Filed in MUNICIPALITY by on January 31, 2018

Three things you need to know about Mel Foat: he is Deputy Mayor of the City of Chestermere; he has a disability; and he treats that disability as a “bump in the road”.

Mel has not let blindness slow him down at all. After losing his eyesight to an infection after routine cataract surgery, Mel obtained a guide dog through the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides program. That was back in 2014.

As Mel, who also happens to be the Alberta/NWT Director for the Lions Dog Guides program, tells the story, he went to Oakville Ontario to pick out a guide dog, but the guide dog actually picked him! Foundation staff seated Mel in a room and brought in a couple of dogs – he was to choose one of them. After a few minutes of doing what dogs do, one named Walker came over and sat himself down at Mel’s feet. Well, that was it! Mel says this may be the first time that the dog actually chose the person!

They say dogs have instincts that give them insight into people, and it seems Walker must have known he was joining a winning team. Why? Because when it came time to vote in last fall’s municipal elections, the people of Chestermere saw something in Mel too!

Now, Deputy Mayor Foat can be seen in council meetings at city hall on the 1ST and 3RD Monday of every month with trusty Walker.

I met Mel early in January at a council meeting in Chestermere, and told him about Ravenhill’s Municipal Recruiting Report newsletter for January, in which we discussed the “lip service” that most municipalities in Canada pay to the idea of hiring people with disabilities, and the poor track records. You can read that article HERE.

After explaining the gist of that article to Chestermere Council, I was keen to know what Mel’s thoughts were on the subject. I wanted to know all about his experiences, and what he thought he could do to advance the cause of people with disabilities in Canadian municipalities … starting with his own! So, Mel and I sat down for a chat.

MRR: Mel, what’s the one thing you’d like to accomplish for yourself and others with, as you put it, “so-called disabilities”?

MEL FOAT: I’d like people with disabilities to know that they can do ANYTHING that any other person can do. In my own experience, while I might not be able to see, I haven’t forgotten my years of “life experience” or the business knowledge that I’ve accumulated over many years. I haven’t forgotten anything just because I am blind!

MRR: What made you run for council?

MEL FOAT: I didn’t take this disability and let it defeat me. I was President of the local recreation complex in town, even with my lack of sight I actually ran the complex for ten and a half months for FREE. However, I have to tell you some people just can’t SEE past my disability! I was smart enough to figure out the problems, so I set up a board and hired staff to run the place. It was at this point that I decided it was time to get elected on City Council so I could be part of some serious changes that needed to take place between the city and the local county.

MRR: What do you hope to accomplish as a city councillor?

MEL FOAT: I hope to be an advocate for people who have disabilities in Chestermere, and then, who knows, for disabled people in the rest of Canada!

MRR: How would that work?

MEL FOAT: Actually, I am sought out by people in agribusiness even now. So, even though I can’t see, I still have a good knowledge of the business, and can help people who are willing to listen. They tell me I’m a good communicator.

MRR: How do you intend to use those communication skills?

MEL FOAT:  I’d just love to address the AUMA (Alberta Urban Municipalities Association). It would be very dramatic. I’d turn out the lights, and speak to them in the dark about people with disabilities.

MRR: It’s only been a few months, but tell me how you’ve found working on council.

MEL FOAT: This isn’t my first job on a council. Back in 1996, I served a term on Sexsmith Council. The people here in Chestermere are terrific. Mayor Chalmers and the other councillors have been great. They have proven to be very adaptive. My dog, Walker, comes with me to council meetings. They got me all the technology I need to do the job of Deputy Mayor. I’ve been provided with a product by Zoom Technologies that magnifies documents, and even reads to me. It can show pictures, and I zoom in on them to the point where I can make out what I am looking at (Mel does have a very limited amount of vision). I use Siri to look things up, or to contact people on my iPhone. Telus provides no-charge Directory Assistance for people who are visually impaired.

MRR: Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers of the Municipal Recruiting Report?

MEL FOAT: Yes! Tell them I am the only blind person who has sat on City Council in this city’s history. I have “ability”, not “disability”! And, as long as I have my Faith, Family and Support … and my sick sense of humour … I will make it!

If you’ve got a story about overcoming disability from your community, and particularly how your council made a difference, we’d love to share it with our more than 6500 readers. Please contact me! 1-888-447-5910 ext. 727

Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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