Transitioning into Independence

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Since I was a child I was encouraged to be as independent as possible. My family, teachers, doctors and therapists would all tell me to not let my spina bifida diagnosis prevent me from living a ‘normal’ life and for the most part, I had a relatively normal childhood. I was integrated into public school system in Brampton from the time I was in junior kindergarten and in my mind I was just like any other kid, but I happened to use a wheelchair.

By the time I graduated from high school I knew I wanted attend post-secondary school. I excelled at writing and my dream was to become a journalist. I applied to various colleges in Ontario that offered a journalism or broadcast media program but did not get accepted to my top choices. I decided to take the General Arts & Science program at Sheridan College to accumulate some credits and reapply the following fall.

In 2003, I finally got my wish and was accepted into the Journalism program at Humber College. With my goal of becoming a journalist underway, I went on to the next goal of any average 20-something: moving out of my parents’ house. I knew that when I graduated from college, my best bet to find a journalism job was in Toronto, so I began the application process. I applied to various supportive housing buildings, but my preference was to move to the Gage Transition to Independent Living to learn what it is like having attendant care and how to cope with living on my own for the first time. It was only a few months after I applied when I got called for an interview at the Gage and despite being told that I would likely be on the wait list for about a year, I got accepted six months after my interview.

My first few months at the Gage were hectic. Between learning how to direct attendants, having meetings with a life skills educator two or three times a week and finishing my final semester at Humber College, I had little time to adjust to my new life. Not long after I felt somewhat settled in my new surroundings, I began my post-college job search. During this time I remember getting into an argument with my life skills educator (who also has a physical disability) about whether or not my disability was my life. She argued that having a disability is my life, whereas I believed then - and still believe - that my disability affects me on a day to day basis but it is only a part of my life. As I look back on this debate now, I think this was a significant point in my life because it made me question my perception of myself and how others perceive me and made me wonder if I was in denial about having spina bifida.

A year and a half after I moved to the Gage, I got hired as a summer intern at TVGuide.ca and then hired by the publication as a TV Listings Reporter shortly after. Although I was honest with the staff at the Gage about my intentions to find a job, they were clearly unimpressed when I did not have as much time to complete the program and immediately started pressuring me to find a permanent place to live. Even though I was completely aware that the program required me to find a permanent residence, I felt that the Gage - a transitional program that promotes independent living - failed me because the staff’s main concern was that I move out, while mine was to adjust to my life in Toronto and new job. The pressure that the Gage put on me made me angry because I felt that my family and I had spent years ensuring that I lived as normally and independently as possible and was being stifled by a program geared to teach disabled people how to become independent.

My experience at the Gage made me question if society is actually willing to accept full independence for people with disabilities. Maybe not as much as I initially thought. My life story is still being written and the fight for access and independence continues. So, we will see.