Matthew Corkum is an inspiration to most everyone he meets. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, he has exemplified courage, focus, and stamina throughout his life. Matt excels in all he does, continually showing that disabilities are not all that disabling when you set your mind to achieving your goals.
While an exact number is hard to determine, over 75 thousand Canadians live with cerebral palsy according the public health agency of Canada and at least 22% of all Canadians over 15 years old identify as having a disability. That’s almost a quarter of our population that faces outright discrimination, limitations, exclusion, or misunderstanding as a common experience.
I want to share my journey to shed some light on what the limitations and possibilities are for people like myself. With greater understanding we can create greater inclusion which benefits all of us.
When I was eighteen months old, I was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy; the most common form of the condition. While degrees of severity vary, the muscles of people with CP feel stiff and our movements and speech are often jerky or strained. It wasn’t until moving out on my own and entering the workforce that I realized how many people were uneducated about disabilities and how often that led to misunderstandings and various degrees of prejudice. Whether you are in the medical field, education system, business community, or general public, everyone benefits from being more inclusive and Seeing The Ability in Disability.
Doctors weren’t sure if I would ever drive a bike or car, or if there could be a mental component to my disability in addition to the obvious physical ones. Before I was five I attended ninety-three physiotherapy sessions to learn how to do things as simple (for others) as climbing a flight of stairs.
In primary school, I had trouble printing and drawing, so I started using a computer that was donated by some local charities. Teaching assistants helped scribe for tests and exams while Mom spent countless hours helping me to write assignments at home. Fortunately, I did not find schoolwork difficult and was consistently at the top of my class.
The bad news is, it was outside the classroom where I got bullied and made fun of, even physically abused because I walked and talked differently. Imagine how it would feel being laughed at, pushed down, and excluded just for being you?? Not many friends would ask me to do things outside of school. I felt excluded because I was.
But these experiences just enhanced my passion to open up the discussion on disability and inclusion in schools and to help students See The Ability in disAbility.
My fun was outside of school on the family farm with Gampie and other family members. On the farm I found the responsibility and independence I deserved! I was 10 years old when I started driving the farm tractor. I spent countless happy hours in our apple orchard and garden with Gampie discussing life, the world, and even the fascinating topic of the weather. Between 5 years and 20, while others had sports for a hobby, I grew giant pumpkins and squash. To this day I look up to Gampie for advice and inspiration.
In grade 12, one of the highlight accomplishments of my life was being chosen as the class valedictorian. It really felt like I finally taught my classmates to see through an expanded lens. To see me, not just the disability. This is why I am so eager to teach others to view those who are different from a new perspective.
After high school, I chose to go to Acadia University to study Physics. It was a big change because I had never been away from home for long. The university hired a senior student to be my scribe while I did some of my work on my laptop. As technology continued to advance, I found a computer program that helped me with my math and science assignments. This improved my independence and gave me a freedom I hadn’t experienced before. University students were more inclusive and I was rarely made fun of by them. Even better, they invited me to socialize. Finally, I felt included!
At the end of my degree at Acadia, I was again privileged to be chosen as class valedictorian. I continued my education and completed my master’s in two years at Dalhousie University studying atmospheric science and oceanography. I then moved to Toronto to do my Ph.D. at York University in atmospheric science, studying wind energy. While in Toronto, I presented at conferences around the world on wind energy and atmospheric science. It was an exciting time! So I was pleased when that expanded into requests for presentations on disability awareness.
In the final year of my Ph.D. I was recruited by a company in Calgary so in 2013 I moved across the country to work for Dynasty Power. While some job tasks take me longer to complete, I am now enjoying being the head meteorologist with two other meteorologists under me.
Since moving to Calgary, I have taken my love for biking to new levels; solidly hitting 2000 km every summer and 5000 km in 2020. I’ve learned to embrace mountain life in winter with my fat bike; traveling to bike around different mountain resorts all winter.
In March 2021, I downhill skied for the first time with the help of Rocky Mountain Adaptive at Sunshine Village in Banff. Since then I have skied many times and continue to improve at a sport I never thought I could take part in. I am now skiing without an instructor and even hitting the odd black diamond run.
Another hobby I enjoy is traveling solo to different parts of the world. From seldom going far from the farm I have now traveled to 15 countries and counting. Each has offered fascinating sights of interest and the opportunity to make new friends. In my travels I often have the opportunity to spread awareness about, and advocate for, those with disabilities.
As I go about my life, I constantly encounter people who struggle with those who are different. That’s why we simply need more discussion. More awareness. More connection and compassion. It is important to me to create a world where people with disabilities can enjoy being included, valued, and free. I am passionate about helping people of all walks of life see past the disability to focus on the ability in every single person.
Contact me to inspire corporate employees or your kindergarten class about inclusiveness and seeing the ability in disability.
Education and Committees
Bachelor of Science with Honors in Physics
• graduated from Acadia University in 2006. My honors research was focused on computer modelling of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. I was class Valedictorian.
Masters of Science in Oceanography
• graduated from Dalhousie University in 2008. My research was focused on micro-scale wind forecasting over Lunenburg Bay.
Doctor of Philosophy
• graduated from York University in June 2014 (Defending my thesis in September 2013) with a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science. My Ph.D. research was focused on offshore wind resource assessment.
Advisory Committee on Accessibility: Calgary City Council – website
Our role is to advise and recommend solutions to City Council on accessibility and disability. We work together with citizens, the community and The City of Calgary on accessibility and disability matters. Issues surrounding accessibility such as transit, recreation facilities, single use plastics ban, sidewalk patios and many more.
Advisory Committee Member for Calgary Adapted Hub powered by Jumpstart –website
Calgary Adapted Hub is a collective of Calgary-based organizations committed to providing quality sport and recreation opportunities for children, youth, and families living with disabilities in the city of Calgary.
Board Member for Rocky Mountain Adaptive (RMA) – website
Based in Canmore, Alberta, Rocky Mountain Adaptive (RMA) is a registered charity providing individuals of all ages and abilities the opportunity to participate, learn and excel at mountain sport and recreation. We work to remove cognitive, physical and social barriers to the participation, supporting guests at every step, roll, or glide. RMA provides offers over 20 different sport and recreational activities in the Bow Valley area (including Canmore, Kananaskis, Banff, Lake Louise, and surrounding areas) to guests from all over the world and facilitates single to multi-day experiences, catering to entry-level participants, developing competitive athletes and everyone in between. RMA provides private lessons, supported experiences, multi-day programs and camps, equipment rentals, and programming to disability group
Questions? Comments? Interested in booking Matt to speak for your organization, classroom or event? Send your message today and Matt will get back to you soon.