Color & Control:

Announcing 2024’s Difference Makers!

Five outstanding young Canadians

“Making Canada and the world accessible and inclusive is an important vision that is characterized by the ultramarathon of social change that transcends generations. It’s vital that our future difference makers be identified, recognized, supported and encouraged as we pass the flame of leadership and innovation to their capable hands. I’m inspired by the depth and diversity of youth leaders across our country. I see how capable they are in identifying barriers and mobilizing teams to move forward to take action so that these barriers are removed. I’m grateful to our teachers and our country’s education system for educating, inspiring and enabling our youth to be champions of change for today and tomorrow.” – Rick Hansen

Meet the five Rick Hansen Foundation School Program (RHFSP) Difference Maker of the Year Awards 2023-4. The annual award honours youth aged 5 to 18 who have significantly contributed to making their schools and communities more physically accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.

Award recipients are chosen by a selection committee consisting of previous Difference Maker of the Year Award recipients and members of the RHFSP Youth Leadership Committee. This year’s awards received the highest number of nominations in the initiative’s history, with exceptional candidates from across Canada.

Andrei Paul Marti,
St. Michaels University School, Victoria, British Columbia 

Andrei volunteers for a charity to raise awareness for Type One Diabetes (T1D). As a person with lived experience, Andrei knows the cost associated with T1D: Help Fill A Dream” raises money to help families with the cost of medical supplies—he has successfully raised over $50,000 to date. 

Andrei also advocates across the country to raise awareness of T1D and the effects it can have on a person, family and community. To date, Andrei has met with researchers, Members of Parliament and speaks at local and national events. 

Talina Papazian,
Toronto French School / University of Waterloo, Ontario 

Toronto high school student, Talina Papazian wrote, illustrated and published a children’s book called You Taught Me

Her book seeks to raise awareness about youth with both visible and invisible disabilities, reminding the reader about the importance of inclusion. To build upon the book, Talina also founded a campaign by the same name and works to educate and change attitudes about disability and inclusion. 

All money raised by the sale of Talina’s book is going to Holland Bloorview with the hopes of increasing the accessibility of their services. To date, Talina has raised half of her $10,000 goal.

Andrew Phillips,
Fredericton High School, Fredericton, New Brunswick 

At Fredericton High School, student, Andrew Phillips, knew that all students should have the opportunity to enjoy a high school dance. After noticing that some of his peers couldn’t participate, he met with the student council to launch the Chill Dance Pilot Project. 

The Chill Dance Pilot Project is an inclusive dance experience that provides an opportunity for all students, including those who find dances challenging due to sensory or mobility disabilities, to participate in this high school experience. In the 2023-2024 school year, three dances were held as part of this imitative. Due to the success, other schools in the district have also adopted the initiative. 

Abigail Thornton,
Fredericton High School, Fredericton, New Brunswick 

Abby Thornton, a student at Fredericton High School, worked as president of the Best Buddies club. During her tenure, she sought to engage students with disabilities in more activities and promote inclusion awareness across the school. She also organized weekly club activities as well as monthly out of school activities, as well as special event days to raise awareness of inclusion and disability, merchandise orders, and partnering with other clubs across the school to host events for the whole school. 

Emma Stafford,
South Peace Secondary, Baldonnel, British Columbia 
Over the last decade, South Peace Secondary student, Emma Stafford has been involved with North Peace Ride for the Disabled. This past year, she worked as the Ride Coordinator for the organization. This involved working with riders, families, horses and volunteers to provide weekly riding opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Some of Emma’s duties involved training volunteers to move riders that use wheelchairs to specialized saddles and working with people with lived experience to seek input on activities. The program provides an opportunity for riders to participate in an exciting activity and help build self-esteem and confidence.

The RHFSP Difference Maker of the Year award celebrates youth ages 5-18 whose accessibility projects go above and beyond to make their schools and communities more inclusive by creating more awareness and removing barriers for people with disabilities. The next round of nominations will be in January 2025.

Cynnamon Schreinert represents the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) based in Richmond, British Columbia.

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