Yes! Come feel the sand between your toes. Come feel the water and smell the fragrance of the beach.
Yes! Come sit here and listen to the chirping birds and the rustling of the leaves.
Yes! You can choose to follow or lead the way as we explore mother nature together.
Yes! Try a new activity and challenge yourself to make meaning of what true participation is.
Everyone wants to enjoy the great outdoor spaces. However, people with disabilities face many barriers that can limit or prevent them from experiencing the joy associated with doing even the simple, everyday things in life – walking, hiking, riding, playing. While efforts to improve accessibility, increase awareness and champion inclusion are helpful, unfortunately, people with disabilities continue to hear “no, sorry” far too often – sorry, no program, no staff, no facilities, no funds, no policies, no accommodations, etc.
The art of saying yes, is more than just the word itself. This powerful word is connected to a community where all people of all abilities feel valued, validated and respected for who they are and what they bring to the whole. The art of saying yes, opens the door to a world of belonging.
Meet my friend Dave Sora.
He is a former City of Toronto social policy officer and human rights consultant. He is currently the program leader of the All Abilities Program at the Pickering Soccer Club and the Academy for Accessible Sports. He co-lead the grassroots participation pathway of the Ontario Parasport Strategy, is a Jooay ambassador, and an advisor for the School for Social Entrepreneurs – Ontario. Whew! Does he every stop?! His passion and expertise to lead a collective impact project continues to increase participation rates of children and youth with disabilities in sport and recreation across Ontario.
I met Dave three years ago through the All Abilities Pickering Soccer Club at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital . This was the first extra curricular program that said ‘Yes!’ to our family. There was more to this program than just the adapted equipment and modified activities for Bella. It was the emotional and social environment that filled the gymnasium with children smiling, families cheering, and a feeling of accomplishment. Families were welcomed to either take this hour of respite, or join in and play with the group. Siblings were also welcomed as they learned to play soccer with their brother, sister, and also meet new friends. This program wasn’t just about accessible play, it was about an inclusive community that allowed all individuals to participate and grow, regardless of their abilities.
Dave also supports the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). The TRCA is one of 36 Conservation Authorities in Ontario. They work with municipalities and other partners to look after the watersheds of the Toronto region and its Lake Ontario waterfront. This organization helps people understand, enjoy and look after the natural environment. The TRCA is committed to creating and providing inclusive programs, services and spaces to all members of the communities we serve.
The TRCA recently held a professional development day for TRCA staff that included education professionals (e.g. outdoor, environmental educators and/or heritage and conservation educators), the Sustainable Technologies Program teams, placement professionals who help facilitate quality work placements for internationally trained environmental professionals, and all the support teams that help those teams function and be successful. Dave's contribution to this day was his workshop called, Beyond Awareness: The Art of Saying “Yes” .
I was invited to speak on the panel at Dave's workshop as the parent and educator voice amongst other community representatives from organizations and groups. The panel included an amazing group of leaders that shared the voices of The Loud, The Unheard, and Everyone In Between:
With varying levels of presence across the region, we had the opportunity to share our stories, initiatives, goals, successes and challenges as it relates to the work that we all do to support and broaden our professional development in inclusive education and programming, specifically for people with disabilities.
As I listened to the other panelist share their world of accessible recreation, I started reflecting on my personal experience in sport, recreation, leisure and play. When I grew up, recreation was easily accessible for me. I was lucky to have parents who not only valued the importance of physical activity, but also had the finances, resources, and time to help build my confidence and competence in a variety of activities, games, and sports. I grew up having a variety of opportunities to participate in the outdoors with my family through activities such as biking, rollerblading, camping and skiing.
In high school and university, I was your classic jock who craved the competitive environment of team sports.
Today, my daughter is part of the five million (and growing) Canadians who live with some form of disability. According to the Canadian Disability Participation Project, this segment of our population is at greater risk for physical and psychological health problems and less likely to participate fully in society. Research consistently shows that participating in sports, exercise and other forms of physical activity significantly improves physical, psychological and social well-being. So how can we address the barriers that are preventing this population from accessing programs and activities in our community and the outdoors? What can we do to ensure that inaccessibility is not the norm?
At the end of the TRCA panel presentation, we each had to share a statement or question for participants to pause and ponder on:
“If only…every day of everyone’s life was a quality experience.”
“What if…you knew all the moms, dads, caregivers, brothers, sisters behind their labels?”
“What if…there was a way that natural feature information on the walking trails could be conveyed to those with disabilities.”
“What if…a conservation area could be a demonstration site for universal access?”
“If only…there were more opportunities for collaboration and innovation.”
Whether you are a politician, policy maker, or a community leader... whether you are an educator, support worker, health practitioner or parent... I ask you the following question:
What will your art of saying yes look, sound and feel like?
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