DC student Niko Herold makes his mark in the struggle for inclusivity

In 1986, a man in a wheelchair wheeled his way across the country and halfway around the world to raise awareness for spinal cord injuries and the need for accessibility and inclusiveness. It was known as the Man in Motion Tour and at the lead of the seemingly impossible campaign was Rick Hansen who because of his spirit and determination, inspired millions of people across the globe to realize the potential in people struggling with disabilities.

25 years later, Rick Hansen is back to further his lifelong commitment to making a positive change through the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay, which began in August in Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador. The relay will journey across Canada, reaching over 600 communities, celebrating progress made in accessibility and highlighting inspirational stories of medal bearers of all abilities who were nominated and chosen to walk, wheel or run in the event as champions for positive change.

The difference is that this time there are 7,000 other everyday people who have made a difference in the lives of others who are joining him. 

Among them is Niko Herold, a first-year Durham College Culinary Skills student, who also completed the college’s Community Integration through Co-operative Education (CICE) program in 2011. Herold was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 13 months of age and was later identified with a learning disability and seizure disorder. He was never expected to walk, develop cognitively or to grow up with any independence.

Against all odds he graduated from high school, completed the CICE program and is now pursuing an integrated college program in a discipline that he loves. Most noteworthy, he has done so while simultaneously becoming a strong advocate for change, inclusivity and acceptance for youth in the education system who struggle with disabilities.

Herold was raised to believe he was no different from anybody else, which enabled him to focus on his abilities rather than his disabilities. “I was empowered to believe I could achieve whatever I set my mind to,” said Herold. “Whatever challenges I met along the way, I kept that attitude to help me pull through but even though I always had my own inner drive, I never really realized that the personal gains I was making were impacting other people with disabilities”.

Before discovering the college’s CICE program, a modified program that delivers the opportunity for post-secondary study to individuals with intellectual disabilities or significant learning challenges, Herold wasn’t sure he would ever experience college life.  

“The program was a great educational experience for me as it helps enable people with disabilities enjoy college life, which is such an important part of growing up,” added Herold. 

He attributes much of his success to the CICE program and is thrilled to now be a student in the college’s Culinary Skills program. “Culinary is something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve been cooking since I was six years old,” he said.

Nominated to be a part of relay by seven different people, Herold was both honoured and shocked to hear he had be chosen to participate.

“It’s been very inspiring and motivating to be a part of this amazing milestone,” he said. “It’s been an even bigger honour to have my name mentioned in the same breath with a name like Rick Hansen. When you think Rick Hansen, you don’t think Niko.”

That is, until now.