Remembering Shawn
February 14, 2012

shawnphoto1     "Handicapped Parking," a photo by Shawn Jackson.

A quadriplegic, Shawn Jackson had a tough time getting in the doors of NSCAD’s Granville Campus. But, as his mother likes to say, “It’s where he found his legs.”

“I can’t tell you how much it meant to him,” says Yvonne Coldwell, on the phone from her home in Gaspereau, NS. Before being able to complete his degree, Shawn died at the age of 45 on October 5, 2010. “I think it allowed him to look at himself in a different way. He knew he had something to contribute.”

Shawn’s legacy is apparent as you walk in NSCAD’s Duke Street entrance—the wheelchair lift was installed for him. And now there’s another legacy. His mother and stepfather Ross have established the Shawn Jackson Bursary in his memory. To start off, it will provide awards of $500 a year for two years for NSCAD students “who show tenacity in the face of adversity.”

“Tenacity” may be an understatement when applied to Shawn. He suffered from a neurological condition, which was worsened by a surgery that was supposed to help him. At the age of 24, he was left “an incomplete quadriplegic,” which in his case meant limited mobility and manual dexterity. Getting around was not easy and, for the most part, he was confined to a wheelchair.

Shawn, who lived independently, began at NSCAD by taking a summer course. From the “first time he set his wheel in the door,” he felt at home, even though getting around the Granville Campus—with the uneven floors between buildings and narrow stairwells—was difficult. Shawn was vocal about the campus’s lack of accessibility and, for a few months, maintained a “wall of shame” of photographs showing inaccessible spots on campus.

NSCAD professor Bryan Maycock remembers Shawn as an impressive student—opinionated, fearless, and yes, tenacious.

“Physically, Shawn was challenged beyond mobility. Unreliable feeling in his hands meant that gripping tools could be a very real problem,” recalls Prof. Maycock. “The level of dexterity that his peers took for granted, was not available to Shawn and he badly wanted to produce work that was technically on a par with his ideas. As a result, Shawn would often redo assigned work several times before having a product with which he felt he could ‘go public’. He was a great role model for hard work.”

At NSCAD, Shawn gravitated to computer design—“the mouse and keyboard were friendlier to him than were exacto knives and brushes,” says Prof. Maycock—and photography. He collected cameras and rigged his chair to serve as a mobile tripod.

But his condition was degenerative and he was unable to finish his studies. His mother says having that parchment would have meant so much to him; he always carried with him a pocket watch engraved with ‘2001,’ the year he would have graduated.

“It was his dream to graduate from NSCAD,” says Yvonne. “That’s why I think helping others with this financial support—well, I think he would be quite pleased.”


 Shawn Jackson in the NSCAD cafeteria.