Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Holiday Coping Tips

By: Sarah Evans

The holiday season is fun but it can be lonely and stressful for some people. We see images of excitement and family everywhere, but sometimes that doesn't match our reality and that can make us feel like there is something wrong. We may feel out of our routine and spend time with people that we normally wouldn't spend time with. This can be a chance to reconnect, but it can also be difficult. It is important to set limits. Keep things light and fun. Don't bring up controversial issues or those things they might trigger old wounds. Also remember to take time for yourself and plan to spend time with those who you know are going to support you and do things that you enjoy. I hope you have a very happy holiday and many blessings in 2016.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A Non User Friendly System

By: Sarah Evans

A week ago, I had a very frustrating experience with my attendant service provider. I was having some medical issues and needed help with something that I wouldn't normally have to do and can't do by myself. I was told that my personal support workers were not trained to help me with what I needed and that I would have to have a nurse come over. When I asked if they would send a nurse, they told me that I would have to get a doctor's note saying that I needed a nurse. They suggested that while I was waiting for all that to be arranged, I could take an alternative form of the treatment or get a relative to help me.

I was very upset about this. I understand that there are systems in place that work a certain way, but it was kind of an emergency situation and I needed help. I want to be independent and feel like I should not have to rely on family. Although I know that my family is there for me, I want to be fair to them, too.

Fortunately, I am on direct funding now, which means that I can manage my own attendants and direct them to do what I need done. But even though agencies have rules, I think that they have to be more flexible and keep the individual's needs at the center of the care that they offer. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Meaningful Gifts

By Sarah Evans

I recently learned that Black Friday is on the same day as Buy Nothing Day. This seems like a bit of an oxymoron. A lot of people would agree that the holiday season has become too commercial. What I dislike most is feeling obligated to by a gift for someone just because it is Christmas. But I think if we took time to put some thought into what we were giving people, it might actually be fun.

Obviously you want to buy something the person will like, but some people seem to have everything or you may not feel like you know what the person likes.

Personally, I have always liked to receive as a gift something that I can do. Most people have hobbies they enjoy. If you are not sure what their hobbies are, you can ask them or you can check out their profile page on sites like Facebook or Pinterest. Another idea is to give them something that would allow them to try a new hobby.

Spending time with someone is always a wonderful gift. You can get tickets to a special event or just plan something fun to do with them. It is the time you spend together that is important.

There are a number of small ways that you can make gift giving thoughtful and meaningful.

Here are some inexpensive gift ideas that most people would appreciate receiving:

- For drinkers, a bottle of wine or spirits
- Specialty cookies or cupcakes
- iFLY Toronto has introductory packages for under $100 for people who like just a little bit of adventure.
- Manicures and pedicures are becoming popular among both men and women and can usually be purchased for under $50. 

Do you have any special gift ideas that are inexpensive yet thoughtful? Please feel free to comment below!


Monday, 16 November 2015

More Than Personal Care

By: Sarah Evans

I have lived on my own for over ten years and rely mostly on attendant care. But recently I have really realized that my independence is so much more than having my personal care needs met. I have found that there are not a lot of services available to help me maintain my apartment.

This recently came up when a support worker (not one of my attendants) was helping me to fill out a work order for my superintendent. One of the things I needed addressed was that the strings to open and close my blinds were tangled. My worker questioned whether or not the building superintendent was responsible for this. While I understood the question, I was also frustrated because I didn't know who I was supposed to ask for help with this.

I had a similar issue when I first moved into my apartment a few years ago. The service I use for attendant care only focuses on personal care. Therefore, I didn't know how I could get free homemaking services. I looked into some agencies, but they were expensive. Fortunately, I got private funding so that I could hire someone to do my housekeeping.

Although I love living on my own, it can be difficult to find the supports I need to help me maintain my apartment and be independent in the community. 

Sarah Evans is a mentor at Ability Online. Ability Online provides connection opportunities and resources for people living with disability, their families and professionals.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Gift of David


By: Celeste Axworthy

David Axworthy dressed for his role as groomsman and ring bearer 
at his brother's wedding in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

