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EKO’s Tribute Awards are the association’s oldest and most prestigious recognition, presented to individuals, organizations, and teams that have made lasting contributions to benefit kids with disabilities, their families, and all our communities.

“We are so proud of our Ontario colleagues who champion children’s development and ensure kids with disabilities and their families live their best lives,” says EKO CEO Jennifer Churchill. “It’s an honour to
recognize and salute their accomplishments.”

Read about the distinguished cohort that make up the 2023 EKO Tribute Award Recipients. 

Tribute Award of Excellence

Hon. David Onley

David Onley believed fervently in the potential of people with disabilities – and he made it his life’s mission. 

A person of immense accomplishment, he is best remembered as a leading and tireless advocate for substantive equality for children, youth and adults with disabilities and their families—before his tenure as Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor, during his term, and after. 

David explained his beliefs in 2007, shortly after being appointed Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor. 

“I fundamentally believe that words are very, very important. In this case, the word accessibility has come to mean wheelchair parking spots, curb cuts and automatic doors. And while it is all of these things, it is much, much more. Accessibility, quite frankly, is a right. And that is why I believe we need to start using the term in its complete and full meaning. And it is that which allows someone to achieve their full potential.” 

A survivor of childhood polio, David first made his mark professionally as an on-air broadcaster and journalist with CITY-TV, a career that lasted more than two decades. He was the first broadcaster in Canada with a visible disability. 

He became a beloved Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and made advocacy for people with disabilities a central part of his role and changing the dialogue about disability. 

His leadership continued after completing his tenure as Lieutenant Governor in 2014. He was inaugural chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council of the Government of Ontario and worked as accessibility council member for the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre. In 2018, David was appointed to lead a review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. He wrote the seminal Report of the Third Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, commonly known as the Onley Report, making practical recommendations toward making a barrier-free Ontario, and highlighting existing physical barriers, high unemployment among people with disabilities and ableism as major contributing factors preventing inclusion. 

While he was a high-profile leader who made a profound positive change to society, David had the ability to connect with everyone. He spoke at thousands of engagements across Ontario, promoting the significance of identifying and removing barriers for all forms of disability, leading the way for kids with disabilities and their families in this province. His dedication as a role model, to empowering children, and to advancing accessibility has had a significant impact on the lives of countless Ontarians, and an indelible impact on our province. 

Tribute Award for Leadership

Dr. Nicola Jones-Stokreef

Headshot of Nicola Jones-StokreefThere are a number of positive adjectives that can be applied easily to developmental paediatrician Dr. Nicola (Nicky) Jones-Stokreef: commitment, determination, leader, innovator, visionary, collaborator, role model, mentor, and many more.

But perhaps the words that describe Nicky’s work at its core is a comment from a colleague: “…she goes above and beyond for the families she supports and ensures that they never feel alone in their journey.”

And as committed as Nicky has been to her patients and their families in Simcoe County, she has expanded her role so that others can improve care for children with developmental challenges. Throughout her distinguished career of more than 20 years, she has gracefully balanced exceptional clinical practice with regional system development and provincial level advocacy. She has been instrumental in advancing the autism diagnostic system in Ontario and has served as a true leader and inspiring role model for physicians, allied health professionals, and others in the child development and pediatric rehabilitation sector.

There are many examples of how Nicky’s leadership and innovation came to improve care for kids with disabilities. A better program for diagnosing autism in children is one. More than 16 years ago, Nicky was providing most autism diagnostic services in Simcoe Country. And there were long waiting lists. Nicky’s vision was to expand the number of professionals in Simcoe County who could diagnose a child with autism.

As part of her plan, she trained five speech language pathologists to administer the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. Her guidance and mentorship had a ripple effect – those professionals shared their knowledge with others including occupational therapists and early intervention workers.

While her contributions to service excellence have been immense, Nicky’s work to transform the system for kids with disabilities and their families also exemplifies her talent as a leader. She is kind, compassionate and an assertive advocate. She recognizes the power of her voice and position and leverages it through participation in local- and provincial-level planning committees to ensure that the needs not only of her patients, but all children and youth with disabilities in Ontario are met.

Nicky has a remarkable ability to connect with people. As a parent of three children with autism wrote, “I cannot thank her enough for her help, support, professionalism, and, most importantly, the stability she offered as a specialist and a person. These days, it’s a rare experience. She will remain an important part of our family in our grateful hearts.”

Liviya Mendelsohn

Headshot of Liviya MendelsohnLiv Mendelsohn gets things done. She makes things happen. And the best thing about her work – it’s all for people with disabilities.

