TORONTO — Mona Winberg, left, who was born with cerebral palsy, will be remembered as one of the first people with a disability to become a spokesperson for the disabled.
Winberg, 76, died late last month after a two-week battle with pneumonia.
In a eulogy, nephew Sidney Troister said that when Winberg was born, her mother, Sarah, was told that her daughter would never walk or talk, and that she should be institutionalized.
“Way ahead of her time, Mona’s mother refused to [listen] to the doctor’s opinion. [Mona] was loved and cared for at home by her parents, and treated as much as possible like any other kid.”
Troister said that although she had severely limited speech, mobility and hearing, Winberg went to school, wrote in a newsletter for the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy, and went on to become the first person with a disability to be elected president of the federation.
Although it was difficult for her to be understood, he said, Winberg lobbied for Wheel Trans and accessibility, and she spoke to architects about accommodating people with disabilities.
In 1986, Winberg approached the Toronto Sun about writing a column that addressed the needs of disabled people, and for 10 years, wrote Disabled Today for the Sunday Sun.
“With her lack of control over her hands, it took Mona two full days just to type one of the columns,” Troister said.
In her first column, he said, Mona wrote that “disabled people are neither larger-than-life heroes, nor pathetic objects of pity. We possess strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, capabilities and limitations, just like everyone else.”
Troister said that in recognition of her work, Winberg received the King Clancy Award and the Fred Gardiner Award, and was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame. In 2002, she was awarded the Order of Canada by then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson in Ottawa.
“Throughout her adult life, Mona was a inspiration to her family and to the disabled throughout the country. With strong opinions, a sharp wit, courage, strength of character and an uncanny ability to charm decision-makers of all political stripes, she became a leader and a role model for people with disabilities,” Troister said.
“She made a vital contribution to this country and to the place of disabled people in it. Her contribution is even more significant because she accomplished tasks that would have discouraged even a non-disabled person.”
She also impressed others, including Patrick Boyer, who met Winberg when he was a member of Parliament in the 1980s and was crusading for equality rights for people with disabilities.
“Mona was simultaneously giving voice to the voiceless through her column. I think we inspired one another about what was possible,” he said in an interview.
“When I met Mona, it was love at first sight. Here was a woman of solitary courage, of intelligence and humour, and of unrelenting advocacy. She sought a better deal for the more than one million Canadians who live with varying degrees of mental and physical disability,” Boyer said.
After Winberg stopped writing her column, he said, he collaborated with her on a book due out in June, published by Blue Butterfly Books, called Solitary Courage: Mona Winberg and the Triumph over Disability.
“Mona’s time on earth made a real difference in the lives of countless thousands, and Solitary Courage will help keep alive the example of her stellar leadership for others to now follow.”
Winberg is survived by her sister-in-law Norma, her nieces and nephews, great-nieces and nephews, and a great-great-niece.