Local Hero: Anne Harland has become a champion of accessibility for the disabled
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.
Our fourth annual celebration of extraordinary people, meet our other heroes
- Brandy Robinson initiated the Human Library
- Drs Stephen and Stephanie Milone teach new doctors at Headwaters
- Ken Weber is a best-selling author and speaker on Canadian history
- Jordan and Jeremy Grant restored The Alton Mill: A showcase for the arts
- Herb Campbell Public School holds gold certification in the Eco Schools Program
- The Coalition of Concerned Citizens fought to perserve our rural landscape
- David Nairn and Sheryl Chandler are building dreams together
- Dianne Acheson is a whiz at both retail and fundraising
- Anne Harland has become a champion of accessibility for the disabled