Rena's Blog

Saving Up

Living on a monthly fixed income can sometimes make it difficult to put away money for a rainy day or to do things that would give people the chance to escape from the everyday routine of life. For example: going to see a stage production or take a vacation.

Below are a few ways I have found helpful to ensure that there are a few extra dollars at the end of each month that can be used for entertainment or even emergencies.

Collecting My Change

When buying items at the store, I always use paper bill such as $5, $10. It is easier for me to grab $20 out my wallet, than taking out loose coins from a change pursue…. If any change is received back from the purchase, it goes into a jar which is kept on a shelf in my room. At the end of the month, I roll the loonies, quarters and dimes collected; take it to the bank and often walk out with $50.00. In 6 months, the change can add up to around $300.00

Putting Away the HST Cheques

I really enjoy giving gifts to my family and friends during Christmas time. One way to secure enough funds to buy presents is to put the monthly HST cheque I receive into a Saving Account. So, let’s say the average amount for a HST cheque is $45.00 - at the end of 12 months, there will be $540.00 in my account.

Reducing Monthly Expenses

A few years ago, money seemed to be very tight. Once the bills were paid, my groceries and other necessities were bought, there never seem to be anything extra for an emergency that may have come up. For example, needing a new bed or computer. So, I sat down and looked over my monthly expenses, trying to see where to cut down.

With the cable bill, I cancelled the movie network – hardly ever watched it anyway and switch to a lower internet speed service. Doing these 2 things saved me about $30.00 a month, which was put into an emergency fund (a saving account). Within a year, $360.00 was saved.

Taking these small steps, collecting changes, saving my HST cheques and reducing monthly expenses, helped me save some extra money to go enjoy a stage production or pay for any unexpected costs that came up.

Challenging Abilism

One way of describing Ablism in loose terms is “making assumptions about a person living with a disability”

In my final year of high school, I attended several collage information nights to learn more about the Social Service Worker Programs being offered. My career choice at the time was to be a social worker. During one of the sessions, I asked a question about the course curriculum and the teacher facilitating the group discussion answered.

Weeks went by and like my friends, I was anxiously waiting for a letter of acceptance to arrive.

The letter came. With excitement I open it and was shocked to read that the college I was hoping to get into denied my application. It was surprising. My high school marks were pretty good and I had passed the written admission test. I wanted an explanation for the decision. My heart was set on continuing my education. Upon speaking to the faculty advisor of the program, I was informed the decision was made based on my speech impediment.

Apparently, when I had asked my question at the information night, the professor had trouble understanding me and told the other faculty members, they felt I could not successfully complete the program.

It was unbelievable to me that an assumption like that was made by a person teaching in a program which focused on breaking down stereotypes. I told my occupational therapist (OT) of the school’s decision and explained the reason that was given. She saw that I was frustrated and asked what my next step was. I wanted to meet face to face with entire faculty. The OT offered to go with me for moral support.

Speaking to a room full of teachers knowing that one of them had trouble understanding me was intimidating. However, I was determined to show each faculty member that a person who has a speech impediment is very capable of complete a college program. I prov copies of my high school report card from previous years and showed them the results of my admission test. After the meeting was over, the faculty advisor shook my hand and said someone would call me in a few days with a decision.

I was accepted into the Social Service Worker program and graduated with high marks. As for the teacher who had preconceived ideas about my academic abilities based on a very short conversation, we developed a respectable student-teacher relationship during the 2 -year program.

I was approached after class one day by the teacher who looked me in the eye and said, “You have taught me a great deal” …

This experience taught me something as well. Challenging ablism creates learning opportunities and can help break down attitudinal barriers.

Their Greatest Gift

My parents Elizabeth and Steve grew up in a small village in northern Greece. They came to Canada near the end of the 60’s, got married and started a family. After learning from the family doctor that their first child, a daughter, was born with a physical disability, Cerebral Palsy, they were shocked.

Mom and Dad had not been around people with disabilities. In their hometown, a person who was consider “different” was kept inside the family home or institutionalized My parents wanted a child they brought into the world to have a happy, meaningful life and learn the skills to become a self-sufficient adult.

During my teen years, I was assigned weekly chores geared to my abilities such as folding laundry and keeping my room tidy. One of my responsibilities also included helping to put away groceries. Mom and Dad would often talk to me about the future; asking what my hopes and dreams were! My parent’s faith in my capabilities increased my self esteem and motivated me to set goals.

