Thursday, 9 August 2018

Finding Motivation

Finding Motivation - By Ability Online Blogger, Sarah Evans

I used to love when it was time to go back to school. I was one of those kids who got bored easily, even though I had fun at summer day camp. Even today, I really miss the excitement of going back to school in September.

I think one of the reasons that I loved going back to school is that it provided structure and challenge.

Working from home, sometimes it is difficult to structure my time. Even when I have things that I want or have to do, I sometimes feel like I only have myself to figure out how to get motivated and if I am on the right track with my work. But recently I reached out to a friend to discuss my frustrations. I realized that I am blessed to have people who support me and can hold me accountable. 

I am also motivated by work that is intellectually stimulating.  I realize that work can't be exciting all the time  - that's not just the way it works. Growing up, I saw people who I considered to have exciting careers.  They always seemed to be involved in so many exciting things.  I wanted to have an exciting career like them.  I don't know what this means or looks like for me. I have to take into account personal factors like my disability and energy level.  Still, I have heard that people who are in my generation can expect to change careers a number of times, so I am hopeful about what opportunities I may have in the future. In the meantime,  I try to enjoy what I am doing in the present. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Advice to my Mother by Sarah Evans

I was blessed growing up. I was very close to my mother and always felt extremely loved and nurtured. This is not to say that I agree with all of the choices she made. One piece of advice that I would give to my mother and other people with disabilities is to not be too overprotective. 

My mother encouraged me to try many new opportunities, but she over protected me when it came to issues and problems that were going on in our family. My sister, who is two years older than I am, was not overprotected in the same way that I was. It was about not telling me what was going on. I am sure my mom had her reasons. She believed I had enough to worry about related to my disability. She thought I would obsess about issues - yes, I tend to do this quite a bit.

But I believe this experience left me ill prepared to deal with challenges in my later life. I had unrealistic expectations in relationships and in life in general. I believed that I could magically make everything wonderful and great and problems would never come. But, of course, they did come. And because I had no coping skills, I would get really upset and be unable to control myself. I struggled with serious mental heath challenges for a number of years. I am not saying that the only reason for this was that I was overprotected as a child, but I do believe it was a factor.

Disclosing anything to kids or letting them try new things requires wisdom and knowing the individual. But a lot of people mistakenly believe that kids with disabilities need to be protected physically or emotionally from the world around them because they have their own problems to deal with. But kids with disabilities turn into adults and, just like other kids, need to be as prepared as possible to deal with the world around them.

Friday, 22 June 2018

People in Motion 2018 by Sarah Evans

Last weekend was the annual People in Motion show in Toronto. This large exhibition for people with disabilities was held at a new venue this year, Variety Village, a sports and life skills facility.

Overall, I liked the change of venue. The displays in the main area were a bit closer together but there was still plenty of room to move around and everything was easy to get to. 

Volunteering at the Ability Online display, I met a lot of people, including a few people who said they were members at the beginning of Ability Online. This year, we shared our booth with Pathways for All, a private advocacy business to support children with disabilities in the school system. We spoke to a number of family members of individuals with disabilities who were struggling to receive the services they need and I hope we were at least able to offer them some tips.

Personally, I am always looking for social and recreational opportunities and I did find a few. One therapist is organizing social events for youth with disabilities. Although I am too old for these, maybe there is some way that I can help or help to get something else started. Another display that I was inspired by is ParaSport Ontario. Earlier this year I started playing tennis and would consider trying another sport.

Friday, 8 June 2018

May I have a straw in my drink please? By Sarah Evans

Lately I have been hearing a lot about cities thinking about banning plastic straws. The reasons they want to do this are commendable: plastic straws are bad for the environment because they don't easily decompose. As well, this issue heated up because of an online video that went viral of researchers pulling a plastic straw out of the nostril of a turtle.

But for people with disabilities like myself, plastic straws are as essential as the cup itself. I have used straws for as long as I can remember and I know that I am not the only one. On Facebook, I have seen the posts of friends with disabilities who need to use straws and are concerned.

My family and friends have bought me those plastic cups with a large reusable straw. Unfortunately, I find that it is difficult for me to get my lips around these big straws. Also, one time I accidentally bit off part of the plastic, which scared me.

