The primary role of the Canadian Accessibility Network (CAN) Governing Council is to provide stewardship for the Network on behalf of its partner organizations who will benefit from the activities and impacts of the Network. The Council is made up of 14 individuals reflecting multi-sectoral representation from various organizations and sectors from across Canada, with an interest in accessibility and inclusion.
The Council will oversee the conduct of the Network’s business in collaboration with the CAN National Office, which is responsible for the day-to-day realization of the Network’s mission.
Welcome to the inaugural members of the CAN Governing Council.
- Suzanne Blanchard | Chair, Governing Council
Governing Council Chair
As Carleton University’s Vice President, Students and Enrolment, Suzanne Blanchard is focused on each student’s experience – from their initial application to graduation, and even beyond to future employment. And she believes that an exceptional student experience includes accessibility.
Suzanne has worked in the field of post-secondary education since the late 1980s including roles at the Ministry of Colleges and Universities and La Cité collégiale. She has been at Carleton for more than 20 years, initially as Director, Admission Services, then as the University Registrar and Associate Vice President (Students and Enrolment). She established Carleton’s award-winning Student Mental Health Framework. Suzanne graduated from the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor of Commerce.
Suzanne has always been an advocate for students, including her own child who has a learning disability: “I bring that lens to my work every day. I try to look at things from the student’s point of view. In particular, I want to explore how we can continually change the focus to support those with disabilities and accessibility issues.”
As CAN’s appointed Governing Council Chair, Suzanne sees the momentum growing. “In 2012, Carleton’s READ Initiative was launched. Two years later, we hosted the International Summit on Accessibility, looking beyond our own institution’s accessibility strategy and bringing partners together,” she explains. “The David C. Onley Initiative followed and now Carleton is taking the next step, serving as the hub for CAN. The Network has great potential, with many stakeholders who are committed to making a difference.”
Suzanne’s motto: Take a step back and look at situations from another individual’s perspective. Seek to understand where they are coming from and how they would want to be treated.
- Tony Labillois | Chair, Advisory Council
Chair, Advisory Council
Tony Labillois was born with low vision and is legally blind – but that hasn’t slowed him down. He has rafted with his work crew, driven a dogsled with his daughter as a passenger, tried a bobsled in Lake Placid, and practiced water skiing on one ski. “My disability has forged my character and pushed me to surpass myself and continually find creative and effective ways to live life to the fullest, pursue a successful career, and give back to others what I have received and learned,” he says.
Tony has spent his entire career at Statistics Canada, rising through the ranks over the past 30 years to become a Director. In 2002, he added a new line to his job description: champion for people with disabilities. The goal is full participation, supporting each person and benefiting from their contribution and productivity. Tony’s expanded role has allowed him to acquire vast knowledge about disability, needs, perceived or real obstacles, effective accommodations, the many facets of accessibility, mechanisms, and solutions. In 2012, he was awarded the Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, recognizing his leadership in promoting diversity at Statistics Canada.
Tony is CAN’s Governing Council Vice-Chair and Chair of the Advisory Council. “To start, I want to listen and establish a climate of truth and trust. I’m hoping the Network will have a snowball effect as other organizations want to join us and be part of the action. Together, we can positively impact policies and cultural change related to accessibility and inclusion for everyone.”
Tony’s motto: If you see a door that is a little bit open, go through it.
- Jeff Agate | Chair, Employment Committee
Chair – Employment Committee
Jeff Agate was trained as a counsellor and says he often starts conversations by asking: ‘How can I help?’. Listening to, and hearing the answer, is key. He brings that same approach to his work at Algonquin College in Ottawa.
Jeff has spent the last 20 years supporting student success at Algonquin. He has held several leadership roles in the Employment Support Centre, Centre for Accessible Learning, Counselling Services, and Indigenous Student Services. Jeff was a member of the Ontario Employer’s Partnership Roundtable on Accessibility and Employment and the Algonquin College lead for the David C. Onley Initiative led by Carleton University. He has a Master of Education from the University of Ottawa.
Jeff is currently the Associate Director of Student Support Services, with a dual focus on career development and accessible education. He sees a real connection point between the two. “Both areas have very specific, unique, and pressing needs, but are often viewed in post-secondary as quite separate. I believe that we need to support all students to become employment ready; including those students who identify as having disabilities. And we want to identify barriers and work to eliminate them.”
