Local grade eight student champions accessibility at national Rick Hansen Youth Leadership Summit


Huntsville Public School grade eight student Olivia Luttrell wants everyone to know how easy it can be to make the world a more accessible place.

She recently returned from the Rick Hansen Youth Leadership Summit in Ottawa – she was one of just 50 youth delegates from across the country – armed with information that she can take to schools and the larger community on the importance of accessibility in making for an inclusive society.

Luttrell first heard about the summit from her teacher, Madame Knappet, who encouraged her to apply. She had to answer three essay questions: How have you made a difference in your school or community? Why is accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities important to you? And how would you share what you’ve learned at the Rick Hansen Foundation Youth Leadership Summit with your school or community?

“I told them that I wanted to change the accessibility because my cousin Wesley had a stroke and nothing was accessible for him and I wanted to help him and make it easier for him,” said Luttrell. She also highlighted the video she made with friends Leya Tonkavic and Niva Grisé about the need for an accessible playground at their school and the volunteer work she’s done. And she said she’d spread the word through presentations and articles in the paper.

When she learned that she was chosen to attend the summit from May 20 to 22, “I was extremely excited – I was over the moon, I could barely breathe,” said Luttrell.

The youth delegates at the summit toured Rideau Hall, attended workshops about accessibility, and were at the Canadian Museum of History when Rick Hansen presented a glove from his Man in Motion tour for the new Canadian History Hall.

Youth delegates at the Rick Hansen Youth Leadership Summit (Photo: Laurie Luttrell)

Youth delegates at the Rick Hansen Youth Leadership Summit (Photo: Laurie Luttrell)

Luttrell said she learned what the “really big barriers for people with disabilities were, and how small something could be to be such a big barrier, like a gap in the sidewalk. I also learned about different kinds of disabilities, and how some can be invisible.”

She’s now working on a presentation that she hopes to take to local schools and perhaps the town in the next few weeks. She wants everyone to know “how easy it can be to make something accessible for somebody if you try to make it accessible instead of ignoring it.”

Luttrell hopes that those who hear her presentation will be inspired to go back and change something about their school or  community to make it a bit more accessible. “It takes so little like just widening pathways between tables at a restaurant or adding a ramp to stairs. By overcoming something like that and showing people how little it takes, you can change the whole world.”

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  1. Angela Dunnett on

    How wonderful. I hope she can encourage the Huntsville area to improve wheelchair access. Most restaurants and businesses in Huntsville are difficult or impossible to manoeuvre in and out of or use bathroom facilities.

  2. I’m very happy to see somebody as young as you, Olivia, with a commitment to such an important cause. As a suggestion only, would you consider joining the Town’s Accessibility Advisory Committee? Every Council motion is examined through the lens of accessibility (and the environment). As a former Committee member, I realize how important a younger perspective would be. Kudos on your achievements to date and your plans for the future.

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