This is a story about a gift that I never saw coming. In 1985, I got pregnant with our son David. When he was born we were told that he would probably have Down Syndrome. The doctors asked if they could do blood work to determine if he had Downs and of course the test came back positive. This was definitely a shock for me and my husband Bill. Little did we know that David would change our lives in ways we could not imagine. I was almost ready to give David up, because of all the health problems he had as a baby. The holes in his heart, his failure to thrive, and the infections in his ears; all of these problems were too much for me to handle at the time. Too add to it, I met a lady through the hospital who had a little girl with Down Syndrome. She told me that all of David's accomplishments as a child would be a hurdle for him to overcome. It wasn't very encouraging.
David has a brother who is 23 months older than him and they love each other a lot. We had another child in 1989 (another boy). David had issues as he was growing up but we overcame them as a family. We tried to raise David like any other child, but as he reached the age to go to school, we ran into some obstacles that would just about tear this family apart. We did not send David to school until he was six years old, and we had some issues with the school. It was always a struggle to get teachers to treat him like all the other kids. Some teachers did not want him in their class, but once they got him in there and got to know him, they loved him. After a while, they were no longer afraid of him.
One thing I thought I would never see, would be David walking across the stage to graduate or even to go to his prom. Well David did both and I was so proud of him. By that time, he was 21 years old, and although he did not get the same grade 12 education as the other students, he was with his peers and they all loved him. David has also been involved in the Special Olympics for track and field, bowling and curling. He loved participating in all the sports he was in, and he got to meet people, which was very good for him.
David went to a group home in 2004 in Digby Nova Scotia. He loves it there and comes home at least once a month for a weekend or more. Six years ago my father passed away, and I called David to tell him. He told me not to worry, that it was all over now. It amazes me how a child like David could have the insight to say that so casually to me. He is very wise for a young man.
David has many friends where he lives and he works at Conway workshop. David also works in the community. He cleans up at a pizza parlor on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for an hour and at the end of the week they give him a piece of pizza and some pop. He really enjoys this. Everyone needs to feel useful and that their lives have purpose.
Last year David was the ring bearer and a groomsman for his brother’s wedding. He did very well and looked great. He was smiling at all the young girls and winking at them as he came down the aisle. He was so cute.
I must be honest and say there are times when I wonder how he would be if he didn't have Down Syndrome, or what would have become of him if I had given him up. Where would he be? Would be happy? How different would he look? I am so glad that I kept him; or should I say, that he kept me.
There is so much more about David that I could write about but I will stop here. David has grown to be a handsome young man with a big heart, and infectious smile and a special love for the young ladies. When he sees a young lady he walks up to her and says hi, puts his hand out to take hers, kisses the back of it and says, “My name is David and this is my friend, Mom.” He has given me so much joy and happiness. David has made me laugh a lot in the last 29 years. I wouldn't change him for anything because who David is, has made me the mother I am today. Thank you.


Celeste Axworthy lives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She is a mother of three and works as a Continuing Care Assistant. 

Monday, 2 November 2015

Accessible Keyboards


 By: Sarah Evans


Typing has always been a bit challenging for me. Growing up, I used a key guard, which is a piece of metal or plastic that is fitted to a particular keyboard that has holes for the keys in it. It had to be custom made, and it wasn't very comfortable to type.

Typing was easier when I got my iPad a few years ago and could use the on-screen keyboard. Since then, I have experimented with a number of keyboard apps. The app that I like and use most is called Fleksy. The unique thing about this keyboard is that it has very powerful auto correct and so I can type fast without having to worry about accuracy. Fleksy also has extensions that users can add. My favorite extension makes the keyboard smaller so that I can type with one hand. And since I have iOS 8, I can (and have) made Fleksy my default keyboard.

I like to explore different apps and there are a number of apps that have made everyday tasks like typing easier.


Monday, 19 October 2015

Why I vote


By: Sarah Evans

I have always believed in voting. By the time you read this, the Canadian federal election will be over and we will be on to the next thing.

This isn't about promoting one party or candidate over the other.

Today when I voted it felt good. On the way to the ballot box after marking my ballot, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself, and I had a strong conviction that my voice mattered.


People have different reasons for voting or not voting. I think of people in other countries that fight for democracy and sometimes vote at great personal risk. I realize how fortunate I am to live in freedom and don't want to take it for granted. 


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Seeing the World Through A Virtual Window

By: Sarah Evans

I don't usually get excited about new apps I find, but I found a really cool one that lets you get a window into other people's lives and experiences.

Periscope is an app that lets you watch live videos in real time. It has gained a lot of popularity and is a lot of fun.

Periscope works in conjunction with Twitter. You can follow people and then the app will notify you when they go live. You can also search through people who are currently online.

I have seen some very cool things on Periscope. Many times, there are people who are at Disney Land or Disney World. Sometimes people are just walking through the park. One time, someone was going to Periscope while he was on a roller-coaster, but he logged off just before the ride started because he didn't want his phone to get damaged. I have also seen people Periscope from Hong Kong and from Times Square in New York City. For me, the coolest thing is that you feel like you are actually there.


