Iris Saunders was an incredibly well respected woman in the Edmonton community, especially in the non-profit disability sector. She was nominated for a Woman of Distinction award not once, but twice. First in 2000 in our Community Service category, and again in 2001 as a Social Sciences, Social Services & Advocacy nominee.
Iris began working with an agency called Employment Services for the Physically Disabled, starting as an employment counsellor and soon becoming the Executive Director. This initiative would later become EmployAbilities, an organization developing world class programs for people with disabilities, both mainstream groups and others, such as First Nations or New Canadians that face additional barriers.
It’s little wonder that she was nominated twice, as the work she did and her many contributions clearly speak for themselves. Iris was a globally respected authority on employment issues for the disabled and committed to developing equality for everyone in the labour force. Iris was always looking out for society’s most vulnerable members. In this way, Iris embodied the YWCA Edmonton values of equality opportunity and choice; opening new doors for those with disabilities.
Beyond her YWCA Woman of Distinction nominations, Iris was recognized for her exceptional work in the community many times by various groups. Her awards and accolades include being:
- The first recipient of the Lumina Award
- Named the 2003 Global Woman of Vision
- Awarded the Lois Hole Community Award and the Marion Shipley award in 2009 by Junior Leagues of Edmonton
- Nominated for the Order of Canada 2010
Women of Distinction are known to work tirelessly for positive social change. Iris served devotedly on numerous national, provincial and municipal task forces and committees. If she was unable to serve, she would suggest another member. Iris holds the distinction of being the founding member of the Employment Placement Interagency Council (EPIC) and served two years as Chairperson. She was also a founding member of the Alberta Disabilities Forum; a coalition of over 40 disabilities agencies across Alberta. Others knew they could count on Iris to be dedicated and professional.
One of the qualifications of YWCA Woman of Distinction is that they inspire and mentor others in their industry, and Iris absolutely did. She was known for being helpful and resourceful, but also willing to share information and pass on contacts to those in other organizations. She was always willing to share her expertise and pass on suggestions and advice.
Personally, Iris was a woman with a huge heart who treated everyone with love and respect. She could connect with others on a spiritual level and had a wonderful sense of humour.
Her legacy is profound and she has directly impacted the lives of thousands in an incredibly personal way. Iris Saunders was elegant, intelligent and will always be a true Woman of Distinction.