Emily Heeringa recognized as ‘strong voice for inclusion’ in NWT
Yellowknife resident Emily Heeringa has been recognized by the NWT Disabilities Council for her work to reduce stigma and improve inclusivity regarding autism.
Heeringa received the council’s community champion award last week. The council said she offered “an excellent example of how one person can make a difference to many people.”
Since her eldest daughter, Sophia, was diagnosed with autism, Heeringa said she has learned that instead of asking children to adapt, she wants to “challenge our community in how we adapt to our children and change the biases around disability.”
“While her diagnosis is a part of her, it’s far from what defines her,” she said at a ceremony last week.
“Previous to this diagnosis, I didn’t know anything about disability, accessibility or the power of advocacy. Today, these three words are what continuously motivate me to fight not only for Sophia, but for all individuals with different abilities to create a more accessible and inclusive community.”
NWT Disabilities Council executive director Denise McKee said Heeringa’s work to educate herself and share that knowledge with others had helped “to create understanding, remove stigma and to create more informed supports,” becoming a “strong voice for inclusion and full participation as both a parent and an advocate.”
Brian Carter, chair of the council’s board of directors, said: “Parents that have had the opportunity to attend meetings with Emily have shared it was one of the few times that they have felt heard and understood.”
“I accept this award not for myself, but for the families within our community who face struggles every
day. Families that face stigma, criticism and more obstacles than support,” Heeringa said.
“Out of these struggles comes an innate strength and perseverance. It’s about giving hope to other families in our community and highlighting the bravery and resiliency these children demonstrate.”