If you want to get more information about Periscope, visit https://www.periscope.tv

Friday, 2 October 2015

More independence

By: Sarah Evans

A few years ago, I applied to a program called Direct Funding. The program gives consumers like myself the funds to manage my own attendant care. I had put my application in and was put on a waiting list.

For the most part, this had gone to the back of my mind until last week, when I received a letter saying that my application had come up. In addition to submitting an updated application, I had to book a time to go in for an interview.

In preparation for this, I was directed to a website with a study guide. As I will be the employer, I will have to understand pay cheques, deductions, vacation, employment standards and the like.

I have mixed feelings about this important opportunity. I am excited, because, if I get accepted, I would have more control over my attendant services, such as where I receive them and what I ask them to do. I am also kind of nervous about having to handle the payroll and other administration tasks. However, I have heard that it is not that difficult once you get a system in place and there are many supports available. 

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is well known for her mater of fact way of helping people manage their money. She has great resources on her website, including instructions for making your own budget sheet. This is her website if you feel you need to learn a little more about managing money and developing systems to help you keep track of expenses. http://www.gailvazoxlade.com 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Managing My Will and Power of Attorney


 By: Sarah Evans

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was thinking about my will. Last week, I went to see the lawyer. The process was surprisingly easy. The key was thinking about what I wanted ahead of time. The two major decisions I had to make were how I wanted to divide my estate and who I wanted to name as executor (I had to name a second person as well in case the first is unavailable).  I will have to go back in a few weeks once the lawyer has made up my will.

While I was at the lawyer's, I also created a power of attorney. There are a couple of different kinds of power of attorney: one to take care of your finances and one to make personal decisions on your behalf. Creating a power of attorney is almost more relevant at this point in my life. A couple of years ago, I was very ill and it would have been very helpful for me and my family if I'd had had a power of attorney then.


It is important that these documents are in place, not only for me but also for my loved ones. 

Here is a helpful link to give you more information about Living Wills and Power of Attorney.  Wills and Power of Attorney are not just for elderly people. If you are an adult, there could be a time when people will have to make decisions for you because you physically or mentally cannot. It is good for people to know who you trust to make those decisions and what you would decide if you had the ability to communicate your wishes. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Wellness Tools


By: Sarah Evans

The things I like to do are not only fun, but they help me to maintain my emotional wellness.

I like to go out and be with people, and the library is a great place for this. There are a variety of groups at the library. A couple of months ago, I started playing chess.  I really enjoy it.  I am still learning how to play. Even though it can be difficult, I like the challenge and it helps me to develop my critical thinking skills. 

It also helps to build community around myself.  Ability Online is great for that. I also listen to a podcast called the Daily Audio Bible that gives me a real sense of community.


Just like I take care of my physical health, it is very important that I do these things to stay happy and calm.  

The Canadian Mental Health Association has some interesting facts about mental health in Canada. Check out this link: Fast Facts About Mental Health

Friday, 4 September 2015

Future Planning


 By: Sarah Evans

I recently started thinking about the future, especially in terms of finances. It started a few weeks ago when a relative who helps me manage my affairs advised me to start thinking about putting together a will. I never even considered that I needed a will because I am on ODSP. I always thought of my finances as simple and straight forward, yet thinking about it, I realized that I do have some assets. But things got even stranger when I thought about who I would leave my assets to. I obviously don't have children and I don't plan on having them. I would leave money to the children of my brothers and sisters, but they don't have children yet either and I am not sure whether or not they will. Thinking about this has been really strange. I know that preparing a will is the responsible thing to do, but it feels like I am dealing with so many unknowns.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Parenthood Reality Check: Chill Out!


By: Renée Cormier
It’s that time of year when families are getting their kids ready for back to school. I remember the stress of single parenting and the worry that was a natural part of raising a child with a disability. What would the school year bring? Will my children do well in school? Will they get the help they need? Will they like their teachers? Will the teachers like them? As I reflect upon my life and how I raised my children, I think I would have done a few things differently. If I could give advice to parents of young children it would be to chill out and do as follows:

Embrace your child’s eccentricities: When my daughter was about ten years old she thought her school picture would look really cool if she showed a tattoo on her arm. On picture day, she licked and stuck one to her arm and didn’t let on to me that she had no intention of looking like all the other kids for her school picture. Weeks later, when I saw the proof, I was furious and refused to buy her school picture. Looking back, it was really very funny, but I saw no humour in it at the time. I regret not letting my daughter be her natural kooky self. What would have been the harm, really? Maybe if I had been more accepting of her independence when she was younger, she would have loved herself more in her teen years.