She is a connector, an innovator and a fierce advocate for all people with disabilities. Since the beginning of her career, she has been dedicated to bringing the arts, sport, and culture to children and adults with disabilities in an accessible and appropriate way.

And through all of her endeavours, Liv has followed one defining theme: her leadership in removing barriers to inclusion and participation in daily life for people with disabilities.

As the inaugural manager of accessibility at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto, Liv created a new Access & Inclusion department. And that, in turn, led to The Citizenship Project. Launched in 2018, the program immerses young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Toronto’s civic landscape, using creative engagement exercises to explore leadership, self-advocacy and what it means to be a citizen. More than 80 young adults have participated since the program launched.

Liv brought the US-based Reel Abilities Film Festival to Toronto in 2016. Focusing on the work and stories of deaf and/or disabled communities and filmmakers in Canada, the festival is now the largest of its kind in the country.

She expanded the festival’s impact by creating the ReelEducation Program, bringing films and Ontario-aligned curriculum focused on accessibility and equity to students across the province, from kindergarten to grade 12. In 2020, the program grew to include online workshops, virtual screenings and accessible education kits for teachers, reaching more than 30,000 students.

Liv’s tenure at the community centre saw the creation of more than 30 accessible programs. She began her role as a team of one and grew it to include five direct reports and 15 instructors.

In addition to creating opportunities for people with disabilities, Liv also was sure to include activities for other equity-seeking groups, such as LGBTQ+ and racialized communities.

She was an integral partner in the creation and execution of accessible vaccine clinics for children and people with disabilities in the city of Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic, actively supporting the execution of the city run clinics, and personally ensuring that children and people with disabilities could access vaccines in a safe and appropriate way.

In her current role as executive director of the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence, Liv is creating a movement to support caregivers across Canada. Her experience rooted in the disability sector has meant ensuring that parents of children with disabilities are included as part of their strategy – a major step, given that many parents did not feel they had a place.
Liv has made important achievements over the past many years – innovations that will reverberate positively in our community for decades to come.

Dr. Ripudaman Minhas

Headshot of Ripudaman MinhasDr. Ripudaman Minhas has a passion for making a difference in the lives of the marginalized and underprivileged. He believes in providing healthcare so that no is left behind. And he practices what he believes.

The Canadian health care system can be difficult to access for anyone. This is especially true for families of children and youth who live with disabilities. And getting the diagnoses and services can be harder still for families who are dealing with any number of forms of marginalization – such as poverty, systemic racism, or immigration status, to name only a few.

Addressing this need is top of mind for Ripu. A developmental paediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto and Assistant Professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Ripu is a member of a team at Regent Park EarlyON Centre, which provides early intervention for families in a multicultural and resource-restricted area of Toronto. He has spearheaded a number of programs aimed at helping marginalized children and youth and their families get the health care they need.

Among his many achievements, Ripu founded Our Kids’ Health, which is bringing evidence-based child health information using social media platforms to 10 cultural-linguistic communities globally and now has more than 200,000 followers. The Maple Circle Project was created specifically for parents with a refugee background to understand how they approach parenting after they settle in Canada, particularly if they have a child who has developmental or behavioural concerns.

He is also using his talent to support other health professionals in communications. In 2019, Ripu was appointed the Communications Lead for the Executive Steering Committee of the Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy (PONDA). Through his work with PONDA, Rupu has created digital professional development opportunities – such as podcasts, webinars and workshops -- for physicians and other professionals working with individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Ripu’s research interests have also focused on advocating for populations experiencing inequity. He is current a co-investigator on a project addressing South Asian health inequities in Canada through Anti-Oppression Training. He is also involved with a project seeking to understand the experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) caregivers who work with children with medical complexities and developmental disabilities and their involvement with Child Protection Services.

“I’m interested in how health care professionals engage with diverse communities,” says Ripu. “We’ve made some progress, but we need to continue to work hard to identify opportunities to ensure health care is easily accessible to everyone.” 

 

Tribute Award for Advocacy

Louise Kinross

How do we tell the disability story?

Headshot of Louise KinrossChildren with disabilities rarely see themselves reflected in mainstream media. When they do appear, it is often in stories that present them as either tragic or saintly.

Except when the story is told by Louise Kinross. Louise tells compelling stories that go beyond the headlines while giving people the opportunity to rethink their perceptions of disability and ability. Motivated by experience in caring for her son (she has four children and one grandchild), who has a rare genetic disorder, Louise has become known worldwide as a champion for promoting awareness and providing encouragement for parents and caregivers of children with disabilities.

