Inclusion Rather Than Accessibility

Just visited CNIB’s GTA Community Hub at Yonge and St Claire and it is awesome. I wish there had been something like this around when I was first diagnosed with my eye disease.

The building is, of course, completely accessible with high contrast, tactile floor routes, Blind Square technology, an accessible internet cafe and so much more! Of course, there is also fully inclusive programming and the programs are not specifically for people with vision loss, the goal is for community programs to come and use the space with CNIB support to make them accessible. How awesome is that?!

Well, it gets even better: One of the goals of the Hub is bring inclusion outside the doors of the CNIB and staff are educating business owners in the area how to make their spaces more inclusive. The goal? For Yonge and St Clair to be the most accessible corner in Canada.

Sometimes I feel like the journey towards “accessibility for all” is moving alarmingly slow, but it’s initiatives like this that give me hope.

Seeing Beautiful

 

This week we took to the streets of Toronto to ask a variety of people to describe something beautiful for me. The idea is to “see” the world through other people’s eyes.

There were some incredibly beautiful answers – and not always the ones that you would expect.

First, we went down to the Harbourfront and we we’re able to speak to a wide range of tourists.

A little girl from the Bahamas said the CN Tower is the most beautiful thing she has seen because it is so tall.She was so little and soft spoken I could understand why the tower would put her in awe.

A woman from Mexico described an incredibly beautiful experience she had in China where people from all over the globe were there helping children. She wasn’t describing the colours or the lighting but the fact that she was witnessing such unity and good will.

A man in downtown Toronto gave a similar answer – he said true beauty is witnessing someone helping another person.

As we began to gather more of these answers it was exciting to me that the majority of answers didn’t have to do with seeing objects, true beauty has to do with experiencing an event – the emotion you feel, the feeling you get from the experience – what you see is only one component of true beauty.

While it is true that you obviously miss out on some incredible experiences when you have lost sight, the truly memorable and meaningful beautiful things are not experienced with the eyes.

We will be posting the videos of people’s responses soon…Stay tuned!

TV Hosting

My first day on the set of AMI This Week was nerve wracking. I have been interviewed on camera many times and I have spoken in front of large crowds before many times but tv is so different.

The great thing about AMI This Week is that all the stories involve a person or issue that relates to disability. In this regard, I am always going to be interested in the stories and passionate about making more people aware of all the great things going on in the disability community.

The crew on AMI is fantastic – producers, sound, video and of course my co-host, all made me feel comfortable and welcome. They really made the whole process fun.
even though I know i have a steep learning curve ahead of me!

Here are some fun facts about my first day:

Number of times we had to readjust my microphone wire: at least 6

Number of cups of water on the hot set: 3

Number of times we had to re-shoot me saying the website “www.IntegritiesHaven Equine Rescue centre.Com” : I honestly lost count. It must have been 20 and in the end we got Anthony to say it!

Looking forward to the next shoot in a couple of weeks – stay tuned!

Can I Just Take a Taxi Without an Incident?!!

 

As you may know, I have had many issues trying to get a taxi that will take my guide dog without it being some kind of problem .  Sometimes they have flat out refused to pick us up.

This is about the subtle discrimination. It’s noT really big enough to file a complaint about, but it’s enough to make you second guess going out, taking a taxi and opening yourself up to being made to feel like you are less than a person.

I was leaving a doctor appointment and was waiting outside the front door for the taxi.
I like the Beck taxi cabs because even I can see the brith orange as it pulls up. But this taxi slowed down and as Alan and I started walking towards it the taxi drove on further down the road away from us. I knew what was happening – the dog issue.

I waited for the phone call from the driver asking where I was – I was the only person standing in front of the building. It old him I’m the person standing with the guide dog – I’m blind. Shortly after an orange blur reversed into view and the driver, obviously annoyed, asked me if I had told the dispatcher that I had a guide dog. I had, and he angrily muttered that no one had told him.

So,, he drove me home and technically didn’t do anything wrong but this is the type of incident that makes me second guess whether I should go out and open myself up to someone making me feel like I am less than a person.

i think some people are not able to separate a guide dog from a pet dog. Guide dogs are completely different, thatis why there are laws protecting guide dog users.
Comparing a guide dog to a pet dog is like comparing a wheelchair to a bicycle.

I’m sure anyone who is reading this already knows the difference, but at least when I post I feel like I am doing something about it – even if it only educates one person….

Making Athletics Accessible

 

 

I have competed for Canada all over the world; in Europe, Asia and South America but the other night I got a glimpse into a world I had never experienced – the high school Athletic Banquet.

It was an energetic evening to say the least – coaches who went up to the podium to present awards were cheered loudly. There were lots of laughs and inside jokes, hugs and even some tears. When students were called up for awards you couldn’t hear anything from the din of applause, whistles and screaming. I – Was actually concerned for myre poor guide dog, Alan, because the noise was that extreme. It was a great night filled with fond memories, and a definite sense of belonging to one large team.

High school athletics could best be described as a nightmare for me. Bumping into other students, having no clue where the ball was — until I got hit with it, wanting to disappear from the embarrassment when other students got mad and frustrated with my performance. They thought I was clumsy, and they thought that sport was not my thing.

Parasport: A Sport for Everyone

Fortunately for me, I found people who told me it WAS my thing, even though I was going blind and it changed my life. Now I want to make sure other people living with disabilities understand the incredible value physical activity brings to a person’s life.

As an educator I have had the privilege to work with Physical Health and Education Canada to write accessible physical education curriculum documents, most notably Paralympic FUNdamentals which was written in collaboration with the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

Inclusion Helps Us All

The goal of this curriculum is to make phys ed classes inherently inclusive for all abilities. Students are encouraged to find a way of moving that works best for them. It challenges the notion that there is one “right” way to be active.

The amazing thing I realized when implementing these accessible phys. ed plans is how much they benefitted all students. Suddenly the students who did not participate in gym class were on an equal playing field with the star athletes, and that gave them a little more confidence to join in. Not to mention that al the lesson plans rely on collaboration and team work to make sure everyone is able to participate to their full potential.Phys. Ed class was inclusive and teaching important lives skills as well as physical activity
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Attention Teachers!

The lesson plans introduce students to four paralympic sports; sittingvolleyball, goal ball , bocci and athletics events. For more information, you can find the free resource – complete with curriculum expectations for all our provinces – at WWW.education.paralympic.ca.

Obviously not everyone will want to compete in the Paralympic Games, but the health benefits, both physical and mental, are too important for educators to exclude anyone.

See Ability

I have had two great opportunities this week to help raise awareness about disability. First, as one of the lead writers for a new curriculum that will teach all students across Canada how to do four Paralympic sports. This will not only raise awaress of Paralmpic sport for able-bodied students, but may also inspire some future Paralympians.

Then I had the opportunity to appear in a video promoting “Teaching Awareness Through Puppetry” (formely called “Kids on the Block”) a unique puppet presentation that teaches children to be inclusive of children with differences.  Some of the puppets have disabiltiites themselves, and students can interact with them and ask them questions.

I am so glad to finally start actively raising awareness, as a special education teacher I know how damaging it can be to children with disabiltiies when they are isolated or treated differently. As someone who has a disabiltiy I know how frustrating it can be when people assume you can’t do things.

If we can start to educate students, we have hope of a better society in the future.