Let them get muddy: My mother never had any problem letting me splash in the mud when I was young, but I never wanted to deal with the mess and pain of trying to get the stains out of my kids’ clothes. Honestly, why was it such a big deal? Kids love mud and they usually love getting dirty. Happiness is a muddy face!

Before you freak out, weigh the importance of the issue: Single parents have no one to tag team with, so the stress of raising a family alone can be pretty intense. Whether you are single or married, however, there will always be times when you are overwhelmed by things your children do. I remember freaking out over things when my kids were young, but for the most part, I don’t remember why. That tells me I was probably over reacting to small stuff. If I could go back and redo things, I think I would try to be more relaxed and less of a drill sergeant.

Oh well; hindsight is 20/20. I was certainly not a perfect parent, but I was definitely a good mother, just the same. We all do our best with the tools in our chests. Please don’t beat yourself up over the mistakes you make. Your grandchildren will be your shot at a redo, but until then, chill out!














Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A Satisfied Single

By Sarah Evans

Sometimes it is lonely to be single, but not in the way you think. I usually like being single and having my freedom. But the world is definitely not set up for single people. You only have to turn on the radio to hear tons of songs about love and heartbreak. This is why I don't listen to a lot of music - I mostly listen to talk radio.

I think the bigger issue is how society views singleness. I realize that many people want to be in relationships and that society has changed its views in the past few decades. Still, I feel like being single isn't completely accepted. I think that for many people, being single just means waiting for the right person. It is more about what a person is not and does not have than it is about what a person is. Even if someone wants to be in a relationship, it is important for us all to be happy and satisfied with ourselves first.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Sharing My Story

On August 5, I was on a panel about mental health and disability. It was hosted by Healthy Minds Canada, a charity that raises awareness about mental health and addictions and supports research and education. The panel was the second in a series of Lunch and Learns hosted by the charity. I was one of two panelists, and the panel was moderated by Paul Rosen, a Canadian Paralympic athlete and motivational speaker. 


I was pretty confident about sharing my story because I had done it a couple of years before at the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy's conference. The first time I shared my story was a bit scary.  It was hard for me to know what to include because I wanted to be honest without getting too personal. People showed me how to balance this, which helped me to gain confidence in my boundaries. 

Although it wasn't planned, I ended up being on the panel with a really good friend. We used to be neighbours, and she was there for me when I was going through my worst mental health crisis. It meant a lot to me that we were able to do this together. 

The presentation was well received. People seemed to be very interested in what we had to say. I am very grateful to the people who organized the event and am hopeful that this will be the first of many opportunities to get the discussion of disability and mental health going. 

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Legacy of the Parapan Am Games


By: Sarah Evans

 
The Olympics are an exciting time. Everyone cheers and shows their national pride. But I think the Paralympics sometimes take a back seat. They are not televised like the Olympics and sometimes they seem to fall off people's radar.

I thought that this is what might happen with the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, but I have been pleasantly surprised.

All along, the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games have been promoted together. I have heard radio sports updates on the games. This morning I heard an interview with someone who created a website documenting the accessibility of places in Toronto. I think that people are talking about the Parapan Am Games in the same way they talked about the Pan Am Games (and not complaining about them as much). It is exciting that the Parapan Am Games have raised the profile of people with disabilities in Toronto and I hope they leave a legacy of accessibility long after the athletes have returned home.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The most often overlooked demographic in mental health circles may surprise you


By: Renée Cormier

As mental illness slowly becomes de-stigmatized, those who live with disability still struggle to find the support they need. According to some studies, more than half of people with disabilities also live with mental health issues. It is easy to understand how Depression could affect someone with a permanent disability, but make no mistake about it; Depression is not the only mental health issue we are talking about. People who live with either intellectual or physical disabilities are susceptible to all the same mental health problems as everyone else in the free world, only the risk is actually higher for people with disabilities. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20% of Canadians will experience some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime. Since this statistic does not exclude people with disabilities, it is safe to assume that those who are not living with disability are much less likely to experience mental health problems.

The challenges faced by people with disabilities needing support for mental health problems are considerable. It is actually quite difficult for people with physical disabilities to find accessible group therapy, yet the need for social support among the physically challenged is critical to their well-being. Sarah Evans, a mentor and mental health advocate at AbilityOnline, once told me about an experience she had trying to join a group therapy session. She was told by the organizers that she could not participate because her presence made others uncomfortable. Sarah lives with Cerebral Palsy which affects her speech and mobility. You would think that people who are so interested in helping others and who passionately battle to de-stigmatize mental illness would be more compassionate and inclusive.

