Karen Slater

Top 40 Under 40 2015

Photography Curtis Comeau

Age: 36

Job Title: Director and Lecturer, The Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement, University of Alberta

Why She’s Top 40: She’s challenging perceptions of disabilities by offering programs that encourage physical activity and healthy living.

If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be? “Can I give advice instead? Don’t worry about being a place to visit; be a good place to live. I think Edmonton’s really achieving that. [The city is] amazing right now.”

Growing up in Stratford, Ont., Karen Slater was an active child who always made sure her stepbrother, who had global developmental delay, could play right alongside her. By 16, Slater was a camp leader and inclusion co-ordinator, ensuring that all kids at camp could play and enjoy themselves.

“I was exposed to all types of abilities,” she says, remembering a non-verbal uncle paralyzed by cerebral palsy. Through her work, research and programs, Slater hopes that everyone will see abilities instead of disabilities.

The Steadward Centre, located at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, is where Slater heads a facility that hosts those from ages four to 80-plus who live with impairments. She refers to Steadward as “a living lab” where she, her colleagues and students can observe the programs at work.

In 2005, Slater got her start by founding Free2BMe, a program for youths ages four to 19 who have impairments. The first summer, it was just Slater and 25 kids. “I think I stole the practicum student from the adult program,” she laughs. 

The program developed out of the need for kids to gain skills, like riding a bike or playing soccer. Slater says the families drove the program and its offerings. Free2BMe is also special in the fact a participant doesnt need a firm diagnosis to enrol.  

“It’s nice because the kids could be working on skills and gaining some confidence as their families navigated the medical system.”

Outside of her role with the Steadward Centre, though, Slater is very involved with the Ritchie Community League, having served as its treasurer since 2012, and was a Big Sister with Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area from 2010 to 2012.

Slater is pleased by the strides the province is making. “Edmonton and Alberta are real leaders around accessibility, and I think that’s a real example to others,” she says, smiling. “If we can keep working together and sharing resources instead of competing for resources, I think we are going to be real strong leaders.”

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