ITAC awards to celebrate high-tech heroism

TORONTO — You don’t have to be draped in a flag to be a Canadian hero.

The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) Tuesday said it will hand out Community IT Hero Awards next month to Canadians who have made a difference

in the lives of others through the application of technology.

“”That’s where the real innovation in Canada is going to be. We can’t wait for government,”” said Linda Oliver, executive director of government relations for ITAC.

This is officially the first year for the awards, but 30 were handed out last year in what Oliver jokingly referred to as a “”beta test.”” Last year’s recipients included Jane Fritz, dean of computer science at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Fritz wasn’t quite sure why she was chosen, but thought it likely it was recognition for her work in pushing for information system professional legislation in New Brunswick.

The Hero Awards have the support of several prominent Canadian companies, including Intel of Canada Ltd., Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. and Microsoft Canada Co. The awards celebrate “”people taking their passion for community and their passion for technology and bringing them together,”” said Intel of Canada country manager Doug Cooper.

Another of last year’s winners — Toronto-based Ability Online, a charitable organization that puts children with disabilities in touch with each other through an Internet bulletin board — relies on the private sector for support. The Hero Award helped the charity gain some recognition in the eyes of its sponsors, said Ability Online executive director Michelle McClure.

“”The more exposure we receive, the easier it is for us to obtain support for our program to keep it going,”” she said. “”You get other corporate sponsors to pay attention. It also helps strengthen our relationship with Microsoft, who’s one of our key corporate sponsors.”” Ability Online has since renewed its partnership with Microsoft Canada for another three years and added other sponsors like the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Since winning the award, Ability Online has been able to double its online membership by adding 40 new affiliations with acute care hospitals, rehabilitation centres, schools with special education components, group homes and Ronald McDonald houses across the country. “”That was huge for us — to go from adding two or three a year to be able to add 40,”” said McClure.

One of Ability Online’s keenest participants is 15-year-old Sarah, who has cerebral palsy. Sarah was on hand at the ITAC award launch Tuesday and has been involved with Ability Online for the past eight years, most recently as a contributor to its volunteer newsletter. Sarah has decided to take her writing to the next level and will attend Toronto’s Centennial College this fall for journalism courses.

This year’s Community IT Hero Awards will be handed out during Canada’s IT Week, held May 3 -12.

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