Many people diagnosed with intellectual disabilities also suffer from mental illness. Who helps them? Virtually nobody. It seems the professional community considers the mental health needs of the intellectually challenged impossible to address.

I contend that nothing is impossible where desire to change exists. Making the professional community aware of the mental health needs of people with physical and intellectual disabilities is the first step. Advocacy is important. Aligning with organizations like Canadian Mental Health Association, Healthy Minds Canada and CAMH is also important. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so when you are spreading the word through social media about mental health awareness, please put a plug in for those who live with disabilities. Their mental health is important, too.
 
Renée Cormier is a Public Relations professional who works with Abilityonline.org. She is passionate about helping people who live with disabilities find the social support they need in order to thrive and live meaningful lives.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Important Lessons at the Movies

 
By: Sarah Evans
 
Like many other people, I have caught on to the excitement of the new movie "Inside Out". I am glad that the movie has gained so much attention. Not only is it funny with a great story line, but I think the concept is brilliant. The movie mainly focuses on the emotions of Riley, an 11-year-old girl who has just moved.  
 
One of the things I liked best about the movie is the relationship between the characters Joy and Sadness. Joy always wants Riley to be happy and tries to keep Sadness at bay. But Sadness has an important role to play. In one scene, Joy and Sadness are on a journey through Riley’s mind with Bing Bong, Riley’s childhood imaginary friend.  When Bing Bong is sad that Riley doesn’t talk to him anymore, it is Sadness who empathises with him and helps him to feel better. The conflict between Joy and Sadness is important to the resolution of the movie. 
 
This message is important because it mirrors life. Like Joy in the movie, it can be tempting for us to try to deny our sadness and want to be happy all the time. But sadness can tell us important information like that we have lost something or someone important or something isn't working out the way we would have liked. It is normal to feel sad and it is healthy to grieve the losses in our lives. In fact, ignoring sad feelings can make them worse. In the movie, Riley had to got through a period of sadness because of the loss of her old house and friends. Going through the sadness helped Riley to feel better again. 
 
This seems like such a simple lesson, but it took me a long time to learn it. 

Friday, 10 July 2015

Welcome Guests?

By: Sarah Evans

What if you were invited to go somewhere? It would be nice, right? You might even be an honoured guest. But what if you knew that the people who invited you were not looking forward to the big event? You might even find out that they have been complaining about it.

I feel like this is how Toronto has been acting toward the Pan Am games. Instead of building up excitement for this world class event and the athletes that would be coming, we seemed to only be complaining. All I have been hearing on the radio about the Pan Am games for the past month or more is cost overruns, security and the infamous HOV lanes. I think that that is what I am going to remember about these games more than anything else. And now we have taken to complaining about how much we are complaining.

But today is a new day.Tonight is the opening ceremony, so it is my hope that we will put the complaints behind us and enjoy the next two weeks of the Pan Am games.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Food for Thought: Self-disclosure as a boundary

By Sarah Evans

How much information do you share with others? What boundaries do you set around self-disclosure?  A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about boundaries. There are many kinds of boundaries that get crossed; especially when you have a disability. Nevertheless, we must be aware of what is appropriate and inappropriate and not be afraid to set boundaries for others; physical or otherwise.

To me, self-disclosure is about what you tell about yourself to whom. Sometimes it can be difficult to know who is safe to tell what to. Sometimes people tell too much information about themselves, such as their finances and their personal life, to people they don't really know that well (maybe acquaintances or people they meet and are talking to in a store).

Personally, sometimes I am too trusting of people and I just want to be friendly. Unfortunately,  I don't think there is a hard and fast rule about keeping yourself safe. I think that we gain wisdom by just going out there and having experiences and dealing with people. This is one of the reasons why it is important that we all, including people with disabilities, are part of our communities and have social opportunities. Loneliness and isolation sometimes makes us vulnerable. Even though it is sometimes difficult to get out and about, we need to look for opportunities to be around others; if for no other reason, to help us gain street smarts.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Improving The Quality of Life for Individuals Living with Disability


Did you know that one in seven people have a disability and that people with disabilities are the largest growing demographic in the world? This is an important demographic for businesses with respect to product development and employee diversity.

