Published on Sun Apr 19 2015
I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of ground-breaking Toronto Star disability issues reporter Helen Henderson. Her tough, insightful, incisive coverage of disability issues, year after year touched the lives of everyone, since everyone has a disability now, or gets one as they age.
Helen showed that her passionate dedication to equality and opportunity for people with disabilities could masterfully blend with superb journalism skills. The result was article after article that boldly went where many other news organizations had not gone before.
Helen held the glaring light of media scrutiny to those in power who could do so much more for people with disabilities. Quite properly, she also directed that same glaring light of scrutiny at those of us who advocate on disability issues. We were all strengthened by her tough, probing, fair questions, and by her call for action and for accountability.
What is Helen’s legacy? It goes beyond her dazzling track record of innumerable articles on the full spectrum of important issues confronting people with disabilities.
Her legacy goes beyond the empowering and emboldening of so many of us people with disabilities, advocating at the grassroots, who can at times feel that the uphill campaign to win the fully accessible society that we have been promised is wrenchingly frustrating. It goes beyond the debates on the floor of Ontario’s legislature on these issues which have been fueled, and at times even feared by politicians, when they have been sparked by a Helen Henderson column.
Her ultimate legacy, of which her pride should be undying, is that the diversity of disability issues, which decades ago were almost always found in the paper’s Life Section, has now spread far beyond those pages. These topics are now properly situated more and more in the writings of other great journalists, situated in the paper’s news section, in its opinion pages, and even more impressively, in its editorial page. Helen’s tenacious and tireless reportage helped sparked that transition.
Sadly, she is no longer with us to write more reports and columns. However her calls for them to be written echoes on, and has resoundingly been heard. Columns and reports on these issues have been, and in the future will be found where they now should be, integrated in the product of a wide array of excellent reporters. That is truly the meaning of a lasting legacy.
The Star can and should stand as proud as Helen Henderson that it, like she, has helped show the way. In so doing, the Star has, by its example, beckoned other news organizations to do the same. Increasingly, other news organizations are heeding that call. Their doing so can in no small part be traced back to the pioneering work of Helen Henderson.
To honour her legacy, journalists at the Star and other news organizations should strive to ensure that even though we have lost Helen, the issues she cared so deeply about will be fully and vigourously reported to readers, listeners and watchers of the news.
David Lepofsky, Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, Toronto
I was very sad to see the passing of Helen Anne Henderson. Her columns on living with disabilities, which appeared in your Living Section for many years, played a very positive role in my life.
“Planting a safer SEED across all disabilities” (September, 2009) and “Way funner approach helps young stutterer” (October, 2009).
I had several letters printed about my difficulty concerning my speech impediment and Helen contacted me and quoted me several times in her columns. She gave me the self confidence to understand that it’s more important what I say then how I say it.
Stuttering has had a huge impact on my life. I am a vocal advocate for more recognition from the health care system. Thank you Helen for recognizing a need for more attention on ways to turn “disabilities into abilities.”
Jane Clarkson, Guelph