Anne Harland

Local Hero: Anne Harland has become a champion of accessibility for the disabled

November 21, 2011 | | Back Issues | Community | Local Heroes | Winter 2011

Anne Harland: One of our 2011 Local Heroes


Anne Harland has the Brampton Guardian folded neatly to a colour rendering of proposed renovations for a heritage building in downtown Brampton. “Look at this,” she says. “Notice anything missing?”

To the keen eye of this tireless crusader for accessibility, the few steps shown leading up to the front door of the renovated building, and lack of an access ramp, practically leap off the page. “I called the City yesterday when I saw this. They told me it’s a historic building, so it’s not required.”

A resident of Valleywood in Caledon, Anne was diagnosed with FSH (facioscapulohumeral) muscular dystrophy when she was 21. Though the disease is gradual and irreversible, for many years it progressed very slowly, and Anne led an active life. She taught high school, played racquetball and skied. One by one, FSHD put an end to those passions, severely limiting her ability to walk and the use of her hands, along with other problems. Though she can still take a few steps, she uses a scooter in public and a walker in her home.

Having been so active, Anne knows what it’s like to live life without mobility problems, and she’s acutely aware of each loss as it occurs. She says, “People who were always disabled are sometimes prepared to accept more than those who were once able-bodied.” It’s one of the things that makes Anne such an effective accessibility advocate. She not only knows how difficult things are, she also knows how easy they should be.

Since leaving teaching Anne has made it her mission to raise awareness about the challenges faced by people with mobility problems. “I think of myself as a freelance volunteer,” she says. Though frustrating, some of her own experiences illustrate her case. For example, she made a presentation to the Ontario Legislature as they considered the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, passed in 2005 with the aim of making the province completely accessible by 2025. She arrived to find the hearing room wasn’t wheelchair accessible.

Closer to home, on a visit to the new Brampton hospital, she had to search all over for a wheelchair-accessible washroom. “The hospital is the one place where you might think they’d ‘get’ wheelchairs,” Anne quips. But she wasn’t surprised. She had read that a disabled member of the hospital’s accessibility advisory committee had arrived at a meeting only to discover the kiosk for parking payment couldn’t be reached from a wheelchair.

In 2003 Anne started the Canadian FSHD Network. Now with 70 members across Canada, the group provides support to people with FSHD and their families. It also works to raise awareness and funds for research.

With the walls of her own disease slowly closing in, Anne realistically admits, “I’m not sure if I’ll be walking at all by this time next year.” She recounts what it’s like to wake up every morning and think, “Is today the day?”

Still, Anne’s practicality and optimism shine through. “It’s not all doom and gloom. If you look at doors that are open to you and walk through them, you can get on with your life.”

For information about the Canadian FSHD Network, contact Anne Harland at 905-843-1403; [email protected]

Below is a link to Assumptions, the video Anne made to raise awareness about what life is like for people with disabilities.

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About the Author More by Jeff Rollings

Jeff Rollings is a freelance writer living in Caledon.



  1. Wonderful article Anne, and it feels nice to meet you, though not in person. You are a ‘hero’ in my book also. I know of you through your father and our modern day ‘pen-pal’ connection. My husband and I both enjoyed reading the article.

    Barbara Soloski Albin from California, USA on Feb 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply

  2. Beautifully written! Anne, you are certainly one of my Hero’s.

    Adrienne from Mooresville, North Carolina on Jan 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Reply

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