By Jason Daley
Kristen Cameron was a 25-year-old assistant coach for the Mercyhurst College women's hockey team in Erie, Pa. when she was struck by a drunk driver while out for a bicycle ride in September 2010. The accident left the Charlottetown native paralyzed from the chest down.
Cameron was the guest speaker at UPEI earlier this month as the university formally announced it has received $30,000 in funding to improve access for people with disabilities in 10 of its buildings on campus. The grant was issued through the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Access4All Program. The new renovations will result in half of the campus being fully accessible.
Cameron said her accident was an eye-opener for her in terms of accessibility.
“Before seven years ago, things were very different for me. I didn’t notice these things that I’m here to talk about today.”
She pointed out the improvements that have occurred for people with disabilities over the years and how she remains grateful for them.
“It’s still new to me. I’m very lucky because my accident was in 2010. If it had been 30 years ago, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I do now. I wouldn’t have the support or wheelchair rugby or any of these things.”
Cameron, the niece of Calgary Flames assistant coach Dave Cameron, always concentrated her life around athletics. She said her time immediately after the accident was a difficult one in many ways. One of them was being separated from all the connections through sports she had cemented in Pennsylvania.
“One of the hardest things at the time was coming back to Canada, which I know sounds a little bit crazy. Canada is one of the best countries in the world. But it was because my life was down there, my friends, my previous experiences and what I thought was my future with sports and my career.”
During her recovery back in Canada her occupational therapist showed her “Murderball,” a 2005 documentary film about wheelchair rugby. Not long after, she had worked her way onto the Canadian National Wheelchair Rugby team.
“As soon as I went to practice and met the guys, it was a natural fit. I fell in love with it right away and kept going back,” said Cameron.
The team has qualified for the world championships next summer in Australia. How they do there will help determine if they qualify for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan.
While she rates Canada more accessible than some of the places she’s visited since her accident, she reminded Monday’s audience her home country could still improve access. This past summer she was in downtown Charlottetown with a friend and couldn’t dine at a local restaurant because their bathroom was down a set of stairs.
It is situations like that, Cameron said, which prove it is important to listen to the issues being raised by people with physical disabilities.
“When someone with a disability grows up with a different experience, those minds work differently. When we collaborate and get those minds together, that’s how things are going to change moving forward.”