Jeff is CAN’s Committee Chair for the Employment Domain and says the national network will make a difference. “We need to define the primary challenges and put together a plan. The David C. Onley Initiative got us going here in Ottawa and I see this as a continuation of that great work. Change can come quite quickly with the right advocacy and the right approach.”
Jeff’s motto: Always try to find a way to say “Yes”.
- Katie Aubrecht | Chair, Policy Committee
Chair, Policy Committee
In the first year of her undergraduate degree, Katie Aubrecht signed up for introductory level sociology course taught by a professor who was blind. “Through that course I realized the importance of having access to conversations and education about accessibility early on. It was so powerful for me to be in a class where disabilities were acknowledged and reflected in the curriculum and discussions. It has guided me throughout my career.”
Katie is Canada Research Chair Health Equity and Social Justice and Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Her research program analyzes marginality and mental health, rurality, and resilience across the life span as health equity and social justice issues. Katie is also Director of the Spatializing Care: Intersectional Disability Studies Lab, a participatory arts-informed health research infrastructure that supports and enhances community engagement and cross-sectoral collaboration. The Lab advances research, education and training that centres first voice perspectives with the goal of bridging medical, social, and cultural approaches to care. Her most recent work concentrates on the aging disability nexus, studying policies and programs related to mental health and disability in young adults and later life.
Katie is CAN’s Committee Chair for the Policy Domain and looks forward to facilitating a national discussion that shines a light on regional perspectives. “I hope to bring an equity and social justice lens as well. I am a firm believer in collaborative, co-design approaches.”
Katie’s motto: It’s relationships that matter and make the difference.
- Stephanie Austin | Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Stephanie Austin believes in making space at the table. In fact, she says it’s her life purpose. While completing her undergraduate degree, Stephanie spent some time in Guyana volunteering with Youth Challenge International working side-by-side with youth from local villages and around the world. It was the first time she realized she could be an ally for those that might need additional support. She came back to Canada and co-created Girls Action Foundation, a not-for-profit organization to empower girls and young women. It is still going strong 25 years later.
Since then, Stephanie’s passion for social innovation, justice and change has been fueled by her work in advancing public policy. Opportunities at Health Canada, Status of Women Canada, and the Youth Secretariat in the Privy Council Office have led her to her most recent position with the Office of Public Service Accessibility in the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. She leads a dynamic team of employees with lived experience of disability. They have co-developed Nothing Without Us: An Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada – a national strategy that is now guiding federal departments and agencies as they begin to dismantle systemic barriers.
“It’s been an exciting and inspiring journey,” she says. “I thrive on initiatives that create inclusive, diverse, and brave spaces where we work together to make a tangible difference. CAN is a logical next step. It will bring stakeholders from across sectors together to create a more united voice for accessibility and disability inclusion in Canada.”
Who I am is in love with the life and the lives around me
Fulfilling projects to enhance community
Touched by and touching others
Growing and learning from others
- Amanda Basi | Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Amanda Basi is all about big ideas and making them happen. She also believes in keeping an open mind. Amanda graduated from law school at the University of British Columbia, but a career in law wasn’t for her. So, she headed to England, where she worked for an international conference and exhibition company. Family brought her back to Canada and to the Rick Hansen Foundation in Vancouver.
“I had no direct connection to the cause, but I believe all people – including people with disabilities – should be able to meet their full potential. I also quickly realized that the challenges faced by people with disabilities affect us all,” she says. “If we help someone who uses a wheelchair, it may also help my 90-year-old grandmother access services, or even help me pushing my child’s stroller. It is so much broader than that blue icon we see everywhere.”
Amanda has been with the Rick Hansen Foundation for four years and is now Acting Vice President, Strategic Initiatives. Her work centres around the Foundation’s accessibility certification program, national programs for schools, and the Foundation’s overall marketing and awareness campaign. “I really enjoy bringing eco-systems together and moving beyond the philosophical stage to action and impact,” she says.
Amanda’s motto: I care about people living to their full potential.
- Chloée Godin-Jacques | Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Chloée C. Godin-Jacques had planned to be travelling the world in 2020, doing field work as part of her Master’s program. Her research focuses on the presence (or lack thereof) of intersectionality embedded in international disability policies. Instead, Chloée will be staying close to home, focusing on her two social entrepreneurial ventures. She runs a consulting business, offering resources to help generate inclusive spaces for businesses, corporations, public entities, and the travel industry. She also creates awareness content in the form of a weekly blog and video series with her business partner, who is also disabled.
