Special Olympics athlete finally finds acceptance and inclusion at Spirit of Newfoundland Productions

In honour of Global Week of Inclusion, Special Olympics is celebrating homegrown Champions of Inclusion: Canadians leading the charge for respecting and embracing all abilities – not just in sports, but in the workforce, in schools, everywhere!

All Champions of Inclusion were nominated by the public for how they #ChooseToInclude every day of the year.

Meet this St. John's Champion of Inclusion: Peter Halley.

Leah and Peter (left) at an end of season work party.
Leah and Peter (left) at an end of season work party.

When Special Olympics Newfoundland & Labrador athlete Leah McDonald saw the call for Champions of Inclusion nominations, she immediately thought of her boss at Spirit of Newfoundland Productions.

According to the 22-year-old, who’s worked at the St. John’s dinner theatre company for seven years, artistic director Peter Halley was one of the first people to truly accept and include her.

“Pretty much my entire life I’ve felt like I haven’t been accepted,” said McDonald. “All throughout school I had been bullied physically, verbally because of my autism and it’s always been really hard for me to fit in.” 

Seven years ago, when looking for a high school job, she went through a few interviews with no success – until she found out Spirit of Newfoundland was hiring summer students.

She applied, met with Halley and immediately got the job. She started working on “anything and everything,” from helping with the dining room to transcribing scripts and managing spreadsheets.

“Peter has always been an inclusive employer,” McDonald said, adding that another long-time employee also has an intellectual disability. “When I first told him that I’m on the spectrum he was like, ‘O.K., so what does that mean for you? How does that affect you and what can I do to teach you better and help you?’” 

She and Halley also developed a friendship, bonding over their love of Indian food and horseback riding. 

She credits Halley with being her first “neurotypical friend.”

“He has a heart that’s three sizes too big,” said McDonald. “He accepts me for who I am and that really means a lot to me.”

“Finally finding a ‘normal person’ that actually wants to be around me and likes me for who I am and doesn’t make fun of me, that was big.” 

Learn more about Spirit of Newfoundland Productions here.

Meet more Champions of Inclusion