By Prof. Cameron Graham, Past Chair, Canadian Abilities Foundation
In the spring of 2010, I was honoured to be asked by Raymond Cohen, the late founder of the Canadian Abilities Foundation, to join the foundation’s board. He felt the board needed additional accounting expertise. I needed to learn a lot more about disability but Ray was an ideal teacher, so I agreed. My lessons were intense—Ray was never shy about disability rights.
By 2012, I had learned just enough to take over from Howard Barrie as board chair. A gentleman if ever there was one, Howard agreed to stay on as past chair to help me settle in. He was needed more than either of us could have anticipated because, in early March of 2013, Ray Cohen unexpectedly died. Ray had been the lifeblood of the organization, and in many ways the head, heart and soul of the disability movement in Canada. There can be no replacing him.
My only priority as board chair in 2013 was to assess whether the Canadian Abilities Foundation had a future. We were fortunate that Ray had just finished negotiations with BCS Group to take over the production and distribution of Abilities Magazine. Ray was to have remained as editor, but his death left us all wondering how we could continue. We missed the publication of the winter issue, not having any idea how to do what Ray had done so expertly for more than 20 years.
This was when Caroline Tapp-McDougall and her BCS team stepped in. As a seasoned magazine editor, Caroline took it upon herself to become familiar with the issues and get the spring edition of Abilities out the door. She took on full responsibility for advertising, content, production and distribution, exuding a blend of calmness and energy that made everyone believe Abilities could continue.
Together, we handled the practical sorting and sifting needed to get the foundation back on its feet. With help from me, Howard and the other board members, Caroline sorted out our cash flow and ramped up our fundraising efforts.
It was a crash course for all of us in charitable entrepreneurship. My students at York University have benefited from the lessons I learned watching Caroline and her team help us develop new programs and partnerships. The results of everyone’s efforts: A remarkable revitalization and renewed purpose.
Today, Caroline serves as our Executive Director and Abilities has gained a more polished look, while maintaining its reputation for provocative cover shots that challenge our assumptions about disability. Our online circulation continues to grow, and our website thrives with more than a million visitors every month. Stephen Trumper, the one board member who knows as much about magazine publishing as Caroline, continues to help us maintain our focus on disability issues. His wisdom permeates the magazine from cover to cover.
The foundation is in good hands now, too. We’ve built an outstanding Board of Directors led by Jeffrey Climans, who moved from our Patron’s Council last year to take over from me as board chair. Jeffrey brings energy, a strong working knowledge of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and consummate professionalism to the role.
And so, eight years after accepting a neighbourly invitation to join the board of the Canadian Abilities Foundation, I am stepping down to let others move the organization forward. While disability has in some ways become more mainstream during my tenure, there is still a lot of work to do. A fully inclusive Canada remains the vision of this vital organization that I’m so proud to have served.
On behalf of the Board,
Prof. Cameron Graham
Canadian Abilities Foundation