One of the most well-known people with spinal cord injuries in Canada, Barbara Turnbull has been living life as a quadriplegic for over 30 years. Her injury garnered national attention due to its severe nature – a random convenience store shooting – but what she’s done with her life since that crazy day is why she’s a true SCI superstar.
A longtime journalist for the Toronto Star, a two-time book author and a tireless advocate for improved public accessibility and spinal cord injury research, Barbara’s resume is one of the most impressive you’ll find among any high level quadriplegic. Her injury has driven her to greater things, and she’s used her power wisely.
For a sneak peek at how a strong-willed Canadian woman overcomes insurmountable circumstances, this is the story of Barbara Turnbull.
Why she’s fearless
The story of Barbara Turnbull, a high-level quadriplegic with no movement from the shoulders down, begins on a fateful night in 1983 when the-then 18 year old Barbara was randomly shot. She was paralyzed instantly, but refused to let it ruin her life despite likely never moving her legs or arms again.
Instead of going home and becoming uninvolved in life, Barbara enrolled in classes at Arizona State University; graduating with a degree in Journalism magna cum laude and was valedictorian of her class. And soon after graduating, she snagged her first job with The Toronto Star as a Lifestyle Reporter; a job she holds till this day.
When her injury occurred, the media reported on it tirelessly, turning her into a Canadian celebrity, and even though it’s been over 30 years later, she’s still very well-known in Canada. Her work as a reporter for The Toronto Star has thousands of followers, and much of what she writes mirrors her life. Her beat follows local organ transplants stories, accessibility, health profiles and disability stories, just to name a few of her topic specialties.
After a few years of reporting, Barbara decided to publish her first book in 1993, an autobiography titled Looking in the Mirror, which shared the specifics of Barbara’s injury story. Also in the ’90s, Barbara founded the Barbara Turnbull Foundation, which gives a $50,000 grant to a promising neuroscientist each year. The foundation has also partnered with Brain Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research over the years.
Another area of life Barbara has worked tirelessly on is making all public spaces completely wheelchair accessible. Canada, just like United States, requires all public buildings to be accessible, but many facilities, even public facilities, are skating under the rug. One of the biggest offenders – the old theaters dotting Toronto.
A huge movie fan, Barbara was unable to enter many theaters in Toronto, so she decided to do something about it and spearheaded a massive legal challenge to force a Canadian-based movie theater chain to make all of their theaters accessible, and Barbara won her legal challenge in 2001. She also discovered her love of service animals since the new millennium, and just a couple of months ago retired her service dog, Bella, after 10 years of service.
With more to say now than ever before, Barbara also recently published her second book, an e-book titled, What I Know Now: Lessons from my 30 years of quadriplegia, reflecting on everything she’s learned since her injury. Barbara could likely write multiple books on everything she’s learned, but she saved her best kernels of wisdom for this one.
Thank you Barbara for everything you’ve done for the world and SCI community since becoming injured. You show humanity that supreme inner-strength can take us above and beyond, and that we can always do more than what people expect.
– Visit her site: The Barbara Turnbull Foundation
How has Barbara’s advocacy helped you?
Watch the videos!