When I expressed an interest to attend college, Dad suggested that I try and find a part-time summer job to pay for school supplies. During the last year of high school, I was taking a co-op class and did an internship at the Ontario Science Centre. Before the semester ended, I applied for a part-time position as an Information Clerk, was hired and worked on weekends at the front desk for 5 years while attending college.

At the age of 20, I started talking about getting my own place. The idea of living independently in an apartment was so exciting. It made me feel all grown up. Mom was a little nervous about me “leaving the nest”. After all, a young woman from an European family does not leave home before getting married. She also worried about who would help me. I explained the concept of attendant services, reassuring both my parents that I would receive daily assistance for my personal needs.

Together, we came up with a plan that would allow me to follow my heart as well as give Mom and Dad peace of mine. The plan was; to find a place close to home and try being on my own for a year. That was 28 years ago. I am proud to say, I am still living independently.

Gently pushing me to utilize my abilities and talking about the future throughout my childhood, was the greatest gift Mom and Dad ever gave me. I gained the confidence to pursue my dream of having my own place and to continue working hard to achieve other personal goals such as becoming an educator. My parents believing that their daughter who had a physical disability could build a beautiful life for herself also gave me the strength to keep moving forward after they passed away.

. Focusing on Abilities (video link included)

For educators and service providers working with youth living with physical disabilities, it is important to encourage them to use their abilities as much as possible. They will learn more about him/her self and gain self confidence.

Here are some ways to assist a young adult in discovering their potential and start to believe they can succeed in many areas of their life.

Have Expectations

Teachers should expect students with disabilities to put effort into each assignment and receive good grades. Trusting in a child’s academic skills demonstrates to them that he/she is a capable individual who can do well in school.

During a class discussion encourage participation. Ask “Mary” or “Joe” their thoughts about the topic. When one’s opinion is valued, the desire to engage with their peers increases.

Be Aware of Accommodation Needs

It is essential for teachers to set up the accommodation requirements of students to ensure academic success. Speak to the individual directly. They know their needs best. A student’s accommodation needs may vary from; requiring more time to finish a test; to having reading materials available in alternate formats such as large print.

Set Goals: Dream Big

When working with a young adult, discuss with him/her what their future goals are. Ask if they want to be a dancer or a teacher; does she/he hope to travel one day; do they want to live independently and have a family

Questions such as these can help youth living with physical disabilities see that there are many options available to them. She/he will become excited about the future. Also knowing that somebody they respect has faith in their capabilities to build a meaningful life could motivate her/him to work hard and achieve their dreams.

There may be times when a young person becomes discouraged while working towards their goal. Allow them to express their feeling of possibly frustration; everybody needs to be heard.

To inspire them to keep believing in their ability to success, revisit their past achievements. Talking about pervious accomplishments, the youth will realize she/he has many skills and could possibly re-energize them to continue moving forward towards achieving their dream

Click on the link below and watch video of Kechi (above picture) performing. Hopefully it will inspire people to follow one’s dreams and embrace their abilities……. Video Link:

Finding My Way Out of the Darkness

Coming to terms with loosing both my parents within 6 months of each other, has been my biggest challenge in life.

Mom and I spoke on the phone every night, discussing our day. Most weekends were spent visiting my parents and brothers. The house we lived in for almost 40 years was a place to gather for birthday celebrations and holidays. After mom and dad passed away, John, Mike and I tried to keep the traditions going but our family home felt empty.

I continue going “home” to visit my brothers on weekends. It was important to me, us, that we remained a loving family unit who supported one another. We knew Mom and Dad would want their children to find a way to rebuild their lives together.

During my darkest days when I was filled with so many conflicting emotions; sadness and despair, I sat in front the computer and started typing. Expressing my feelings on a blank screen gave me a space to unlashed my anger at the world for being so cruel. Both my parents were gone!

Writing became my therapy. It allowed me the freedom to go through the grieving process at my own pace without having to worry about how my pain effected others. When I would speak about my feelings, it was easy to see that my friends/family felt bad that they could not ease my anguish.

When it started feeling “ok” to move pass the sadness, I started Just Believe Seminars. The name “Just Believe” was chosen to reflect what my parents tried to teach us, to always trust in our ability to build a meaningful life for ourselves. Facilitating educational presentations in schools and at community organizations was an opportunity to focus on something positive and to make a difference.

It has been well over 10 years since my parents passed away. I still struggle at times with the reality of loosing them both so close together. Grieving seems to be an going process. Writing continues to be my outlet to relieve the pain. Surrounding myself with supportive people who allow me to express my feelings when needed and understand that I may need to retreat from socializing for a while to mourn their death, has been such a comfort.

For a long time, it felt like I would never be happy or enjoy life again. The grief took over and sadness became my new reality. Spending time with my brothers/nephew, having a safe space to reveal my emotions without having a time restriction and giving back to the community, helped me find my way out of the darkness.

The City that Captured my Heart

Since the first time I visited Las Vegas in 1997, it has become my sanctuary. A place that fills me with joy and inner peace.

Wheeling down the strip hearing to the upbeat music coming from the speakers and taking in the beautiful sights, I feel alive. Seeing people dressed up as Poke man or Elvis makes me smile. The entertainment capital of world is like no other place I have traveled to before. New York City was nice; Greece was special because my family is there and Florida was okay if you are beach person, which I am not. Vegas for me is like Disney Land for adults. A magical city that has everything I enjoy right at my finger tips; swimming, fabulous shows and delicious food.

Accessibility: Las Vegas, in my opinion is very accessible for people who use motorized devices. There are elevators at the end of every block. For those using manual chairs, I highly recommend renting a scooter or electric chair. While walking along the strip, the hotels appear to be closer than they really are. I have wheeled from the north end of the strip to the south end and it took me 2 hours. Public transit is accessible and there is an accessible monorail that stops at varies hotels.

The Hotels: The architecture of the hotels is spectacular. Each has its own special design and theme. Caesar Palace for instance, has statues of Roman Empires everywhere. Inside, passed the large casino; is a shopping area with restaurants, where they are mechanical statues that talk during a free show. Yes! talking statues . At the New York, New York hotel, there is a roll coaster that goes through certain arears of the hotel. Crazy right! The Venetian has an Italian décor and offers gondola rides inside and outside. The gondolier sings to visitors as they enjoy a relaxing a boat ride.

I feel very fortune to have found a vacation spot that rejuvenates my spirit. Just thinking about being in Las Vegas; a feeling of excitement comes me and I am like a kid on Christmas morning. It’s my happy place!

Preparing for a Vacation

Going on a fun filled holiday, can rejuvenate one’s inner spirit. As I am packing for a weekend get-a-way or a week’s vacation, excitement builds up at the thought of escaping to New York city or sunny California!

For travelers living with disabilities, taking the necessary steps to prepare for a holiday, makes the experience a more relaxing and memorable adventure.

Bringing Your Own Mobility Device

If you are planning to bring your own power wheelchair or walker with you, it is a good idea to clearly label certain areas on the equipment that are sensitive such as the control stick. This way, the baggage handlers at the airport know not to touch that part. You, yourself will have piece of mind knowing that you did everything to ensure that the mobility device has be prepared to be transport into the airplane with care.

To have proof that your mobility aid was in good condition before being stored away, have an airport staff member take a picture of the scooter with your own camera. If the equipment should become damaged during the flight, you can feel secure that there is photographic evidence that the device was fine before you boarded the plane.

Traveling with an Attendant

Arranging for a personal support worker to accompany you on a vacation and provide you with the assistance needed, can make your holiday an enjoyable get-a-way. A few travellers have mentioned to me it is sometimes difficult to find somebody.

Here are some ways to try and find an attendant to travel with you. 1) If you live in a supportive housing unit that provides 24-hour attendant care services, speak to the manager. Ask if a staff member you feel comfortable with could possibly go with you on vacation. 2) Ask a friend if she/he would be willing to help you out with your personal care during a trip and 3) Contact an organization that works within the disability community to see if they know of any attendants who would be interested in traveling with a person who needs assistance.

After finding a person, sit down and discuss what the responsibilities of you and the attendant will be during the vacation. Perhaps develop a contract outlining what has been discussed and agreed upon. Both parties should read over the document and signed it. Being aware of each other’s expectations during your vacation, can make traveling together a pleasurable experience.

Preparing for a long-awaited vacation can sometimes be time consuming for travelers living with a physical disability. Once a support person is found and your mobility device is ready; start imaging yourself taking a stroll on a beautiful sandy beach, feeling the warm breeze on your face as the sun sets into the clear blue ocean.