Powell River resident Geraldine Braak recently received a new book in the mail, a publication in which she and 49 other Canadians are celebrated for their contributions on a national level.
The book, entitled They Desire a Better Country: The Order of Canada in 50 Stories, is a milestone publication that celebrates the 50-year history of one of Canada’s highest honours. It also includes well-known Canadians such as singer Céline Dion, astronaut Chris Hadfield and musician Oscar Peterson.
“The Order of Canada has recognized 7,000 individuals over the years,” said Braak. “I was surprised that they chose me among the 50 to feature in this book.”
Cheryl Jaster is a homecare worker who has known Braak for more than five years and provides support for some of Braak’s daily tasks. Jaster was there the day Braak received a letter detailing her inclusion in the book.
“One day, I picked up her mail and there was this letter from the Governor General of Canada,” said Jaster. “Geraldine asked me to read it and I started getting so emotional. We both got so emotional.”
Braak said she was “totally stunned” when she received the letter from governor general David Johnston, congratulating her on her disability advocacy work and inviting her to be included as one of the 50 stories in the book.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Jaster. “I feel blessed to have been there when she got that letter.”
Braak has long been an advocate for people with disabilities, focusing on issues affecting blind and partially sighted individuals and contributing on a local, national and international level.
For eight years, Braak served as the national president of the Canadian Council for the Blind. She has also held executive positions for the World Blind Union, a United Nations-based organization representing 180 countries and millions of blind and partially sighted people.
Braak has also served on Transport Canada’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation, where she advocated for accessibility on buses, trains and other modes of public transportation.
In her various roles, Braak has travelled to many different countries, connecting with other advocates and encouraging dialogue and action around issues affecting people with disabilities.
Locally, Braak has been an executive director of Powell River Model Community Project and started a White Cane Club in Powell River. White Cane Week takes place the first week of February and is centred around building awareness of visual impairment.
Through her work, Braak has advocated for things that many people take for granted, such as curb cuts, handicap parking, family changing rooms and other pieces of public infrastructure that serve people with sight-related and other disabilities.
“I’ve been advocating for people with disabilities for 40 years,” she said. “It feels like a long time to advocate, but change happens slowly.”
Braak said there are many issues facing people who are blind or partially sighted and housing is among the biggest.
“Moving is a big deal for people who are blind,” she said. “If I had to sell this house and move somewhere unfamiliar, it would take a long time to learn to live in the space.”
Braak said it is important for sighted people to imagine what it would be like to suddenly lose your ability to see.
“A place like a parking lot can be a very frightening experience,” she said, “but people do manage.”
In 1997, Braak was awarded the Order of BC. She received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Malaspina University College in 2000. She was appointed to the Order of Canada that same year.
Braak said she is grateful for the tremendous amount of support she receives from family and friends and to be living in Powell River, which she refers to as a “very caring community.”