While I am all for being environmentally friendly and helping animals, I question whether a complete ban on straws is the way to go. I think that educating people about the issues and concerns is the right thing to do, but ultimately I think that it should be left up to the person whether or not they want to use a plastic straw.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Disability and my Faith by Sarah Evans

A few years ago, I was out in my community when I came across a group of Christian evangelists. As soon as they saw that I was in a wheelchair, they immediately said something to the effect of, "We'll pray for God to heal you."  Unfortunately, this kind of experience is not unique (I have heard other people with disabilities tell me of similar experiences). It was not their faith that turned me off. I have been a Christian my whole life. But like many other people, whether or not they have a faith or spirituality, these individuals assumed as soon as they saw me that my greatest need to make my life better was the ability to walk (or getting rid of my disability altogether).

Many people with disabilities and their families are part of religious, faith and spiritual communities. Although often well-meaning, a lack of education about disabilities can create barriers in these communities.

Attitude is one such barrier, like the individuals I met on the street. They noticed my disability and my wheelchair before they noticed me. Some people believe that any type of disability or illness is a punishment from God for something that the individual or a close relative did. Instead of being received with one of these harmful attitudes, people with disabilities and their families have to be seen as people first with unique gifts and needs. We can't tell just by looking at a person what they need. 

Another type of barrier is physical.  I was quite fortunate because the churches that I have attended have mostly been physically accessible,  but sometimes smaller groups within the church are hosted in people's homes which are not accessible and transportation to and from people's houses can be challenging when the bus may drop you off very early or pick you up really late. 

Recently, I saw presentations about theology and disability.  It is encouraging to know that other people are thinking about this important issue and I hope that this will be the beginning of a larger discussion that will make such communities more inclusive for people with all abilities.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Be Inclusive by Krystian Shaw

The Be inclusive Movement and Inclusion.

For people that haven't heard it is #beinclusive awareness day on June 1st where people are encouraged to wear blue shirts for inclusion of everyone. No matter your skin color, your gender or who you love and if you have a disability or not, this movement is for the purpose of raising awareness in society about not excluding anyone and to stomp out bullying forever.

Being excluded even by adults is another form of bullying.

This movement came about when Lynda Honing and her daughter, Isabelle was slighted when she said hi. So her mom Lynda came up with an idea to start this new movement. Her hope is for it to spread around the world. 

I love this new movement because it’s positive and very Inspiring and uplifting, especially for those of all abilities. No one should be excluded in society today.

Way to go Lynda and Isabelle for starting this movement.

In Kamloops BC Canada, there is a Funfest run by a day program called Options & Opportunities. Funfest happens every year but this year will be extra special because of this movement. There will be lunch that costs 5 dollars, and the Lunch is a pizza slice, a snack and a pop or juice.  But most things are free. It’s open to the whole community and is held at a park. I will wear a blue shirt on that day, June 1st.  I will also have a booth and play a game about what inclusion means.

Remember June 1st is #beinclusive Awareness day. Please wear blue to show your support that all should be included. For more info go to:

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Andrew Greer, Ability Online intern receives kudos for his film

Media Studies student receives kudos for his film

Andrew Greer, a recent graduate of the Media Studies program at the University of Guelph-Humber, said being able to translate the skills learned in the classroom seamlessly into the workplace during his internship boosted his confidence.

It also made him realize he was qualified to meet the demands of the competitive job market.

Greer received a job placement with Ability Online, a supportive online community for children, teens and young adults with disabilities or health challenges, with the help of U of GH’s Career and Placement Services. During his semester-long internship, Greer was able to handle several tasks: designing posters, creating content for the organization’s website and helping organize events.

“I was initially nervous going into the job,” said Greer, who specialized in digital communications. “But, when I started working, I felt I was prepared. Guelph-Humber gave me a broad range of skills that I could successfully apply in the real world.”
One of Greer’s major projects for Ability Online was creating a four-minute video, “Capable to Unstoppable” featuring Jess Silver, a fitness instructor and trailblazer with cerebral palsy.

The story of Jess Silver
In 2015, Silver founded Flex for Access, an organization whose mandate is to connect people with disabilities find trainers and accessible and integrated gyms.

Ability Online wanted the film to show Silver’s indomitable strength and spirit.

“Ability Online has always focused on promoting the abilities of young people with disabilities; rather than focusing on what they can’t do,” said Michelle McClure, executive director, Ability Online. “What I liked most about working with Andrew on this project was his immediate comfort level around people with disabilities. He knew when to ask for clarification and when it came time to filming, he was professional and efficient. The video truly captured the spirit of the charity, celebrating the accomplishments of young people of all abilities.”

Greer credits the University of Guelph-Humber for equipping him all the necessary tools needed to hit the ground running during his internship.