This long ignored group of people is suddenly beginning to be acknowledged by industry leaders; especially in the field of technology. Mashable.com published an article called 7 Tech Breakthroughs That Empower People with Disabilities. Click here to read thearticle.

Meanwhile, did you know that AbilityOnline.org has a grant giving program called Ability Gives? We understand the financial strain created for parents trying to satisfy the equipment needs of children with disabilities. We provide grants for various types of equipment to help families improve the quality of life of their children. Check out the Ability Gives program at www.abilityonline.org. Preference is given to active members of our online community (it is free to join). Ask for a tour and discover resources, games, chat rooms and more.

Also, feel free to visit us to make a donation or leverage the influence of people in your workplace and community. 100% of all donations received for the Ability Gives program go directly toward the purchase of equipment. We keep absolutely nothing for ourselves!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Special Treatment

 I have always been uncomfortable with receiving special treatment because of my disability. I have had this issue all of my life, starting from when I was a young kid and I went to community fairs. I would receive honourary awards and acknowledgement for just participating when no one else did.

I bring this up because I had an interesting situation last week. I was coming home on the TTC bus and as I was getting off the bus, I was putting my token in the box and the driver tried to tell me not to worry about it - that is, putting the token in the box. I put the token in the box anyway.

The interesting thing is that this is not the first time that I have had this situation. It has happened quite a few times.
I don't know if this is because of my disability or another reason such as the driver being in a rush. And I am not trying to toot my own horn, saying that I am wonderful because I pay my fare. I am just saying that it is a matter of community inclusion. I just want to be treated equally as a member of the community. To me, this is a matter of give and take. I will enjoy the benefits of being part of the community and I will fulfill my responsibilities, including paying what I owe.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Developing new opportunities

By: Sarah Evans

Sometimes it is easy for me to get stuck and unmotivated.  I know that I have to try harder to go out and be with people, but I make excuses such as the following:  I get too tired,  I don't want to have to cancel my attendant care too many times, I have too much work to do.
 
But every once in awhile, something comes along that motives me.  Last weekend,  I was at the People in Motion show in Toronto, which is an annual trade show for people with disabilities.  I saw some really neat things.  The Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association had a booth there featuring information about a number of different adapted sports. There was also an organization called Wheel Dance, which offers dancing for people with disabilities.  I took some information from both organizations and signed up for their mailing lists.
 
I know that I need to be proactive in kickstarting my social life, but going to where there is a lot of information about different opportunities is very inspiring for me.  It excites me to think about trying new things and meeting new people.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Five A’s of Raising a Child with Autism

By: Renée Cormier
Maurice enjoys the company of his siblings.
Pictured here from left to right: Celeste, Marcel and Maurice Cormier.
When my eldest child was three he was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which is a form of Autism. I used to love to sit and watch him play. It fascinated me to see how he lined up his toy cars and blocks to the millimetre and to see how he grouped his Legos according to colour. He always put the same colours together and placed them in the same order next to each other. He would jump up and down on his toes and twirl his fingers between realignments, but at the time, I had no clue this was anything other than a sign of pure genius. Being the youngest of five children and a new mother, I had no point of reference, so when the doctor asked me if Maurice played normally, I told her yes.

 
Maurice’s first words were numbers. He could count to 18 without making any mistakes when he was only 18 months old. Before he turned two he could recognize written words on sight such as stop, exit, cat, dog, etc. but he never asked for anything and he never even called me Mama until he was three years old. For years, if I asked him to hold a bag or a toy, he would just look at me. My words meant nothing to him. When he did start to talk, it was usually repeating something he heard on TV such as “each sold separately” or “Deep Space Nine”.