Louise is special projects manager at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. In that capacity she has distinguished herself as an influential voice in the organization and a valued colleague. But she is best known for her brilliant work as the managing editor of BLOOM, an internationally celebrated blog and multi-media platform that explores news and issues surrounding childhood disability. BLOOM is read in 160 countries around the world.

Through her thoughtful leadership and courageous journalism, Louise has propelled BLOOM to become a powerful awareness-building platform. Over the years, Louise has deepened her bold commitment to producing articles, videos and live interviews that advance disability justice and anti-stigma education.

Admirers of her work are many. Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree, says BLOOM “is…an invaluable addition to the literature of disability and difficulty.” And Ian Brown, Globe & Mail reporter and author of The Boy in the Moon, describes BLOOM as “the single best magazine and website about disabilities that I have read. It always addresses practical issues, but it always does so in the widest and deepest way, describing people and perspectives and telling stories that stay with me for months after reading them.”

Accolades aside, Louise remains authentic in her engagement with others, and she is consistently curious to learn more from anyone willing to share their experiences and accomplishments in the disability world. She is driven by an unwavering commitment to ethical journalism, bold storytelling, and anti-ableism that pushes the boundaries of equity, diversity, and inclusion in society. We are lucky to have her voice.

Former Senator Jim Munson

Headshot of Jim MunsonIf you are a person living with autism, then Jim Munson has your back.

Jim has long had a passion for supporting people with autism and their families. But this passion is made up of more than words. He has to put it to work.

Just read what people have to say about Jim.

“He walks the talk.” “A constant source of encouragement and wisdom.” “Always open and accessible.” “A strong and valued voice for autism at the federal level.” “There are few people in the world of autism who command the kind of respect that Jim Munson has. If he is present in the room, people pay attention.”

A noted journalist, Jim worked for more than three decades as an acclaimed globe-trotting foreign correspondent, mostly for CTV, covering hot-zone events like the Iran-Iraq War and Gulf War. His reporting was nominated for two Gemini Awards.

After serving as Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s director of communications for two years, Jim was appointed to the Senate of Canada. And it was in this role that he became a powerful and respected voice for people with autism.

It’s been reported that Jim saw a man sitting on the steps of Parliament and stopped to talk with him. The man talked about his concerns for his son with autism. Jim listened. And he made autism one of his chosen causes, along with the rights of children and people with disabilities—with a focus on the Special Olympics.

His main inspiration and guiding force has been his first son, Timmy, who was born with Down syndrome and lived only nine months.

During his 18-year tenure as a Senator, Jim helped to lay the foundation for the creation of a National Autism Strategy. Through his collaboration with key organizations such as Autism Alliance of Canada, Autism Ontario, and the McMaster Autism Research Team, Jim has highlighted the necessity for taking meaningful action to improve the lives of people with autism at the national level.

Jim played a key role in the seminal 2007 Senate committee report, Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis, which provided a foundation and guide for transformative priorities in autism across sectors for decades to come.

Jim sponsored a private member’s bill that became law with royal assent in 2012: the World Autism Awareness Day Act. Thanks to his leadership, Canada joined 192 countries in annually recognizing World Autism Awareness Day at the start of every April.

He also sponsored the Accessible Canada Act through the Senate and into law in 2019. This act named and formalized the Nothing Without Us key principle, involving persons with disabilities in developing laws, policies, and programs that impact them. The Act aims to build a barrier-free Canada by 2040.

With selfless advocacy, grace and determination to make a tangible difference, and above all, kindness toward others, Jim Munson has played a vital role in creating a more equitable environment and brighter future for Canadians.

Monika Myers

Headshot of Monika MyersThe next time you have a moment of self-doubt, Monika Myers can help you.

She wants everyone to believe in their worth. Not long ago, she started an initiative to empower us all to take a big step forward. She created “wishlets” that say “I AM BRAVE AND BEAUTIFUL.” She has given away more than 700 of them. And with the wishlets Monika sells, she donates part of the proceeds to support local communities.

The maxim on her website expresses her belief perfectly:

Remind yourself often that YOU are BRAVE AND BEAUTIFUL. Believe in yourself. Pursue your own dreams.

The campaign spreads a message about inclusivity, being confident, and true to yourself. It is a message that resonates with everyone.

Monika has Down syndrome. That doesn’t define who she is. She lives life to the fullest. She loves skiing and cycling and is a proud gold medalist in synchronized swimming. She sings in a choir and is an active Girl Guide.

Monika is a confident young woman who has progressed impressively in both the academic and social sides at her Toronto school. She has a wide circle of friends and loves the arts. She’s played an important role in helping to organize social events with her fellow students. As her principal has noted, “Monika goes out of her way to greet everyone with a smile.”

