school is building accessibility ramps in its carpentry class. Other communities have also expressed interest in a similar event.