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Steve Fletcher, Mp

Editor's Note: This editorial is reprinted from the Toronto Star, July 10, 2004. *Image: Photo of Steven Fletcher

It's been a week of "firsts" for Conservative Steven Fletcher. Canada's first quadriplegic Member of Parliament attended his first caucus meeting, and faced his first press gallery scrum.

It was a "second," however, that best shows what Fletcher will bring to the country and its disabled citizens. He had tried to visit the parliamentary restaurant a few years ago, but his big motorized wheelchair didn't fit in the elevator. This week, he tried again. Still no luck. Accessibility remains a problem.

"Architecture's just like politics," he jokes. "The details will kill you."

Things will have to change, and fast.

Fletcher's arrival on Parliament Hill will help politicians, media, and non-disabled Canadians get a better understanding of the battles fought by people with disabilities.

"If my personal situation creates awareness and improves the situation for, really, what will be millions of others, wow, what an honour," he says.

His remarkable comeback from a car accident eight years ago already makes him a role model. The 32-year-old's triumph over what he called "dark years" of adversity is inspiring.

Fletcher rejected the idea of living in an institution. Instead he furthered his education, earning a Master's degree in business. And then he defeated Liberal candidate and former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray in Manitoba's Charleswood-St. James riding.

Now Parliament needs to make some changes so Fletcher can work in the House of Commons. He doesn't know whether the voice-activated software he uses to take notes will be allowed during Question Period, for example. The answer should be: Yea. And he should get any other help he requires.

Fletcher arrived on the Hill under his own steam. But the people sent him there to serve his constituents' interests. He must have every opportunity to do so.

His experience must be one that encourages others.