A husband, the father of two young children, and current Legal Counsel to the Chief of Police, Bob Fenton is living a very full and busy life in Calgary, Alberta. Fenton is also a former paralympic swimmer and has been totally blind since birth.
Fenton began his formal education at the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ontario in 1973. He attended the school for 12 years, while his family moved around the country with his father’s job – and spent several years in Alberta. While Fenton noted that this was somewhat of a difficult experience for him, especially when he was younger, he also feels that it was truly the only option for him at the time, given that the school in Brantford would provide him with better academic supports and a broader range of extracurricular activities.
Following his education at W. Ross MacDonald, he attended grade 13 at Sir John A. Macdonald high school in Toronto, Wilfred Laurier University for his undergraduate degree and Queens University for his law degree. Following his final year of law school, he articled at McCarthy Tetrault and was hired back as an associate lawyer. He remained in that position for 8 years before applying for his current position in Calgary. He has been with the Calgary Police since March of 2001.
A self-described ‘gadget freak’, Fenton uses a veritable army of assistive technology devices in order to do his job as efficiently and independently as possible. For instance, he uses computers with both speech software and voice recognition software, four different Daisy book readers that fulfill different roles, a braille printer, scanning software, and a version of Adobe that allows him to create pdf files and insert his signature and graphics to produce letters and other documents independently. Fenton also makes use of an audible GPS system and a guide dog – Precious – for getting around. As any lawyer would, he also has access to human resources for various parts of his job as well.
Although much of this technology is provided for him at work, Fenton expressed the importance of taking the initiative to determine which tools were going to work the best for him and then learning how to use them. When asked how he had become so ‘techno-savvy’, Fenton explained that he was first introduced to technology in Grade 11 when he began working on a Versabraille. This gave him a few years to ‘work out the kinks’ before university. In addition, following his experiences working for both the SCORE program at CNIB, and as a product support specialist for IBM over a few summers, he began to see what technology could really do for him. Fenton continues to keep his knowledge of technology current by attending technology trade shows in the United States, listening to technology demonstrations on the internet and reading about the latest technologies as they become available. For the most part he has been, and continues to be, self-taught in the technologies that he uses.
Undeniably, Fenton has had a great amount of both personal and professional successes in his life; his marriage, his children, his graduation from law school, his experience as a paralympian, and a thriving, high profile law career. Fenton attributes at least part of this success to his ability to problem solve in varying situations. He also expressed the importance of being able to use each of his failures as a learning experience.
When it comes to the youth of today, Fenton has strong convictions about the challenges that they will face and the skills that they will most need to overcome these challenges. “The biggest challenges that we face now are attitudinal…people make assumptions based on stereotypes, (and) it is your job to educate people on what your abilities are”. This statement captures both the importance of strong advocacy skills and the need for students to possess a high self-esteem. “You just have to be who you are and show them what your capabilities are. If you are good then someone will always accept you! You should also remember that your reputation is the most important asset you have. Every time you take a position when advocating for yourself or for others, you need to keep in mind that building bridges towards achieving long term success are more important than burning them to achieve a short term victory.” says Fenton. This is powerful advice from an inspirational man – thank you Mr. Fenton for your great example to all of us!