‘Accidental advocate’: Stephanie Cadieux to receive honorary degree from KPU

Wed, Jun 12, 2024

A British Columbian who has dedicated her life to public service and breaking down barriers to accessibility, diversity and gender inclusion is being recognized with an honorary degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU).

Stephanie Cadieux will receive a Doctor of Laws during convocation ceremonies June 12 at KPU Surrey.

“Stephanie Cadieux has already been an inspiration to so many, and a wonderful ambassador for KPU. She is now forging a vital new path toward a barrier-free Canada,” says Dr. Alan Davis, KPU President and Vice-Chancellor.

Stephanie Cadieux
Stephanie Cadieux is being recognized with an honorary degree from KPU.

Cadieux is the Chief Accessibility Officer for Canada, and is the first person to serve in the role, which was created under the Accessible Canada Act. A graduate of KPU’s marketing program, Cadieux was named a KPU Distinguished Alumna in 2013.

“I’m overwhelmed by this honour,” says Cadieux. “It’s really meaningful to be recognized by my alma mater. It tells me that the work I’ve done for our province, and for advocating for accessibility, for more opportunities for people with disabilities, for inclusion has made a difference.”

Appointed Chief Accessibility Officer in 2022, Cadieux has a four-year mandate to act as an independent advisor to the Minister of Employment and Social Development. She is charged with monitoring and reporting on the progress and outcomes of the Accessible Canada Act, along with challenges, impediments to success and any emerging issues that arise regarding accessibility in Canada. 

Cadieux says she hopes to help Canada reimagine what accessibility is — from something charitable to a realization that accessibility is as essential as any other public utility. 

“I want people, broadly, to understand that if something isn’t accessible, it has been designed to exclude people. Far too much potential is lost to a lack of accessibility — and I want people to really understand that society can no longer afford to accommodate inaccessibility.”

Cadieux brings lived experience to her role. She suffered a broken neck at the age of 18, resulting in a spinal cord injury and paralysis, and has used a wheelchair ever since.

Calling herself an “accidental advocate,” Cadieux never planned for her life’s work to focus around access and inclusion. But she started working for Spinal Cord Injury BC and found a passion for making a difference.

“What I’ve learned is that making big change is slow, painfully slow. But advocacy work can take many forms, and along the way, if you can see the impact, one person or issue at a time, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

Cadieux served as director of marketing and development for the BC Paraplegic Association for eight years prior to entering politics. First elected in 2009 as the BC Liberal MLA for Surrey-Panorama, Cadieux was the first woman who used a wheelchair to serve as an MLA in B.C. She would go on to be elected in three different Surrey ridings until 2022, and served as Minister of Children and Family Development, Minister of Social Development, Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government and Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.

Under her leadership, the Ministry of Social Development focused on dismantling policy barriers for people with disabilities accessing services. She was also Opposition critic for Advanced Education and Opposition critic for Gender Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion. 

Cadieux is grateful to have had so many opportunities to contribute to initiatives that have had an immediate impact on people’s lives, for the better. One that stands out is from her time as Minister of Children and Family Development.

“I was concerned about the number of children that were stuck in foster care. I focused the department’s efforts on finding permanent homes for these kids, through adoption and guardianships. We were able to place record numbers of kids into permanent families, and I know that made a huge difference for those kids and those families.”

One child, who Cadieux met while he was in care, came running up to her at an event and couldn’t wait to share the news that he had been adopted.

“He was so happy. It was such a powerful moment. I’ll never forget that I had a little part in helping make that a reality for him and others.”