Seaforth's O'Reilly wins David C. Onley Award for 2017 IPM work
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Charlene O’Reilly of Seaforth is one of the winners of this year’s David C. Onley Award for Leadership in Accessibility for her work to make the 2017 International Plowing Match in Walton accessible for all.
The provincial government announced the winners last week, with O’Reilly sharing the honours with two others. O’Reilly claimed the award in the Employee Engagement category, while Ian Parker of Toronto claimed the award in the Role Model category and PrincessNikita Layne-Austin, also of Toronto, was recognized in the Youth Leadership category.
“Charlene O’Reilly was recognized for her unwavering leadership and passionate volunteerism promoting accessibility at the 100th International Plowing Match and Rural Expo in Walton, Ontario,” reads the provincial government’s website. “Charlene’s tireless work as the first-ever Chair of Accessibility for the event ensured the event was as accessible as possible to individuals of all ages and abilities. She led a large team of volunteers to ensure that the entirety of the event - which included a more-than 100-acre farm, a huge exhibitors’ space and an over-1,300-site recreational vehicle park - was accessible to any visitor with a physical, mental, sensory, intellectual or learning limitation.
“Not only did Charlene do all this while providing amazing care for her family and son with special needs, but she also did it while living with her own Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis.”
The awards were established in 2014 by the provincial government to recognize the outstanding work of individuals and organizations that have demonstrated leadership and gone above and beyond to champion accessibility and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
O’Reilly will be officially honoured by way of a virtual awards ceremony later this month.
In an interview with The Citizen, O’Reilly said that winning the award was a tremendous honour and truly represents a group effort, as she led a team of volunteers to champion accessibility at the match. She said it was a surprise to be honoured with the award and that earning recognition certainly isn’t why she took on the task in the years leading to the 2017 match.
She also said that the award being named for Onley, knowing all that he has done to demonstrate the importance of accessibility and keeping it at the forefront of society makes it that much more special.
O’Reilly said that it wasn’t just the effort and enthusiasm of her team that made an accessible International Plowing Match a reality, but also the willingness to contribute from local businesses and municipal councils that chose to view accessibility at the match as a priority as well. The support, she said, was what was able to propel the team and its vision forward.
Using those problem-solving skills and wanting to be the first-ever accessible International Plowing Match, she said, from Chair Jacquie Bishop down, made all the difference.
In the years since the match, O’Reilly said the conversation around accessibility has really shifted and it’s more important than it’s ever been, which makes her pretty proud.
Being able to host an event in which everyone could participate and be comfortable and maintain their dignity, she said, was a real accomplishment and she’s very proud of it.
“The recipients of the David C. Onley Award reflect the strength and resilience many of us have come to value more than ever in these challenging times,” said Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, in a press release issued by the provincial government. “I am delighted to congratulate them on their hard work, innovation and promotion of inclusion that is vital to a strong and successful province. May their examples inspire Ontarians to continue to work together for a future that works for everyone.”
Onley himself also weighed in by way of the press release, saying he was delighted to congratulate the winners.
“Given our challenging times, the leaders we’ve recognized today are to be especially applauded for their ongoing diligence in helping to make accessibility a way of life throughout Ontario. They are doing their part to help us build an inclusive province filled with social and economic opportunities for people of all abilities.”
O’Reilly said that, interestingly enough, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the challenges experienced by those with accessibility needs to the forefront, especially when it comes to bathroom access. She said that limited access to public bathrooms and other facilities during the pandemic has shown everyone what events can feel like when the planning process doesn’t take accessibility into account.
“I am proud to recognize the latest recipients of the David C. Onley Award,” said Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho in the provincial government’s press release. “Their determination to champion accessibility is unwavering, and their efforts have changed lives in meaningful and positive ways. They are shining role models for all Ontarians, and we applaud their important contributions.”