When Jessica Lewis is not busy training for track competitions as a T53 racer or working on the final year of her Recreation and Leisure Studies degree, she’s bringing awareness to equality issues surrounding disabilities.
Lewis has been speaking out for the differently abled much of her life. To acknowledge her work towards making communities more inclusive for all, Brock University presented Lewis with the Accessibility and Inclusion Recognition Award on Friday, Dec 1.
“Just because you are differently abled doesn’t mean you can’t achieve anything you set your mind to,” Lewis said. “I’m so grateful for all the support Brock has been giving me.”
Lewis feels it is important for people to shift their thinking away from notions of disability to the idea that we are all differently abled.
“We all have different things we can and can’t do,” said Lewis. “Everyone has an inability to do something, being differently abled is a more positive term and puts the person first.”
Lewis has demonstrated her different ability through participating in international wheelchair track racing competitions as an athlete. She was the first Parapan athlete representing Bermuda in 2011, and the first medalist at Toronto Parapan Am Games in 2015. In addition, Lewis represented Bermuda at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
But this isn’t the only reason Recreation and Leisure Studies Associate Professor Colleen Whyte nominated Lewis for the award.
“Jessica is such a tremendous role model and an amazing ambassador for our program,” said Whyte. “She often speaks at events and provides video messages sharing her experiences and thoughtful commentary to help people see that they are capable of achieving anything they want.”
Through her motivational speeches, Jessica always introduces the person-first perspective and promotes the awareness of disability and inclusion, explains Recreation and Leisure Studies Associate Professor, Sanghee Chun.
“As an illustration of an accessibility-related issue, Jessica shared with our students that it took two years for her to figure out accessible paths to seminar rooms in Mackenzie Chown Complex,” Chun said. “This is where most seminars are held for undergraduate programs. With her insightful explanation, our students now have a greater understanding of accessibility at Brock, and in Niagara.”
The Brock University Accessibility Advisory Committee selected Lewis for her considerable work and innovation in the field of inclusion and accessibility.
On receiving the award, Lewis shared her ‘lead by example’ philosophy.
“Everyone’s life path is different,” Lewis said. “We all have different dreams, we all experience limitations and obstacles that come up, but we have the ability and strength within us to do and be anything that we want in the world.”
During her time at Brock, Lewis has left an indelible mark on University faculty, staff and students.
“I have often wondered about the lasting imprint of Jessica’s presence on others at Brock,” said Whyte. “It is safe to say that no one Jessica has met will ever doubt the capacity of individuals living with disabilities.”