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Barb Turnbull’s Inspiring Spirit Lives On

Published on Tue May 12 2015
David Lepofsky
Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance ·
· Re: A sublime spirit, May 11

I, like so many, am deeply saddened by Barb Turnbulls passing. Charming, warm and down-to-earth, shed wring every drop she could from each day. Over time, the fact that armed robbers bullets instantly and cruelly turned an aspiring teenager into a quadriplegic remained far more in the minds of others than in her own. She exemplified how disability can, does, and will happen to any of us, indeed all of us, if we live long enough.

Hers came much earlier in life than most.

She exemplified how to blast through barrier after barrier, landing a great job as a Toronto Star reporter, thriving long before adaptive technology made this job more accessible for a person with her disability.

Barbs passionate dedication to the cause of making Ontario fully accessible to people with disabilities brought us together. A true hero in our cause, she profoundly enriched our movement by her impressive example, by her superb reportage on accessibility issues (not her main beat) and by her personally combating unfair barriers she faced. She shouldered the ordeal of waging a landmark human rights case. She and four others sued Famous Players Theaters for not providing more accessible theaters. Although she won the case, Famous Players unfairly opted to close inaccessible theatres rather than fix them.

Barb faced down ugly backlash from a vocal few who unfairly scapegoated her and her disability advocacy for the theatres closing. That didnt stop Barb. She courageously made public nasty messages she received, and pressed the accessibility cause even harder.

Barb was driven by an undying optimistic spirit, no matter the odds, captured magnificently in her 2013 memoir, Lessons from My 30 Years of Quadriplegia: My experience has taught me that for every truly ignorant individual I have come across, there are many others open to learning, or with the beautiful spirit of that photographer, a man who extended such kindness to me when I needed it so badly. The day I stop believing in the greater good of humanity will be the day I give up.

We lost Barb on May 10, 2015, the 10th anniversary of the Ontario Legislatures unanimously passing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That law requires the Ontario government to lead Ontario to full accessibility by 2025.

Barbs 2013 memoir captured the current spirit of Ontarios grassroots accessibility movement, commending the government for passing that law, but blasting it for dropping the ball and dragging its feet since then, not matching praiseworthy speeches with bold implementation and enforcement of accessibility.
Far too soon, weve lost an extraordinary powerhouse in our accessibility campaign. We honour her legacy by ensuring that all hear and act upon her words about the accessibility cause. We honour her life if every newsroom and all employers considering a job applicant with a disability remember how Barbs quadriplegia faded into the background and didnt impede her superb, diverse reportage.

Barbs words and voice are with us, still encouraging, inspiring and helping, as we redouble our efforts on our goal of a fully accessible Ontario by 2025.

Reproduced from