Now the rest of the world is getting to know Monika.

She recently began modelling and was the first model with Down syndrome to walk many runway shows in Canada and internationally—including Toronto Kids Fashion Week, Fashion Art Toronto, and New York Fashion Week. She’s already captured the attention of famous designers who ask Monika to model their designs.

She’s been featured on TV and in newspapers and magazines around the world. This past year, she was awarded Youth Day Global Down Syndrome Ambassador and is honored to have been chosen as the guest speaker for the 2023 Down Syndrome Association conference in Trinidad & Tobago to encourage the inclusion of people with Down syndrome into the education system.

Monika has accomplished all of this as a teenager. It’s not hard to imagine the tremendous good she will do in the decades to come.

Tribute Award for Partnership

Elizabeth Gunner

Headshot of Elizabeth GunnerIn 2016, Elizabeth Gunner retired as a school principal in Moose Factory. A new chapter in her career was about to start.

Elizabeth was approached to see if she would be interested in collaborating with the Cochrane Temiskaming Children’s Treatment Centre and Mushkegowuk’s Omushkego Education to lead the development of a new provincial initiative to support children and youth with disabilities.

Elizabeth made an incredible impact. In her newly created role as Community Relations Coordinator, she facilitated the genesis of the James Bay Special Needs Services System Planning Table, which is called MaMouPiMoTaTaa –Together We Walk. Elizabeth met with community Elders to explain the intent of the work and seek guidance on a name that would meaningfully represent the purpose. Not only has Elizabeth’s guidance, presence and contributions brought the voice and perspectives of Indigenous families to multiple service providers, her deep excitement of possibilities has created several innovations.

Among her achievements, Elizabeth was instrumental in helping to develop an adaptation of the speech and language program called Moe the Mouse, which was specific to Cree-speaking children. She led the roll-out of a universal Handwriting Without Tears program in James Bay area schools, was an active participant in the development of a newly created Pediatric Indigenous Rehab Assistant post-secondary program, bridged information technology for families through creating an iPad loan program where tablets are loaded with various programs and apps to support learning, and organized multiple parent gatherings where service providers shared information with families and families shared their stories and their needs.

Not one to shy away from challenges, Elizabeth has graciously navigated and balanced the multiple elements in building relationships and networks so that sustainable child development sector services can be provided to children and their families. Her strong commitment to do the right thing has served as a beacon for many.

In everything she does, Elizabeth is a connector, listener, guide, mentor, voice, questioner, supporter, responder, Elder, educator, and a determined advocate for equitable and meaningful supports to Indigenous children, their families and their communities. Elizabeth’s work continues today—she laid such a strong foundation that multiple components of the distant vision set seven years ago are now a reality that will continue to grow.

“Sometimes,” wrote a colleague, “you do not see the impact a person has had until time has passed and you reflect back and realize the significant contribution that person has made in the lives of children. That person is Elizabeth Gunner.”

Rachel Teplicky

Headshot of Rachel TeplickyFriends, Family, Functioning, Fitness, Fun, Future. Collectively, they’re called the “F-Words,” coined by Dr. Peter Rosenbaum and Dr. Hans-Willem Gorter of the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability at McMaster University. They’re more than just words – they represent both a philosophy and a program to support kids with disabilities to reach their potential.

The F-Words program is becoming increasingly popular in the global child development sector.
One of the program’s most active ambassadors, sharing the F-Words with families and professionals around the world, is CanChild’s Rachel Teplicky.

As one of the lead researchers from CanChild, Rachel worked closely with the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and was instrumental in both advocating for the incorporation of the F-words into the ministry’s reimagining of its services and in promoting other CanChild tools to be used across Ontario. A respected expert, she was invited to give a keynote talk, Service Development aligned to the F-Words in Child Disability Framework at the International Changemakers 2023 Conference organized by KIDS Plus in Geelong, Australia.

Rachel’s mastery of the F-Words program is only one of her talents. She has been an invaluable resource from her many roles with CanChild for years, well-known as a collaborative colleague who helps people everywhere to develop their child disability activities. Her understanding of research methods and issues is praised widely and her ability to offer support to people has gained her a solid reputation as a teacher, speaker and workshop leader.

In her current role as CanChild’s Business and Engagement Officer (and a Master’s-trained occupational therapist), she is a keystone in a very important arch: connecting CanChild’s many outreach activities across Ontario and Canada and around the world.

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EKO Spring Symposium is Back in 2025!

Every two years EKO hosts this pinnacle event for the child development sector and the largest gathering of professionals and stakeholders from Ontario and across Canada.

learn more about the event!