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Section: News
Edition: Final
Courtney Keenan injured his spinal cord while diving in Skiff Lake, N.B., five years ago. He was told he would need a power wheelchair because he wouldn't be able to wheel it himself.
He was also expected to stay in the hospital for six weeks; within two weeks he was out of the hospital and into rehabilitation. While in recovery, he was told yet again he would need a power wheelchair.
Two weeks into rehab, he was wheeling his own chair.
And on Friday he was in Fort McMurray to act as a living testament that people with disabilities can lead a normal life.
But the general population need to be educated about disabilities, he said.
"People are not ignorant; they're just not educated about disabilities and I wasn't either till I was put in this situation," said Keenan, who plans to move to Fort McMurray soon for work.
"It's important to realize that what people who are disabled -- I have a disability myself -- wish to have is to be accommodated within society," Austin Mardon, a member of the Premier's Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities, told Today.
"I think it's a universal cry from people who are disabled to be part of community, to be part of the fabric of society in whatever way," he said.
One major step for the disabled community in Alberta is the recent participation of Gary McPherson in the Tory leadership race, Mardon said.
"He didn't run as a disabled candidate. He ran as a candidate and he received equal air time, equal prominence in the newspapers. That's what people with disability wanted," he said.
But such recognition and accommodation shouldn't come solely from the government or the media, but from society at large, Mardon said.
For instance, people who are disabled can and want to get married, want to have friends, and they should be accommodated, he said.
"Hopefully over time, society's perception of people who are disabled will improve. It has improved over the last generation."
The Fort McMurray Association for Community Living hosted the International Day of Disabled Persons 2006 at Keyano College on Friday.
"What this day is about is recognizing the disabled community within Alberta," Allison Pardy, a spokeswoman said. This day was established in 1992 by the United Nations to acknowledge the disabled community.
There are more than 330,000 disabled people over the age of 16 in the province, she said.
"We're trying to create that awareness within Alberta and especially Fort McMurray to show that there are a lot of disabled people in the community. And because they are disabled they don't have the same strong voice that abled people do," Pardy said.
"We want to acknowledge and recognize and let people be aware that they are here. They are very active members of the society and we should acknowledge that they are here," she said.
Keenan had been planning to move to Fort McMurray even before he was injured, and he still wants to come to the Oilsands City.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do for work. But I've been looking to get out of the east coast and come west. There are great job opportunities here," he said.
He said he sees himself looking for a position in sales or marketing.
Before he got injured he was a power lineman apprentice. He still works for the same company but moved into the office as operations co-ordinator.

Austin Mardon, CM
Telephone: 1-780-378-0063
Post Office Box 1223, Main Post Office,
Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA,
T5J 2M4
Web site: