Coming Together To Create Change - A Values, Vision and Action Workshop - the name of the Conference the Kit Kat and I attended this past weekend at the Oak Island Inn.
Co-hosted by both the CACL and the NSACL, it was Part One in a series designed to encourage family leadership in the continuing (some might say never-ending) struggle to obtain for persons with disabilities those things that you and I take for granted - the opportunity to go to school and be educated with our peers, to hold a job (true enough, there may be many days when we would rather not work but have you ever considered life on the other side of the coin?), to choose where and with whom we will live ... to live inclusively in society.
And it struck me yesterday evening (as I suffered through the migraine from Hell) that for me, personally, we could just as easily have renamed yesterday afternoon "The Art of the Possible".
We watched three separate video clips of "success stories" from across the country - in the first, a severely challenged young woman, Amber, moved from a group home into the home a former paid caregiver who had now become a real friend. This truly was a win-win situation for Amber as she now lived as a young adult in a room-mate situation as opposed to as a child in her parent's home or in an instiution, developed a second extended family who embraced her as one of their own, was clearly happy and well-cared for and once again lived nearby her biological family.
In the second clip, we met a young man, Chris, with a keen interest in all modes of public transportation - planes, boats or trains (especially trains); if it moved, he wanted to be on it. After making the move from a group home to his own rented house for a time, he was eventually able to purchase his own home with the help and guidance of his "microboard" - a team of family, friends and service providers who worked together to secure his future. With three paid caregivers, all close in age to Chris, who worked 48-hour shifts (which gave him much more consistency and flexibility in setting his own schedule than the standard three eight-hour shifts per day), he was able to be active and engaged in his community. And, of course, ride a lot of trains.
And although I had trouble fitting my head around the third clip, it was, perhaps, the most empowering for me, personally. Would you believe that for the past 20 years, students with intellectual disabilities have been attending University in Alberta? Not just community college, but University? Attending and actively participating in academic classes and intramural sports teams and "graduating" with a certificate right alongside their non-disabled peers?
Yes, I am the first to confess that I have a fair bit of difficulty seeing how that University experience could actually work for these students, but the three clips were certainly an exercise in the art of the possible for me, personally.
You see, for the past few years, we have had this semi-vague, semi-formed plan which involves the Blue Jay attending the NSCC after she finishes high school. The provincial community college system has become much more disability-friendly over the past several years, allowing students with special needs to access the accommodations necessary for them to obtain diplomas in their chosen area of study or, if they are unable to meet all the course outcomes, to participate in those portions of the curriculum that they are able and graduate with a list of employment skills. Since the Blue Jay has a strong interest in cooking, this seemed like a plausible possibility for her future.
But a few months ago, in a conversation with her resource teachers, in which I mentioned this plan (not for the first time) in passing, I was clearly and firmly told that the NSCC was not for the Blue Jay. That those programs were for persons who had an aptitude in a particular area and wanted to develop some more skills. That this was not the Blue Jay. As I was literally walking out of the room when the comment was made, I simply observed that we would have to agree to disagree on that one. And then exited. Stage left.
And although the comment stunned me somewhat at the time, I really didn't think it had had that much effect on my thinking. But at the end of the day yesterday, I realized that ever since that day, those remarks had been subtly working away at a subconscious level and were starting to make me doubt the appropriateness of our plan. A plan which, by the way, the Blue Jay is fully behind and excited about.
Let's just say that is not so much so anymore. If students who are mentally challenged are successfully attending university with their more typical peers (even if that isn't an option I can picture for the Blue Jay), who are these teachers (or anyone else for that matter) to say that community college is not an option for the Blue Jay, to categorically state that she can not go there?
No, were I to hear those words again, I do believe my response would be much more along the lines of Well, too bad what you think. She has the funding available and if she chooses to go, she will go.
The art of the possible, indeed.
And yet, lest I forget, I witnessed something else equally inspiring and thought-provoking this weekend. Not only did the Kit Kat devote her birthday weekend to attending this Conference (where she was by far the youngest and the only non-parent present), she was actually the moving force in getting both of us there, convincing me that this was an event we should attend.
Yup, I was very proud to stand up today (on her 15th birthday) and acknowledge my daughter in front of our fellow conference participants. She's grown into quite the young lady. On some days, anyway.