Maurice will soon be turning 23 and has come a very long way since then. If I had to give advice to the parents of young autistic children, I would tell them, first of all, that things can get much better and not to focus on what their child cannot do.  Secondly, I would tell them to consider that they have been given a gift and that their situation is not calamitous. Thirdly, I would tell them to raise their child using what I call the five A’s of raising a child with Autism. These are the rules I gave myself once I understood what I was dealing with and I believe much of Maurice’s success today, is because I raised him with these things in mind.
Avoid giving in to your child’s resistance to change: Autism is marked by an extreme resistance to change. As a young child Maurice would get upset over the change in sleeve lengths between summer and winter, and would cry and tantrum because he didn’t want to wear the appropriate sleeve length. I could have just kept him in the same type of shirt, to avoid upsetting him, but life is about change. All children need to learn to adapt to change, no matter how difficult it is. It took a couple of years, but eventually, Maurice had no trouble wearing seasonably appropriate clothing.
I recall an incident when Maurice’s brother and sister decided to “be each other” when I picked them up from daycare one day. To do this, Marcel and Celeste decided to wear each other’s coats and boots and sit in each other’s seats in the car. Maurice screamed his lungs out and begged me to make them change back. He couldn’t stand it. As a parent, I could have told them to not aggravate their brother and put an end to the game, but I felt it was more important for Maurice to learn to accept change, so I endured the wild screaming and crying all the way home in the car. As soon as we got in the house, Marcel and Celeste took off their jackets and boots, and Maurice stopped crying. My nerves were shot, but all was right in the world again.
Today, Maurice has become quite adept at dealing with change. We moved house several times throughout his life, he’s had to change schools, pass through many seasons, start and finish many things. No problem. If I spent my life accommodating his need for sameness, he would never be able to cope with the real world.
Acknowledge your fear, but then close your eyes and let a miracle happen: There is nothing tougher than letting a child with a disability do what every other kid does. The first bike ride alone in the street, the first trip on the bus without supervision or guidance, allowing your child to do anything independently is very scary. What if something terrible happened? It is always possible, but as a parent, you have to be careful not to suffocate your child into permanent dependence. Say a prayer and force yourself to let your child enjoy independence. If I have learned one thing in this life, I have learned that children will rise to the level of responsibility you give them. Even children with intellectual challenges need to be given the gift of independence and self-reliance; and believe me it is a gift. You are being a good parent when you let your children do new things. It is okay. You are not being neglectful.
Allow your child to experience defeat: This is another tough thing for parents to do. We love our children, and wanting to protect those with extra challenges is highly natural. I never wanted to tell Maurice he couldn’t do something because of his disability. In high school he really wanted to be on a sports team like other boys, but he wasn’t born with an abundance of natural athletic ability. I could see that, but he wanted to try out for teams. I knew he would have trouble competing with other kids, but I bit my tongue. I let him try out for teams, and discover for himself what he really could and could not do. As it turned out, he found he was able to compete in sports like cross country running and track and field. Was he the best in the school? No, but he was there and he got to attend the awards dinner with all of the other athletes. He was happy, and I was happy for him.
I always made sure to let Maurice try new things, even if I thought he might not do as well as other kids. The truth is, he has often surprised me. His lack of self-consciousness works in his favour and we have a lot to learn from that. How many people avoid trying things because they are afraid of failure? Self-doubt is your enemy and doubters are poisonous. Don’t poison your child with doubt.
Accept that you will need to be an advocate for your child: When you have a child with a disability, the world will not necessarily understand what it really means. Even educators can be surprisingly ignorant of your child’s condition. As a parent, it is your job to make sure people the around him know how to manage your child. You will need to be in communication more when they are younger, but sometimes even when they are older. Swim instructors, teachers, day care workers, deans, professors, etc. Every now and then, you will need to step in and be an advocate for your child. Don’t be passive about that.
Appreciate the differences:  Your child’s lack of self-consciousness/ self-awareness, his micro focus and his literal interpretation of the world around him are not things to worry about. They are all very important parts of who he is and they teach you many important things. When I look at my son I see proof that success happens in the absence of doubt. His in-depth knowledge of the things that interest him remind me that knowledge is power, and his literal interpretation of the world, reminds me that I need to be concise in my communication. What’s wrong with that? Love and accept all of it, for there is great beauty in all things.
 
Today, Maurice is a college graduate, film editor and film enthusiast. I am enormously proud of his accomplishments and proud that he has grown to be such a dependable and talented young man. His award winning short documentary called Normal: A Story of Autism can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/9KLAWRBvLb8
Renée Cormier is a Public Relations & Communications professional in Burlington, Ontario. Contact Renée through her website:  www.reneecormier.com .
 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships

 
 By: Sarah Evans
Many people struggle with setting boundaries. They don't know when and how to say no in an appropriate way. This is an often overlooked issue for people with disabilities.
 
Boundaries mean different things to different people. I once heard them described as being where one person ends and another begins. I have also heard boundaries being compared to fences. They enable people to say yes to some things and no to other things. 
 
I have noticed that one common boundary issue for people with disabilities is mistakenly believing that the professionals they work with are their friends. They may think this because they spend a lot of time with these people and they lack opportunities to develop friendships with their peers. Knowing this, professionals may (intentionally or unintentionally) feel bad for their clients and be afraid of hurting their feelings if they were to set boundaries. Therefore, they may find it difficult to set appropriate boundaries with their clients or correct wrong assumptions about the nature of these relationships.
 
