In honour of Queen’s 175th anniversary, the Equity Office and the Human Rights Office will bestow their Human Rights Initiative, Steve Cutway Accessibility, and Employment Equity awards on alumni.
Katie Charboneau, Artsci’11, who worked as an accessibility advocate and ambassador during her studies at Queen’s.
Ms. Charboneau had planned to attend Carleton University, but changed after she was involved in a car accident in June 2005 near her hometown of Gananoque, Ont. She spent five weeks in the intensive care unit at Kingston General Hospital and five months at St. Mary’s of the Lake recovering from injuries.
During her recovery, Ms. Charboneau applied to Queen’s and was accepted. She began her studies just over a year after the accident, knowing that she would encounter challenges along the way.
“I was the first quadriplegic to live on campus in residence. In a way, I was the guinea pig, but I loved doing it,” she says. “It was scary and I knew there were going to be problems. But, as I’ve always said, what Queen’s lacked in accessibility, it made up in accommodations. Staff and faculty worked to solve issues as fast and efficiently as possible.”
With every problem she encountered, Ms. Charboneau advocated for herself. She says she followed the example set by her mom. “She really stuck up for me, starting immediately after the accident. She was my advocate, and that’s where I get it from.”
Soon after starting her studies, Ms. Charboneau felt compelled to help others at Queen’s. She volunteered with Accessibility Queen’s in her first year. For the next five years, she co-chaired the group, which is part of the Alma Mater Society’s Social Issues Commission.
“Becoming an activist on these issues was just a natural progression,” she says. “I was advocating for myself, but I soon realized that others might not be comfortable doing that or have the desire to come forward in the same way.”
Ms. Charboneau worked to change attitudes on campus, in addition to bringing attention to physical barriers. She spearheaded the creation of a Queen’s Accessibility Awareness Month as well as a specialized library, two initiatives that raised awareness of accessibility issues and helped to educate the Queen’s community.
Accessibility Queen’s also hosted an information awareness fair each year, which connected students with groups, committees, and organizations on campus and within the broader Kingston community. Ms. Charboneau is currently doing similar work as the administrative manager with All In. The Kingston-based organization provides expert information, education, support, and opportunity for all individuals and organizations, in the area of mobility impairments.