Anita Kaiser is passionate about research. With a background in applied chemistry and biology and a Master’s in Rehabilitation Science from the University of Toronto, it makes a lot of sense that Anita is highly interested in research studies that impact people in the spinal cord injury community.
Once studies are completed, she gets the information out so people are informed about how to best take care of their health. She also encourages others to get involved in research right from the beginning, at the design stage of a study, to ensure that any outcomes are of particular relevance to people with an SCI.
“Too often, studies with a lot of potential end up having little use to this community because there were flaws or omissions in the design stage,” she says. “I hate to see wasted opportunity as a result of a poor study design. We need good research as step one. Step two is putting it to use. So those are areas where I invest some of my time.”
Anita is a big believer in following personal interest when getting involved in volunteering or contributing to organizations like Spinal Cord Injury Ontario and others in the SCI sector.
“There really is something for everyone,” she says. “What are you good at? What do you love to do? Whatever it is, there’s a role to play in overturning barriers to inclusion in our society. Your passion and your impact can be one and the same. Anyone can get into advocacy in whatever area matters to them the most.”
In addition to her work as a Research Assistant at Toronto Rehab’s Lyndhurst Centre and activism in the research realm, Anita is a member of Spinal Cord Injury Ontario’s Board of Directors, is leading its Quality Improvement Committee, and has been a Peer Support Volunteer since 2000. She is also an advocate in public policy and has been active in three of our organization’s campaigns: Primary Care, Alliance Retreat Community Mobilization, and Provincial Election.
Anita feels honoured to be the recipient of the Patti Dawson Award – and also personally touched. “I knew Patti,” she says. “She was a remarkable person. I first saw her was when I was a patient at Lyndhurst, just after my injury in 1996. She was volunteering at the hospital, helping patients with mobility issues. I thought, ‘Now that’s amazing, a person in a chair helping a person in a chair.’ I hadn’t seen that before. I thought it was so cool. She was an inspiration to me and set the stage for my future role as a volunteer.”
Anita and Patti eventually shared an office at Lyndhurst and worked side by side.
“Patti was a trailblazer – with a bulldozer! She created a massive path and was a force to be reckoned with. She would stand for no injustices. And she believed in the role of good research in policy change. She showed me how to be an advocate, not just for myself but for others. She had the power to change lives, which is why I have ended up here today.”
Pam Russel agrees with Anita’s characterization of her feisty twin sister. “Patti was passionate about accessibility and fairness,” she explains. “She was very outgoing and opinionated. At the same time, she was also understanding and compassionate. She spent a lot of time visiting people in their homes, working with them on their housing and transportation needs. And if Patti ever caught someone unlawfully using an accessibility parking spot… Look out! She had a lot of time for righting wrongs. We’re honoured as a family to keep Patti’s memory alive with this award – and pleased that Anita has received it.”
Anita holds Patti in mind in all of her activism and advocacy work, and in particular as a Peer Support Volunteer. “I think of Patti’s impact on me when I saw her in Lyndhurst. She opened my mind. Since my injury, I have gone back to school, got married, had a child, and got involved in sports. You can have a spinal cord injury and achieve your dreams. You can also help yourself and others at the same time. I want to have the kind of impact on others that Patti had on me.”
Asked about her reaction to receiving an award with Patti’s name on it, Anita tears up. “You don’t get into advocacy for accolades. But this is such a personally poignant award for me. It’s a reminder of Patti’s journey and mentorship. I picture her smiling at me and giving a big thumbs up. That means a lot to me.”
Photo: Anita Kaiser (right) receives the Patti Dawson Activist of the Year Award from Patti Dawson’s sister Pam Russel at Spinal Cord Injury Ontario’s Toronto Community Celebration, September 2018.