Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

June 04, 2007

Mayor, U of G President to Spend Time in Wheelchairs to Raise Awareness

Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge and University of Guelph president Alastair Summerlee will spend time Thursday in wheelchairs to help raise awareness of the June 10 Wheels in Motion event and the challenges faced by people living with physical disabilities.

Summerlee plans to take a city bus in a wheelchair from the University to downtown Guelph around 10:30 a.m. and will be met in St. George’s Square by Farbridge about 10:45 a.m. The two will then spend an hour navigating downtown Guelph in wheelchairs, doing routine daily activities like mailing letters, visiting a bank and getting coffee.

“Usually the experience of being in a wheelchair, even if it’s just for a short time, gives people new understanding of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities,” said Cyndy McLean, a former marathon runner who was left paraplegic after a fall in 2003 who will join Farbridge and Summerlee downtown.

“They learn that little things they take for granted, like going to the library or crossing campus to get some lunch, can be a regular challenge for people in a wheelchair.”

McLean, the director of U of G’s Health and Performance Centre and an organizer of the Guelph Wheels in Motion, asked Summerlee and Farbridge to spend time in wheelchairs to raise awareness for the June 10 event.

Farbridge said she is looking forward to the experience. “I think it will help me appreciate some of the everyday challenges that people with disabilities face. I expect that there will be some surprises along the way.”

Summerlee, the honorary chair of the 2007 Wheels in Motion event, will also attend all meetings and functions on Thursday in the wheelchair, including the Board of Governors meeting. He has spent a day in a wheelchair for the past two years to help raise awareness and also took part in the Wheels in Motion event from a wheelchair. He called the experiences “eye-opening and challenging.”

“It gave me new understanding of what ‘accessibility’ really means,” Summerlee said. “In addition to the physical barriers, there are social barriers to accessibility. I believe all of us need to be more aware of both the hurdles and the subtle things that tell some of our students, colleagues and friends that they are ‘different.’”

This year’s Wheel in Motion event commemorates the 20th anniversary of Rick Hansen’s epic journey to raise awareness and money for spinal cord injury research. The former Canadian Olympic wheelchair champion wheeled 40,000 kilometres through 34 countries over a two-year period.

It begins Sunday, June 10, at noon at the University’s W. F. Mitchell Athletics Centre, with registration at 11 a.m. The event is sponsored by U of G, the Athletic Club and CIBC Wood Gundy (Chris Bedard).

This year's Wheels in Motion has a new component, a relay challenge that will have teams competing against one another to complete everyday tasks like grocery shopping and getting dressed from a wheelchair.

There will also be the traditional “wheel, walk, run or bike” component where people collect pledges either individually or as a team and then cover a 2.5-kilometre course around campus.

Half of the net funds raised stay in the host community to support high-priority needs and services; the rest goes to fund national spinal cord research. Last year, more than $30,000 was raised, with about half of it remaining in Guelph.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

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