Chloée is the Ontario Director of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), its Second Vice-Chair, and its representative to the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. NEADS is a consumer-based, cross-disability charitable organization focused on supporting full access to education and employment for post-secondary disabled students. Chloée completed a Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice and Peace Studies, as well as Disability Studies at King’s University College in London, Ontario.
“I am constantly challenged as a disabled woman, which ultimately motivates me to generate much needed shifts as a disabled social entrepreneur,” she says. “I also celebrate immeasurable triumphs and develop incredible resiliency throughout this journey called life.”
Chloée says she is excited to be at the CAN table: “The entire society is currently experiencing unprecedented times, and I believe this is a crucial moment for disability communities to assert their voices that are too often silenced. I am hoping the Network will firstly recognize that intersectional lived experiences must be shifted to the forefront of all decision-making and policy-making processes; and secondly, become an outlet for disabled people and their allies to identify gaps within initiatives, programs, and service delivery. In doing so, disabled people can actively and meaningfully contribute within their own communities and the greater society.”
Chloée’s motto: “Disability is not actually about those of us who are disabled; it is about those with the power to call us disabled.” (A.J.)
- Rafik Goubran | Chair, Research, Design & Innovation Committee
Chair, Research, Design & Innovation Committee
Rafik Goubran knows that somewhat simple engineering solutions can have a big impact on people’s well-being. He is a leading researcher in sensors and data analytics related to the design of smart homes for independent living. He also studies ambient-based patient monitoring, pressure-sensitive mats, vital sign monitoring and microphone arrays. In short, he is helping to create environments that support an aging population. The learnings can support people with disabilities as well.
Rafik was appointed Vice-President (Research and International) at Carleton University in July 2017. Prior to this, he served as the dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Design for more than a decade. He has supervised more than 95 graduate students. And since 2004, he has co-authored 10 patents, 50 refereed journal papers, and 200 conference papers. Rafik completed a Bachelor of Science in electronics and communications engineering, and a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering at Cairo University in Egypt. He earned his Ph.D. at Carleton.
At the heart of his work is collaboration. “We need to take time to understand the problem. We need the right people in the room, including researchers from multiple disciplines, partners, and, most importantly, those with lived experience to advise and test the systems. This kind of synergy is more than the sum of its parts.”
Rafik is CAN’s Committee Chair for the Research, Design and Innovation Domain. It will explore solutions and opportunities related the design of spaces, technologies, products, and transportation. “We don’t want to come up with solutions to problems that don’t exist. We want to come up with feasible solutions that are win-wins.”
Rafik’s motto: Make a difference for others – and for society.
- Deidre Guy | Chair, Community Engagement Committee
Chair – Community Engagement Committee
Deidre Guy experienced severe trauma as a child, leading to a recent diagnosis of PTSD. “It was a huge blocker for me, but it also taught me a lot,” she explains. “I never shared the details until fairly recently.” Deidre says moving forward and talking about her disability resulted in two new opportunities – and a new passion for diversity and accessibility.
For the past five years, she has served as Chief Operations Officer at Adaptability Canada, a national provider of accessible construction solutions to public private and non-for-profit organizations. In 2017, she founded the Inclusive Workplace and Supply Council of Canada. The Council advances access and opportunity for businesses owned by Veterans and persons with disabilities. It also works with corporate partners to increase the inclusivity of workplaces and procurement processes.
Deidre says her work focuses on reducing the stigma and creating a welcoming environment. She wants to bring that same approach to her role as CAN’s Committee Chair for the Community Engagement Domain. “The Network is spot-on. We need to get out of our silos and work together toward a common goal. And as we learn, it’s OK if that common goal changes a little. It’s about a willingness to listen, accept, and allow – to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.”
Deidre’s motto: Where is the lesson?
- Mae Johnson | Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Member-at-Large, Governing Council
As a young girl, Mae Johnson was inspired by her family, especially those with profound, hereditary hearing loss and her uncle who had debilitating arthritis. Learning how they faced their challenges helped her when she began to lose her hearing as well as a young adult. “I was lucky enough to have role models and mentors who always looked for practical solutions as they pursued their families, careers and lifestyles that were meaningful for them,” she says.
Mae is the Director of the Office of Drug Policy and Science at Health Canada. With over 20 years of experience at Health Canada, National Defence, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, she has significant expertise in policy, planning and reporting, stakeholder engagement, and change management. She has a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Manitoba and a Master of Arts in Political Science from Carleton University. Mae also earned a European Studies Diploma from the University of Antwerp, Belgium.
