Nov 07, 2012 – 4:30 PM
PICKERING — William Howe and his dog Angus were part of the Accessibility Awareness event at Pickering Town Centre November 3. Other speakers included Brandon Wagner, a gold-medal-winning wheelchair basketball Paralympian. November 3, 2012.123
PICKERING — A young man’s dream, an Olympic gold medal and Angus were all part of an event to raise awareness of accessibility issues and the work the City of Pickering has been doing on the matter.
Those were part of an accessibility awareness event held at the Pickering Town Centre on Saturday, hosted by the City’s Accessibility Advisory Committee. Features included talks and information booths from almost a dozen organizations.
Brandon Wagner, a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning wheelchair basketball team at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, spoke of his journey after being left a paraplegic following a car accident when he was 17.
He was a passenger in a vehicle that went through a stop sign and slammed into another vehicle. Mr. Wagner was the only one of three people in the vehicle to survive.
“I was pretty lucky. I was the only one to survive,” he said, adding he’s made it his mission to “honour the people I lost in the accident.”
It took awhile before he got involved in wheelchair basketball, but once he did, “I fell in love with the sport and I came into my own.”
In 2004, he spoke with members of the Canadian team that won gold at the Athens Paralympic Games.
“To see that gold medal was pretty awesome. I wanted to give myself a chance to win one of those,” he said, adding he made the Canadian junior team in 2005.
The London Games were his first Paralympics and “I had no idea what to expect. I thought it was just another tournament. It’s hard to describe the scope of the event. There’s an unspoken spirit you feel immediately. It’s a three-week mega adrenaline rush. It didn’t take much to get up for the games.”
He had 22 family members and friends at the Games and it was “great to have them there. You never win a gold medal by yourself. They played a big part of getting me into sports. The biggest part was sharing with family and friends.”
Alexander Harold, a 19-year-old Pickering resident and muscular dystrophy sufferer, was a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal recipient for his work with the Terry Fox Run and the MD association.
He was diagnosed with the disorder when he was four and he has since lost the ability to walk.
“There’s something I can do. I can get involved. I have an opportunity to speak out about accessibility and fundraising,” Mr. Harold said.
“I have a dream that someday someone will be diagnosed with muscular dystrophy or some other disorder and the doctor will say ‘don’t worry. We can fix that,'” Mr. Harold said.
Among the booths were those from the Durham Regional Police, WindReach Farms, Durham Regional Transit, the Pickering Soccer Club, the Lions Foundation, the CNIB, the Canadian Hearing Society, and the newly-opened Abilities Centre in Whitby.
Bryan Hansraj, a Grade 12 student at Pine Ridge Secondary School and student body president, was at the event with other students to spread the ‘I Am Who I Am’ message and “raise awareness of acceptance.”
Through the sales of T-shirts and bracelets, students raised $20,000 for the MD association. The initiative has also garnered awards, including the Safe School Award, the Courage to Inspire Award from MD Ontario and City of Pickering Civic Award.
“It’s a passion of mine. I always wanted to do it,” Bryan said of being involved in social causes.
Hoi Leung, the school vice-principal, said the initiative “wasn’t a one-hit wonder. It started last year. It usually fizzles out, but the students keep it going.”
William Howe came out from Toronto with his guide dog Angus to speak about the importance of guide dogs.
Three years ago, he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck in three places.
When he was sent to Lyndhurst Centre, a rehabilitation facility for people who have suffered a spinal cord injury, he was told about the guide dog program.
“I didn’t know if I could look after a dog. They gave me the ability to look after a dog,” Mr. Howe noted.
When asked if Angus was his best friend, Mr. Howe said, “Oh, very much so. He’s a great companion.”
Angus does such things as pick up items Mr. Howe may have dropped on the floor or even open the clothes dryer, remove the clothes and drag the basket to Mr. Howe’s room.
Having Angus gives Mr. Howe “the ability to live alone and feel safe.”
Keith Falconer, the chairman of Accessibility Advisory Committee for Pickering, said the aim of the event was to “celebrate all abilities, raise awareness and the make the City of Pickering a more inclusive community.”
The focus is on the positive and not the negative, he noted.
“There are many positives about a person,” he said. “Many don’t know how to approach a person. You don’t have to be afraid.”