In a series of short profiles, Capital Current introduces some of the people working hard to improve life in Ottawa.
Who is she?
Sally Thomas is a paralympic athlete, a peer mentor, a recreation enthusiast and an artist. But most importantly, Thomas calls herself a “loud and proud” advocate.
What’s her background?
Born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus in 1970, Thomas learned to adapt in a society that wasn’t built with her in mind.
“I grew up in the ’70s and the ’80s, so not a lot of things were accessible. We had to fight for a lot of stuff, like even to go to the same school as my siblings,” Thomas told Capital Current.
Raised in Belleville,Ont., Thomas moved to Ottawa in 1989 to study recreation at Algonquin College. Not long after, she took up the sport of powerlifting and eventually competed in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic games setting a Canadian record.
As a child, Thomas’s parents had enrolled her in many adaptive sports, which provided emotional reprieve from her school life.
“Sports has literally saved my life,” Thomas said. “I felt the least disabled doing sports because I can keep up — to everybody. Including other people who don’t have a disability.”
What is she known for in Ottawa?
Thomas has become a vocal public advocate for improved adaptive public transit. What sparked her activism was a Para Transpo strike in 2001 that lasted 68 days. Thomas joined the strike in solidarity with the drivers to fight against inadequate wages and for improvements in benefits.
“What affects the drivers affects the passengers. So when they’re being treated like crap, that means I’m being treated like crap,” she said.
Thomas belongs to an ad hoc group under Ottawa Transit Riders called ParaParity, which aims to achieve equity for people who require Para Transpo, the city’s bus and ride service open to those with a disability.
“ParaParity is closing the disparity between conventional transit and para transit because you and I deserve the same service. You and I are both transit riders — there’s no difference, ” Thomas said.
What do people say about her?
“People either very much like me or very much don’t like me — because I speak my mind,” Thomas said. In a profile in Hydrocephalus Canada, Mary Dufton writes of the disability advocate, athlete and artist that she has “unstoppable energy and charm.”
What is something few people know about her?
In her free time, Thomas paints. She says much of her art is informed by her life.