Fernie Disability Awareness Night night was held at the Park Place Lodge this year and it was a lovely evening of fellowship, learning and presentations. There was a wide assortment of amazing silent auction items donated by the many generous people and busineses in this community.

It began with a delicious dinner, followed by a very inspirational video titled “Yes I Can” followed by an introduction of the Canadian Adaptive Network by president of the board Stella Swanson, a couple more videos that were truly motivating and presentations by Tanelle Bolt and Grace Brulotte.

Master of Ceremonies was Scott Courtemanche who welcomed and thanked everyone for coming and also thanked all the sponsors of the event and was a great emcee for the evening.

CAN is a non- profit society whose board members include Dan Savage, Scott Courtemanche, Grace Brulotte, Louisa Cotton, Stella Swanson, and Steve Fairburn.

CAN’s “Vision is to be a catalyst for creation of an inclusive society where people with functional limitations have equal opportunity to participate in activities of their choosing and be defined by who they are, rather than by what can or cannot do. Their mission is to build a collaborative network for the coordination of services, creation of effective communication, reinforcement of existing organizations, and provision of a gateway for information regarding best practices, standard for adaptive design and flexible and diverse programs and facilities aimed at achieving readily recognizable and measureable change”.

The evening videos and speeches emphasized that there should be no boundaries in human endeavour, there is a need to show what is possible for those with a disability because most have confidence, courage, and tenacity, people need understand this so as to look beyond the disability.

Grace said it simply that society needs to allow people like her to be who they want to be. She said, “you must never give up, never let society tell you who you are and what you can be”.

After being asked about all of the experiences she has had such as jumping off the helicopter to sit ski, cat skiing, rafting down the river, swimming and other exciting activities she joked that paragliding was next.

She also commented that CAN will promote inclusion, education accessibility, and lobby for improved access for everyone. She added that day to day living in Fernie is a challenge, she was cooped up in the house six months of the year before she discovered sit skiing, now she is beginning to experience summer sports.

Tanelle Bolt, a beautiful 27 year old from Lethbridge spoke of how she was free jumping from a bridge and suffered a spinal cord injury and is now in a wheel chair. She was an excellent athlete but says that we’re all only a minute away from a disability as accidents can happen anytime anywhere.

She says that sometimes well- meaning people can be very patronizing but she doesn’t want pity, no disabled persons want pity. She founded an adapted society, a volunteer driven organization that is building an inventory of equipment to rent to help the disabled adapt to the outdoors,
She said to never stop chasing dreams, forget labels, forget the disability and just live in the moment, that makes you truly free.

Stella Swanson, chair of CAN board, spoke of how diversity builds richer understanding, of the potential good CAN, that is based in Elk Valley can do.

The evening planned by Dan Savage was a wonderful show of inspiration, of amazing courage of those visibly disabled in body but remarkably able in mind and spirit and of the compassion and love that is in our town in the form of the generosity of the people working with CAN and the people that donated as well as those that attended the event. There are many exceptional people such as the board members who are motivated to finding ways to improve the lives of those that have disabilities so that they can enjoy the ordinary things that others do.

People like Anita and Dave Brunker who are working to build an adaptive trail along with many members of the Fernie Trails Alliance and the CAN board. Or all of the sponsors and supporters that provided the fantastic silent auction items, the list is long but the names of the businesses and individuals are seen repeatedly because they support everything in this town.

One of the things that this organization wants to achieve is to look to see where changes could be made to make the entire town more accessible to the disabled. Not an easy task but I have no doubt this group is more than capable of doing just that. Congratulations everyone and thank you for your dedication towards making life as normal as possible for all of our citizens.

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