Russell Winkelaar has a gentle, assured presence about him. As someone who has what he calls 'the gift of a lot of free time', he focuses his life on following his day-to-day passions, which can change as often as the weather does. A dedicated and quietly passionate disability activist, rather than committing to overwhelming, lengthy tasks, he chooses to float between short projects, preferring to bask in other people's enterprises, especially eager to help out friends with different things they're working on.
One of those such projects is Access Now - a global mapping service concepted by his pal Maayan Ziv that shows the accessibility of venues and restaurants at a glance. Still in it's early stages, Russell has attended numerous events to add his voice to the conversation expressing the importance of the service, as well as being involved in pinning as many locations as possible.
He's also been engaged in work with Stop Gap Ramps, done talks for university students on the topic of sexuality and disability, played wheelchair basketball, sledge hockey and been an actor both on stage, and on screen.
Russell's acting in particular is a topic that inspires enthusiasm from him. "I really want to influence the representation of people with disabilities. It's important to me to be authentic in that."
He got into acting around three years ago, when an opportunity arose to be part of the scripted comedy web series My Gimpy Life. Last year, he was a cast member of the highly acclaimed Borne, a play by Judith Thompson based on the common experience of being a wheelchair user. Currently, Russell is working on another series Out With Dad and has plans to expand his resume and pursue acting further.
"At this point I just accept everything that comes my way. I've always wanted to do it, but I just want a little more experience under my belt before I seek out an agent or anything like that."
In general, Russell aspires to bring awareness to the difficulties that society has put upon wheelchair users and share his life experiences in a meaningful and positive way.
The apartment in Liberty Village he shares with his girlfriend Veronika is filled with the sounds of The National and Leonard Cohen as he invites our team in for photographs.
Russell's personal style is shaped predominately by his desire to be comfortable. "Fashion doesn't interrupt function for me" he shrugs, though for someone who seems unfussed by trends and fast fashion, his style is very decided and unique. He enjoys color, in both his physical space and in his outfits, never shying away from heavy textures and bold patterns.
His flat lay is, in his own words "A snapshot of me on any given day."
1. Custom Made Toque
"This is from a place in the Distillery District (Toronto) where I went in, picked the different color pieces, the lady told me to go and grab a coffee and by the time I got back, it was ready. That was three years ago. I've worn it threadbare since then."
2. Swiss Army Knife
"I always have one of these on me. My dad gave me my first one when I was ten and I've lost about 6 of them since then. This one unfortunately doesn't have a cork screw in it, which is important!"
3. Cup and Ball
"I've been heavily interested in cup and ball for six or seven years" [while he was talking, Russell gave an effortless demonstration of his amazing cup and ball skills] "I actually made a ton of these in my basement for everyone I know. My room mate and I turned them on a lathe and I did the wood burning myself. It was a failed attempt to get my friends into it."
4. Water Flask
"I abhor bottled water with a firey passion, so this is just another part of my style that's dictated by function. I never leave home without this. It's my favorite color."
5. Coin Purse
"I'm quite drawn to things that are natural, hand made. Especially local. I love to support local food, art, clothing and accessories. This is embossed leather, hand sewn. it looks better with age."
"This is included to speak to my personality, rather than my personal style, but I feel there's a lot of overlap with those two things. My whole family has been bitten by the travel bug. We inherited it from my Opa. I want to travel as much as I can for as long as I can and I'm very lucky to enjoy that luxury."
"Gloves are essentially my shoes. I'm forever on the look out for a good, custom pair that can stand up to using a manual wheelchair, but at the moment I just use mechanic's gloves from a hardware store and I go through about a pair a week."
"I think this was my first IZ piece. I always wanted a badass leather jacket, like what my dad wore. He was a motorcycle guy. This was the first one I ever had and I love it. This is never going to go out of style."