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Breaking Down Barriers: Joe Henry Named DiverseCity Fellow

March 08, 2012

Joe Henry came away from his first meeting as a DiverseCity Fellow last month excited and motivated about his role in tackling some of the GTA’s largest challenges. “I was honoured to be part of the project and inspired by the folks around the table and the accomplishments that they bring,” says Joe, who graduated from the Educational Assistant program in 2001.

He is one of 28 rising leaders chosen from a cross-section of backgrounds for the one-year leadership development program launched by the Toronto City Summit Alliance.

The only post secondary rep in the group, Joe is Manager of Accessible Learning and Student Development at Sheridan. It’s no surprise then that he plans to focus on developing solutions to employment barriers facing the disabled and new Canadians.

“Specifically, I believe the role of mentoring in career development and employment has been underplayed,” says Joe, who has held a variety of posts centred on accessibility, student engagement and adult education since joining the college 10 years ago.

This is especially true in the case of people with disabilities who continue to experience persistent underemployment and unemployment, despite their level of education, he adds. At the heart of these figures are misconceptions about what it’s like to work with a person who has a disability.

“Attitudinal barriers about the capacity of people with disabilities remain the main stumbling block to their reaching full potential,” says Joe. But, as Chair of the College Committee on Disability Issues, he believes we are moving in the right direction.

“We have 1600 students with disabilities at Sheridan. This is a good news story. As more attend post-secondary institutions, the attitudes will change, and we will see employment rates go up.”

In addition to his Sheridan education, Joe also holds a M.Ed. in Adult Education and Community Development from OISE/University of Toronto. He is currently completing his Doctorate in Education at Northeastern University in Boston.

He refers to his move to the education sector as a gradual acceptance of a call. Growing up in Walkerton, Ontario, Joe was surrounded by family who were employed in the teaching and helping professions. Joe’s interest in disability issues stemmed from his upbringing as well. Joe and his family participated in a volunteer program which brought a person with an intellectual disability into their home on an ongoing basis.

“Through Extend-a-Family, I learned that people with disabilities are no different than you or I,” says Joe, who counts Canadian humanitarian Jean Vanier as one of his personal heroes. “Simply put, disability is part of the human condition, not an add-on. The barriers we construct are in fact social, and it is up to all of us to be aware of that.”

The married father of two says he also wants to teach his children that everyone must take responsibility for improving their local and broader communities. “If people have thoughts and ideas I would love to hear them. Most of my job is listening; help me build solutions.”

Contact him at joe.henry@sheridanc.on.ca

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