Graduate student Luke Galvani, the 2017 winner of SFU's Terry Fox Gold Medal, doesn't let his disability define his options.

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SFU’s 2017 Terry Fox winner advocates for those with disabilities

September 20, 2017
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Luke Galvani, who has just begun studying for a master’s degree in communication, is the 2017 recipient of SFU’s annual Terry Fox Gold Medal. It will be presented at SFU's annual Terry Fox Run on Sept. 29th

By Diane Luckow

When Luke Galvani registered at SFU he encountered concerns about the difficulties he might face while pursuing a BA in communication.

Galvani has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that severely limits his ability to complete all physical tasks associated with both academic and daily life.

Yet he doesn’t let his disability, or bureaucracy, define his options.

“I wasn’t going to let someone else’s point of view limit my capabilities,” says Galvani. “That gave me the motivation to do it.”

And just five years later, in December 2016, he graduated with an honours BA in communication.

Galvani’s courage in the face of adversity, and his advocacy for the disabled, both on-campus and off, have earned him the University’s 2017 Terry Fox Gold Medal. The award comprises free tuition for three semesters, a $1,000 cash prize, a gold medal and a plaque.

“Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as Terry Fox is pretty humbling,” says Galvani, 24, who acknowledges that he encountered many accessibility and logistical hurdles while pursuing his degree.

“I believe that living with a disability provides me with an excellent opportunity to educate people about the injustices facing the disabled community,” he says.

That’s one reason why his MA thesis will focus on the cinematic representation of disability and sexuality.

“I think it’s a very under-represented issue, and as a person with a disability I very much have a stake in that,” he says.

During his last year of undergraduate studies, he publicly questioned Translink’s new fare gates, which shut out patrons with disabilities. His advocacy helped lead to a new, more accessible fare gate system. As well, he worked with the SFU administration to modify the convocation ceremony to make it more accessible to those with disabilities. And, more recently, he proposed that the University change the way it administers tuition fees for the Terry Fox medal. He suggested that instead of covering tuition for three consecutive semesters, the University instead put a cap on the number of academic credits, which would give students with disabilities an unlimited number of semesters to accumulate those credits.

“These were important moments for me,” says Galvani, who appreciates the University’s willingness to work with him to improve access for those with disabilities.

“I’m really trying to change perceptions of people with disabilities,” he says, “and ultimately Terry Fox was trying to do that as well.”