It is important for professionals to be direct and forthcoming with their clients. These types of relationships usually only last for a relatively short period of time. The best thing professionals can do is prepare their clients for the future, including future relationships (professional and otherwise). As well, setting appropriate boundaries models and teaches clients to set healthy boundaries of their own, which will ultimately help them to value themselves and their feelings in relationships.

Resources:
 Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics

JKP Blog Interview with Frank Cooper, Author of Professional Boundaries in Social Work and Social Care

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Why Good Customer Service is Important

By: Sarah Evans
 
The other day I remembered the importance of good customer service.
I was shopping with my aunt for clothes. One store we went into had excellent customer service from the moment we walked in until we walked out.
When we got into the store, a customer service representative asked us what we were looking for and took us to the right section. She helped us find what we what we wanted. Another representative took us to a change room and asked us frequently if we were alright and needed anything.
Our cashier was really nice, too. She was friendly and laughing. On our way out of the store, she pushed the button to open the door for us.
Little things like these can make a big difference. It is not always easy to shop for clothes when you have a disability. You have to sometimes deal with small change rooms and trying to determine different sizes and styles of clothes. Friendly customer service representatives make it a lot easier and more pleasant.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A Missed Opportunity?

By: Sarah Evans

The other day I encountered an interesting situation. I was at the aquarium in Toronto with a friend. It was during the day, and so there were a lot of kids with their school groups there. At one point, I was up against a display in my electric wheelchair and a little girl was in front of me. She put her arm on the foot rest of my chair, leaning against it. 
I didn’t know whether or not I should have said something. I didn’t really mind her doing it. At the time, I wondered if her teacher might say something to her. Thinking about it after, I realized that it was my responsibility, not the teacher’s, to speak up and say how I felt.
 
This also raises another question in my mind. Is it just about me? I am not sure. Even though I didn’t mind, maybe I could have used this opportunity to educate this girl about people with disabilities and teach her that the equipment that we use is an extension of ourselves and that our personal space needs to be respected. Not that I would make a big deal of it, but maybe politely asking her to remove her arm could have gone a long way in educating her.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Disability and the employment challenge


By: Chris Viola
 

Let’s not sugar coat it: almost everybody has some kind of employment struggle within their lifetime. However, gaining employment when you have a disability can turn this medium sized cliff into Mount Everest. Some people with disabilities are completely unable to work, but those who can work, face enormous barriers in order to gain employment. It is especially difficult to land jobs that actually pay the bills. There are fail-safes designed around this, but many of them simply will never work as intended, especially when it comes down to disabilities. Allow me to explain.

 In Canada, we have what is called the “Employment Equity Act”, which works in tandem with the “Canadian Human Rights Act”. These two acts state that someone can’t be treated unfairly or discriminated against due to their disability. Employers also have to be mindful not to discriminate against people for their race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. It’s a blanket policy that works for most groups, but there is a double edged sword for people with disabilities.  The policies, however well meaning, backfire on people with disabilities and most people don’t even realize it.

 One of the statements in the act is that an employer must ‘provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities’ and has several lines that boil down to saying that despite one’s disability, in order to get hired they still have to be able to physically do the job. For example, a visually impaired person would not be able to become a chauffeur. This seems fair for safety and practical reasons, but the ‘provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities’ part often causes complications that go against the disabled job candidates who are physically able to do the job.

 For the sake of an example, let’s say the interviewer is down to two job candidates, both with likable personalities and equal qualifications, one with a disability and one without. The person without a disability requires no accommodation. However the one with the disability, might need a wheelchair ramp, or a special computer screen, for example. Many companies would rather hire the candidate who won’t cause them to have to make and pay for changes in their work space. Likewise, if the person’s disability required they work in a noise free space, then having to give the employee a separate office with a solid door, might not be so appealing. If the person with the disability doesn’t say they need accommodations in their interview and then springs it on their employer last minute, they risk causing conflict with their employer.

Even though there is legislation to provide equal opportunities for employees with disabilities, the fact remains that having a disability continues to be a barrier to employment. Statistics Canada recently published a study on employment among people with disabilities (both physical and intellectual). In the study, 33% of 25-34 year olds with a severe disability reported being refused a job because of their condition.

Some people with disabilities do find employment, but the unemployment rates are considerably higher among the disabled. Those who graduate from university, do tend to do better than those who don’t but they also tend to be excluded from higher positions. I try to remain positive about my employment prospects just the same. I expect I will experience a great feeling of accomplishment when I finally tear down those barriers and succeed in finding gainful employment.