 “The work that Jess was doing ignited something in me and I realized she had a really fascinating story,” Greer said adding two of his classmates Jouison Coloma and Lucas Morris helped him with the filming portion. “The message I tried to convey in the video was, ‘yes, you can do this’…”

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Tennis Anyone? By Sarah Evans

I recently started playing wheelchair tennis. I found out about this opportunity through the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association at the Abilities Expo, which came to Toronto in January. It was a godsend and encouraged me to get out into the community and be more active like I used to be. 

l play tennis on Monday evenings at a tennis center in Scarborough that is run by the city. We play in a large bubble, which I like. As the summer is coming, I look forward to playing on outdoor courts. 

The session is two hours each week. We begin by driving around pylons in sort of an obstacle course, which is easy for me because I use an electric wheelchair. Then we practice a series of skills,  which include rallying (that is hitting the ball to each other),  hitting high balls and serving. We usually end by just playing a game. 

I am really enjoying tennis.  I play with a nice little community of people.  Sometimes I get discouraged and think that I am not very good because I miss a lot of balls, but then someone tells me that I did well or that I am getting better and I am reassured and remember to be patient with myself. It has also motivated me to work out and build the muscles in my arms so that I can hit the ball better.

To find out more about wheelchair tennis is the GTA, please visit

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Overcoming Odds and Barriers with Education by Krystian Shaw

I am so excited. I have run my newspaper business for four and half years now. I've been told I have good writing skills, but I still need someone to edit my work. Most of the writing skills I have learned by myself because once I started grade 8, my teachers mainly focused on teaching me life skills. So I am going back to school to improve my skills for my business and career.

The public school district is offering adults from 18 and up to take courses to get there Dogwood diploma. My main focus is to get writing and communication skills so I can learn how to condense my writing. My goal is to say everything I want to say in as little words as possible. And I would like to improve my writing skills so very little if any editing needs to be done in my newsletter articles. For those who don’t know what my newsletter is about, please go to my facebook page at The Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter/Diverse Abilities.

I am mainly concentrating on English and communication courses, but I will also tackle math and other important skills for my business called the Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter. I register on April 24th for my schooling, but they gave me literacy tests such as math, English and reading comprehension in the meantime before I registered to know what grade level I am at.

The special education classroom in high school mostly focuses on life skills and work experience and they refused to teach me academics because they thought I couldn't do it.

Look at me now.

I run a business with little support. I want to be more independent, make my messages much shorter for Ability Online, as well as my business. I'm looking forward to improving my skills.

I would like to get my Dogwood which allows people to take university courses, but I don’t need it to reach my goals in life. Although, since I am a go-getter, I still want to keep that as my long-term goal. It’s referred to as street school and it’s free for all adults in the community who don't have their Dogwood and who were not able to graduate from public school.

If you want to upgrade to go to university, you can do that at a university. But they don’t offer you a Dogwood. You just get a grade 12 certificate. At Street School, you write government exams and will receive your grade 12 diploma once you complete all required courses, take the tests and pass.

I am grateful that free programs exist in the community, especially for those who were not offered the same education in school while growing up like me.

The educational system needs to realize, just because we are born with challenges, that doesn’t mean they should assume we are not capable. Give us a chance and push us to as far as we can go. We might surprise them and be capable of learning more than they ever thought we could. I will give an update after I register to let people know what grade level I do have without any formal education when I was young.

Don't "dis" my ability.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

My Time with Ability Online by Shandi Pace

Over the past three months, I’ve been interning for Michelle at Ability Online. As mostly anyone associated with Ability Online knows, Michelle works extremely hard every single day to ensure that this organization runs smoothly.

For most, Ability Online is a safe space where those with special needs can get the support they need in various parts of their life. They feel welcome and have the ability to connect with so many people going through the same issues that they are. Most places online are not regulated for anti-bullying and don’t offer the same protection that Ability Online does. Not only that, but it’s a place where people turn to when they need guidance, support and to build healthy relationships. Everyone supports each other, and everyone supports Michelle.

Personally, it has felt like these past few months have flown by incredibly fast. I’m graduating university now, as are the other interns that have helped Ability Online grow this year. Our time has been short, but unforgettable to say the least.

To start off January, a small group of us interning attended the Abilities Expo in Mississauga for the weekend. I had the chance to meet some of the members Ability Online has helped in the past, and possible members for the future. Ability Gives plays an important part in younger children’s lives and having the opportunity to meet Alex and to see where people’s helpful donations went to was incredible. We were also introduced to Rishi, the engineer behind Avra Labs Eye Control. He presented us with the technology of typing on a computer using just your eyes. Getting to see Sarah – a member of Ability Online – use the system was an unbelievable experience I could never forget.

