Our fifth profile in the series features a conversation with Michael Coady, Saint Mary’s University graduate and current Dalhousie law and MBA student. I spoke with Michael over the phone on Tuesday, August 2nd.
Upon speaking with Michael Coady, one gets the sense that he has always been a busy guy. This got confirmed when I asked him about what his life was like as a child. “Well,” he says, “I was the son of two very supportive, loving parents, and one thing that they always did was to ensure that I was always involved in a lot of activities, like going to the zoo or the water park, for example.” When he wasn’t doing that, he says a lot of time was spent exploring neighborhoods, and hanging out with friends. “I spent a lot of time out of the house growing up” he says with a chuckle.
The circumstances of Michael’s life changed eight years ago, when he suffered a spinal cord injury in the form of a C5 burst fracture, which made him an incomplete quadriplegic with impairment in all four limbs. Because the injury is incomplete, he still has the ability to stand and walk short distances with crutches but says that he uses his wheelchair almost exclusively, as it aids in independence.
Despite this unexpected and challenging turn of events, Coady continued to forge a productive path in life, enrolling at Saint Mary’s University following his graduation from high school. To say that he took advantage of all that university life had to offer might be an understatement. In addition to obtaining his Bachelor of Science with a major in psychology in 2014, he also served as Chair of the Board of Directors, served on the Academic Senate, and on the university’s Board of Governors. Asked about this experience, he replied, “it was amazing. I got to meet a number of different types of professionals and to establish valuable contacts that I have to this day.” He also noted that the policy governance experience that he obtained while serving in these capacities helped him in other volunteer activities that would follow, namely in his current role as Board Co-chair for Independent Living Nova Scotia.
As an institution, Saint Mary’s has long prided itself on the emphasis it places on accessibility and other disability related issues. As such, I was curious to know what Coady’s experience was like there as a student with a disability. I loved Saint Mary’s. I found the school to be very accessible. The Atlantic Centre (now the Fred Smithers Centre of Support for Students with Disabilities) was great in terms of accommodations and funding opportunities. I also appreciated the tunnel system when the weather was poor.”
Following his time at SMU, Coady elected to pursue a joint law/MBA degree at Dalhousie University. Asked how that experience has been going, he commented, “its been great. I’ve really enjoyed all the people at the law school. Now, as I’ve begun the MBA, I’ve gotten to meet a whole new group of bright, energetic students.” According to Michael, the workload is not for the faint of heart. “The pace of both is very fast-right now, with the MBA, classes are pretty much 9 to 5, on top of assignments and everything else, but everything I learn is so applicable…it’s been a great experience so far.” Even so, it hasn’t been free of challenges, even outside of the classroom. Coady noted that parking can sometimes be a bit of an issue, not to mention the complications created by the elements in the winter months. In particular, he pointed to an example from last winter, where an ice storm made it necessary for a fellow student to push him to class. Even still, Coady is not the type to dwell on or be bothered by these types of things, seeing them as something that comes with the territory.
Still, I was interested in his thoughts with regard to how life is different for those with a disability when compared to those without. “Primarily, there are two things I’ve found to be different as a person with a disability. The first one is an increased need for planning and organization. The other, which kind of ties in, is a reduced capacity for spontaneity. It’s harder to just go ahead and do things in the spur of the moment.” I also wanted to know his experiences as a resident of the city who was also a wheelchair user. “In Halifax, I’ve found it to be very welcoming, but not the most accessible. A lot of that has to do with the landscape but that can’t be avoided. Being in the downtown core often requires some assistance, but that isn’t hard to find. I’d also add that the city has a lot of great organizations working to increase accessibility, and make it a more welcoming space.”
I was also interested in some of Michael’s activities away from the classroom and the boardroom. He, along with his wife Chelsea, enjoy traveling, sampling the city’s many restaurants and patios, and playing host to parties. They also enjoy board games, such as Settlers of Catan. He also has interest in futuristic art such as the work of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, and the Netflix series Black Mirror.
When asked who he admires most in life, the impact of those closest to him in life comes through strongly. “I admire my mother’s passion to pursue her dreams, my father’s selflessness and commitment to family, and my wife’s ability to maintain a sense of wonder about the world.” To end the interview, I asked if Michael had any final thoughts. He responded with two. “First, there’s only two ways to be happy-to change your circumstances, or to change the way you view them. Second is that I believe one should never attribute malice to something that can easily be explained by ignorance or error. In any situation, there is a large degree of ambiguity. I would rather assume that someone is well-intentioned and be wrong than to assume that they are ill-intentioned and be wrong.”
As this project moves along, one of the things I’m encouraged by is the fact that a number of the interview subjects are young Haligonians doing great things in the professional, volunteer and academic arenas. Anyone who has paid any attention to discussions of the demographics of the Maritimes in the last number of years knows that there has been no shortage of hand-wringing and worry over the mass exodus of youth from our region to other parts of the country and beyond. While the sheer numbers cannot be debated, as we’ve seen so far in this project, people like Michael Coady, Emily Duffett and Kelly McKenna are young professionals who have remained in the community and are making a positive impact in numerous areas. The fact that they are all wheelchair users is just incidental.