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Social Work Professor Champions Accessibility

By Brad Norman and Laura Woodford

On August 24, 2011, at Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay began. Retracing the Canadian segment of the original Man In Motion World Tour, this time 7,000 participants from across Canada who have made their own difference in the lives of others are engaged in motion.

Dr. Donna Hardy Cox is one of them. The School of Social Work professor, and long-time advocate for people with disabilities, is one of the medal-bearers. She will carry the Rick Hansen Medal, which was specially produced by the Royal Canadian Mint for this relay, joining with others across the country who are running, walking, wheeling or biking their segments.

One of the goals of the relay is to bring people together to raise awareness about accessibility and inclusivity. A celebration ceremony at the end of each relay day will recognize these outstanding individuals who are making a difference.

Dr. Hardy Cox has been an advocate for accessibility since she started volunteering with Girl Guides. She realized that youth with physical challenges were quite capable of participating in many activities, including camping at a time when it was not a common occurrence. At a time when considerations weren’t being made for people with disabilities, Dr. Hardy Cox saw the importance of supporting opportunities to help others gain access to such experiences.

“I knew what they were capable of,” she said. “I saw what they were able to do.”

This mindset followed her into her university years. As a student at Memorial, she served as vice president of the student union. This platform allowed her to advocate for student groups and in particular those students with disabilities. During her time at Carlton University, she drew inspiration from the great services provided there, such as attendant care in student residences.

“It was inspiring to see all the work that made it happen,” she said, regarding the Carlton services.

In 1985, Dr. Hardy Cox attended a national student conference on disabilities, called NEEDS, which further stirred a desire to make the Memorial campus more accessible. In addition to those with mobility challenges, she also focused her attention on accessibility for those with mental, visual, and hearing impairments.

Along with the hard work of others on campus, she was involved with the creation of the Blunden Centre, named after Glenn Roy Blunden, a former MUN student.

“He was great,” Dr. Hardy Cox remembers about Blunden. “Despite his challenges, his presence and involvement in student life provided an example to others of the possibilities of being fully integrated in the university. He broke a lot of barriers.”

Today, many services are available at Memorial for students with disabilities—including sign language interpretation, wheelchair desks, elevators, and amplified telephones.

“It’s amazing how far we’ve come, but we still have work to do,” Dr. Hardy Cox says about the province. “Things that we never thought of a few years ago, like curb cut down for sidewalks, (are) now part of building codes.”

As a result of her dedication, Dr. Hardy Cox was asked to participate in the Rick Hansen relay. She ran a leg of the relay in central Newfoundland on August 28th before the medal continued on its 12,000 km journey towards the Pacific Ocean. She says: “It’s an event that is symbolically important for heightening people’s awareness of the issues that we still face today and for building upon the tremendous advancements we’ve already made.”

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