The theme of my school’s magazine this year was success. Along the way, I’ve learned that success can have many different definitions.

Success doesn't rely on numbers. All that matters is if a product or organization can make a difference in people’s lives. Ability Online isn’t the largest charity, but the effect they’ve had on so many individuals has been touching to experience first hand. Whether it’s from participating in the live chat every Monday night or getting to meet members from the past and present at expos, meeting the real people behind the organization was inspiring.

Thank you to the Ability Online community for introducing me to new people and for putting up with my blog posts over the last few months. Thank you to Michelle for taking me on as an intern.

I'm not sure what I’ll do after graduation, but I do know I’ll always have a home with Ability Online.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Olympic Surprise by Danielle Pellerine

You hear these stories in the news of celebrities surprising teams and various other groups. You think, "Wouldn't it be cool if something like that happened to my sledge hockey team." You say "It will likely never happen to us," until one day, it does! Let me take you to that day...

The day was Wednesday, March 28th, 2018.  We were having our last sledge hockey practice at 2pm that afternoon, thinking that it was going to be just a usual practice. It quickly turned into something amazing!

We warmed up and did a couple of fun drills. We were just getting ready to have a short scrimmage to end our incredible sledge hockey season when suddenly, our former coach asks around about where I am because she wanted to show me something. She came over and pulled something out from her pocket that I wasn't Olympic Silver Medal, from the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang! She asked me if I knew who Olympic hockey player Jill Saulnier was and I replied that I did. She pointed to a lady and told me that was her!

Jill was very kind, allowing us to hold the medal (or display it somehow if it was not physically possible to hold), which was so surreal. I actually thought I was in a dream!  It just so happened that I brought my camera that day, and I was able to get a picture of me holding the silver medal with Jill Saulnier! I will definitely be framing that one!

After our practice was done, I was waiting for my turn to get off the ice and was able to speak to Jill briefly. We discussed her first time trying sledge hockey just the week before. She also told me that she really liked our jerseys. All in all, it was an amazing experience for me and my teammates, one that will leave a lasting impact on our lives!

Jill, thank you very much for stopping by sledge hockey last week. Thank you to everyone else who had a hand in making this amazing experience possible.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Is The Shape of Water Offensive?

The Shape of Water led the way on Oscar night, winning four awards and taking home the biggest award of the night, Best Picture. The film is essentially a love story between a mute custodian at a high-security government laboratory and a human-like amphibian creature. Now, this seems to be a bizarre choice, but it was one of the most highly regarded films this award season.

Although inclusion is extremely welcomed by the mainstream public, it seems that isn't the case with most award voters. The public wants an increase in minority roles and that’s why we see the success of recent films like Black Panther, Get Out – another Oscar-nominated film – and Wonder Woman doing well. It’s encouraging to see diverse, popular movies that are filled with minorities open up to a new, wider audience.

Why isn't this the case with the disabled community? Why aren't we getting real people that struggle with the disabilities being broadcasted for the world to see play these roles? Sally Hawkins was never going to win Best Actress – Frances McDormand had won almost every major Best Actress award this year – and in a way that’s a good thing. We shouldn’t be awarding yet another actor or actress when there are people that live with disabilities and get ridiculed for it.

Around half of all the acting Oscars have gone to actors playing characters with a disability or illness.The amount of actor’s awards that actually had disabilities that were similar to the characters they were portraying is two. Only two actors with disabilities have ever won Academy Awards – Harold Russell in 1947 for Best Supporting Actor in The Best Years of Our Lives and Marlee Matlin in 1987 for Best Actress in a Leading role in the film Children of a Lesser God.

Playing a character with a disability or illness is an almost guaranteed Oscar nomination, just for non-disabled actors. The problem with Hollywood is that the general public wants diverse stories, but the Academy will hardly recognize this. Greta Gerwig being the only female director nominated was a great example that it’s time to change. Coco won big on Oscars night by winning Best Animated Film and Best Song, which was a much-deserved win for the Latino community.

While The Shape of Water breaks down barriers in regards to sex (most Hollywood films have disabled characters as unattractive and asexual), there's still work that needs to be done. Society believes the white, able-bodied person as “normal” and until we include different and more diverse types of normal into our lives, this default will remain the same.