After devastating Huron County crash, woman helps lead the fight against accessibility

Six years ago, Julie Sawchuk lost the use of her legs when she was hit by a car while cycling near Goderich.

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Six years ago, Julie Sawchuk lost the use of her legs when she was hit by a car while cycling near Goderich.

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Now, combining her life experience with a spinal injury and her passion to help others, the former Huron County teacher will lead a committee that aims to create more accessible public spaces across the province.

“I’m really proud to bring a rural perspective to the table,” said Sawchuk, the new chair of the province’s standards development committee.

Julie Sawchuk, new chair of the province's standards development committee, uses the elevator at Cowbell Brewing Co. in Blyth.  Sawchuk will lead a group of approximately 25 people from across Ontario with the goal of making public spaces more accessible to people with disabilities.  (Daniel Caudle / Postmedia Network)
Julie Sawchuk, new chair of the province’s standards development committee, uses the elevator at Cowbell Brewing Co. in Blyth. Sawchuk will lead a group of approximately 25 people from across Ontario with the goal of making public spaces more accessible to people with disabilities. (Daniel Caudle / Postmedia Network)

“Almost everything that comes from government comes from a city. . . . So bringing the eyes and experience of what’s going on on the ground in a place like Blyth, I think it will be very valuable for people who don’t live in rural areas.

The Blyth resident will lead a team of around 25 people to review and improve the design standards for indoor and outdoor public spaces, making them more accessible to people with disabilities. The public space design standard is one of five standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act created to remove barriers to accessibility in spaces such as sidewalks, parking spaces , playgrounds, beach roads and trails.

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“It’s super exciting and intimidating at the same time because the potential to make incredible changes in the province is there, but there is a lot of work to do first,” said Sawchuk.

  1. Nothing

    Cyclist Julie Sawchuk feared she would be hit by a car or truck

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    Julie released in honor of Julie Sawchuk, a teacher from Wingham who is recovering from injuries in London

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    “I feel great,” said Julie Sawchuk, paralyzed but walking in an exoskeleton.

Scheduled to begin meeting in the new year, the committee includes Ontarians with disabilities from across the province.

Sawchuk’s work to advance and create more accessible public spaces stems from his experience of a summer day six years ago.

On July 29, 2015, the mother-of-two was training for a triathlon just outside Goderich when a vehicle struck her from behind, sending her about 10 meters away. She was paralyzed from the chest down.

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After months of rehabilitation, Sawchuk, in a wheelchair, and her husband made minor renovations to their farm to make it more accessible. They also researched other possible homes, but found few options.

Julie Sawchuk holds a snapping turtle while talking to her friend Jory Mullen when she was a patient at the Parkwood Institute in August 2015. Sawchuk was paralyzed when she was struck by a vehicle while cycling near Goderich on July 29, 2015 (free press kit photo)
Julie Sawchuk holds a snapping turtle while talking to her friend Jory Mullen when she was a patient at the Parkwood Institute in August 2015. Sawchuk was paralyzed when she was struck by a vehicle while cycling near Goderich on July 29, 2015 (free press kit photo)

“The simple fact that there was no accessible housing available meant that we had to either renovate or build,” Sawchuk said. “There was nowhere to go in our community or even move to London. It really wasn’t an option.

Three years later, the couple built a wheelchair accessible house on their property, where they live today.

Sawchuk’s experience with a spinal injury paved the way for an influential new life as a bestselling author, professional speaker, accessibility consultant and now chair of a provincial committee.

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Sawchuk said she would advocate for compulsory education on accessibility in the design and construction of houses, citing artists, architects, contractors and plumbers as examples.

“Yes, they have to know the building code, but accessibility has to be more than part of the building code,” Sawchuk said.

“The # 1 question I get from my clients is, ‘What should I do and how much is it going to cost me?’ She said. “But question # 1 should be, what should I do now to save money in the future? “”

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Julie Sawchuk walks in an exoskeleton with her 9-year-old son Oliver at the Parkwood Institute in London on December 30, 2015. She is helped by physiotherapist assistant Barry Lynam and physiotherapist Kristin Wanless.  (Free photo of the press kit)
Julie Sawchuk walks in an exoskeleton with her 9-year-old son Oliver at the Parkwood Institute in London on December 30, 2015. She is helped by physiotherapist assistant Barry Lynam and physiotherapist Kristin Wanless. (Free photo of the press kit)

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