Having searched for tools and supports to enable her to continue working, Mae realized there were others who struggled to find the supports they needed. This led her to get involved with the Persons with Disabilities Networks at the Public Health Agency and at Health Canada. As Chair of the Health Canada Persons with Disabilities Network since 2018, Mae has advanced initiatives that support an inclusive, diverse, and healthy workplace, like building partnerships between employees with disabilities and corporate services. “There is real momentum in the federal public service now that we need to leverage, so that employees with disabilities have a voice in identifying solutions. It’s encouraging, but we know there is a lot more to be done.”
Mae sees the new Network as an opportunity for dynamic cross-linkages between the public service and broader national agendas. “I expect there will be a lot of cross-fertilization that will be very helpful.”
Mae’s motto: Create opportunity.
- Robin Syme | Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Member-at-Large, Governing Council
Robin Syme firmly believes that everyone is on the spectrum of ability and that we move along the continuum throughout our lives. This helps us better understand one another. It builds empathy and an appreciation for the fact that we are more the same than we are different. She believes CAN will only enhance that.
Robin has a history of working on government policy, programs, and service delivery for children, families, and vulnerable adults in the health and social sectors. She is currently the Executive Director of CanAssist, an organization dedicated to helping people living with cognitive and physical challenges improve their quality of life through the development of innovative technologies and other program offerings. CanAssist is located at the University of Victoria. Prior to coming to CanAssist, Robin held senior social policy positions with the provincial government, including as Assistant Deputy Minister with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. She was responsible for community-based health and social services portfolios. She has two degrees from the University of Victoria.
Robin says she is excited about the common ground that CAN will discover. “We know there is a lot of good work going on around the country, but we don’t necessarily know about each other. CAN will help build relationships and trust. We are stronger together.”
Robin’s motto: We’ll figure it out. (Be solutions oriented. Don’t get stuck on the problem.)
- Boris Vukovic | CAN National Office, Director
CAN National Office, Director
Boris Vukovic arrived in Canada in 1995 as a 21-year-old refugee from Bosnia. Living through the war has shaped his thinking and his career path. “For me, it was personally relevant. My experience highlighted the need to recognize and support people facing barriers, whatever the circumstances.”
Boris started at Carleton University as a student 24 years ago and soon after began work to support the success of students with disabilities through leadership, direct student services, faculty development, applied research, and professional standards. In his role as Director of the READ Initiative, Boris is committed to helping position Carleton as a national leader in accessibility. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Carleton, a Master of Education in Counselling from the University of Ottawa, and a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from McGill University.
Boris worked with a small group of colleagues to develop the idea for CAN. He says the concept came out of Carleton’s culture of accessibility and the desire to collaborate with the various accessibility stakeholders across disciplines and sectors. “The Network is what we need to come together to advance accessibility as a complex societal paradigm,” he explains. “To be successful, CAN as a community must develop its own identity with a mindset focused on action and impact.”
Boris’s motto: Respect life above all, but never take it too seriously.
- Ricardo Wagner | Chair, Education & Training Committee
Chair, Education & Training Committee
Ricardo Wagner is a self-described Intrapreneur – strategizing innovative ideas and projects for his employer Microsoft. The company brought Ricardo to Canada eight years ago from Brazil. In addition to his role as a Marketing Director, he has taken on the role as Microsoft’s Accessibility Lead, using his Intrapreneur skills to inspire and lead change. The work has changed him too.
“Two years ago, I decided I’m not going to wake up and sell Office 365 anymore. I’m going to wake up and help people with disabilities,” he says. “The biggest challenge is our mindset. Solutions that work for people with disabilities work for everyone.”
Ricardo’s work has taken him around the world, introducing him to the power of leveraging technology to support accessibility. For example, this past year, Ricardo was incubated with a team at the Microsoft Garage’s Hackathon Residency, creating a new app and wearable device to support kids with epilepsy. It won Microsoft’s global prize, surpassing 7,800 other entries.
Ricardo is CAN’s Committee Chair for the Education and Training Domain. “We are going through unprecedented changes in our labour market, including how we work and how we connect. We need to re-set and look at the opportunities.”
Ricardo’s motto: I want to live deeply and intensely – sharing compassion, inspiration, and love along the way.
Contact the CAN National Office Corporate Secretary, Julie Caldwell at email@example.com or call 613-878-5842.