JAIPAL - The Impact of L.I.F.E. for young adults with disabilities

The impact of L.I.F.E. – Jaipal

JAIPAL - The Impact of L.I.F.E. for young adults with disabilities

Our Learning Independence for Future Empowerment (L.I.F.E.) Program has made a difference for many of its participants. Instead of us telling you the many different ways, we thought it would be best said from the participants and parents. Over the next week, we’ll be sharing testimonials through these blog posts!

Jaipal’s mother, Satpal Dhanjal writes:

“For me this program is amazing! Oh my god! Jaipal especially is really enjoying the program. We were talking earlier as we prepared dinner and he just kept going on and on about the program.

Jaipal (left) LIFE Mississauga participants at Ribfest

Jaipal can’t wait to get going in the morning to avoid being late to the L.I.F.E. program. He gets up, washed and dressed independently to avoid being late. 

To be having this lengthy conversation with my son shows the difference the program has made. My son no longer ignores me, there is no more swearing, he treats me with respect, we have conversations, he seems genuinely interested in me and grateful for the things I do as his parent – I feel appreciated.

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Tomorrow I am meeting with the agency, Mike Bennett Edge, that referred us to the L.I.F.E. program and I can’t wait to discuss how far my boys have come since attending the program.

There is really so much more to say such as how independent my son has become, taking the public transit to all the events L.I.F.E. attends in our community. I have also attended a few of the community events and watched her at work and she is amazing with the participants! They try everything and do many activities. I just can’t say enough.

Thank you!”

Our goal for Giving Tuesday this year is to raise funds to expand our L.I.F.E. Pilot Program in Calgary so that it runs longer than 2 weeks. It’s the first step towards our overarching goal of bringing the L.I.F.E. Program to empower other young adults with disabilities in other communities across the country! We’ve teamed up with Eric Howk from the band, Portugal. The Man, and Savaria to spread the word. Savaria will also be matching every donation dollar for dollar until Giving Tuesday on November 28. This means your donation will be worth twice as much! Please see our crowdfunding pages below:

If you’d like to donate in CAD ($), please visit: http://bit.ly/IGGLIFE

For our international donors, please visit: http://bit.ly/MODCLIFE17

Speechless, "L.I.F.E. Toronto's Thoughts on the Show!"

Speechless // L.I.F.E. Toronto Thoughts!

Speechless, "L.I.F.E. Toronto's Thoughts on the Show!"

During the last couple of sessions of our Learning Independence for Future Empowerment (L.I.F.E.) Program in Toronto, the group was introduced to a new TV show called Speechless. The show follows the DiMeo family as they go through life and the challenges associated with moving to a new town and starting at a new school.

We’re shown the experiences of every member of the family; Maya the overprotective, sometimes meddling mom, Jimmy the carefree dad, JJ the oldest son with a great sense of humor, Ray the brainiac, and Dylan the athletic daughter.

Speechless Cast
Speechless Cast

It’s heartfelt, funny, and quite realistic as many of the L.I.F.E. participants are able to recount similar experiences they’ve had throughout their lives. This show brings Cerebal Palsy into the mainstream in a big way! It also addresses a number of assumptions about disability in order to educate its viewers in a humorous way.

The reason for the title being Speechless is because the main character, JJ, has Cerebral Palsy and uses a communication device in order to speak. It begins with the family moving to a new town and finding a new aide for JJ. Throughout the episodes, there are humorous story lines that really humanize the experience of having a disability for its viewers, who may have no understanding of disability.

The L.I.F.E. Toronto group got together to think of anecdotes they’ve experienced that are similar to those shown in Speechless.

Speechless scene.

In the first episode, JJ walks into his new classroom only to be bombarded with classmates clapping and cheering for him and nominating him for Class President. Participants in the L.I.F.E. program have experienced similar reactions from people in the public when we are out on social outings, “people come up to us and congratulate us on being out and doing activities.”

In another episode, Maya calls JJ over and over again because he failed to show up for his physiotherapist. The group can empathize with JJ on this one and share their similar experiences; Marissa says that she often ignores calls when she is driving her chair because she is staying safe and attentive – whilst also recognizing that not answering her phone may cause people to worry about her.

In the first season, JJ meets Claire, an avid gymnast who is in a wheelchair while she recovers from a gymnastics injury. They become close and JJ decides to tell Claire that he has feelings for her, despite his fear of being rejected. The L.I.F.E. participants can relate to the fear of rejection; rejection from schools, sports teams, programs, and jobs. Jess told the group about her college experience. She made a few good friends throughout the program, but they stopped talking to her near the end of the school year. Jess felt like she had been taken advantage of, she felt they had been her friends to look good for the teacher. The experience caused feelings of rejection for Jess as she left college feeling as though she’d been used.

Jess and Marrisa, participants of our L.I.F.E. Program in Toronto.
Jess and Marissa

We thoroughly enjoyed the Speechless episode called HERO. This episode talks about “inspiration porn.” When Kenneth asks what that is, Ray explains, “it’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional things to only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people.”

In this episode there is a speech competition and a student who hardly knows JJ decides to write a speech regarding how JJ is his hero.

The L.I.F.E. Toronto group has had similar experiences where people have treated them as if they are “inspirational”. Jess has had some interesting experiences where new PSWs show up at her house and talk to her as if she is a baby. Once they see her college diploma, their tone immediately changes to, “Wow, you went to college!”

Another participant had an acquaintance say to her, “my husband and I could learn some things from you. We think that we have problems and are depressed but then I look at you and realize we don’t have it so hard and shouldn’t complain.” This comment really hurt the participant.

“[inspiration porn] is a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional things to only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people.”

Evan shared an experience where his PSW called the attendants at his old apartment “angels”.  L.I.F.E. Toronto staff have also had strangers approach them during outings to compliment them on what a great job they are doing. These types of compliments are quite silly, as the staff are just doing their job. Complimenting staff for no reason can also send the negative message that you assume that people with disabilities are somehow exceptionally difficult to work with.


In another Speechless episode called CHEATER, Maya and Jimmy learn that JJ has been cheating on his exams and that most of JJ’s teachers have been knowingly letting him off the hook. The L.I.F.E. group can relate to this, as some of them have had similar experiences where they forgot to pay their fare on the TTC but did not get questioned or reminded to pay by TTC drivers and fare inspectors.

The L.I.F.E. Toronto group has really enjoyed watching the first season of Speechless. The participants and staff all agree that the show has done a great job in portraying the experiences of persons with disabilities and their families, while dispelling disability-related stereotypes in an empathetic and often hilarious way. The group is eager to continue watching Speechless as soon as the next season becomes available.

Want to learn more about some of the important, fun, social, & general life skills we aim to provide young adults with disabilities who are transitioning to adulthood? Check it out here: http://bit.ly/modcLIFE

Photo of powered wheelchair with tilting seat, `March of dimes Canada', Megan, "New Community Blog Post!"

Let’s Talk About: Megan!

Photo of powered wheelchair with tilting seat, `March of dimes Canada', Megan, "New Community Blog Post!"

Megan was only 20-years-old when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over time, the disease has progressed to the point that she has limited circulation in her legs causing severe swelling and she can no longer walk. Megan’s occupational therapist recommended a power wheelchair with a tilted seat to give her mobility and relieve the pressure on her legs. But at a total cost of $18,730, the chair was out of reach for her financially. After receiving funding from the Ministry of Health’s Assistive Devices Program and the MS Society, Megan applied to March of Dimes Canada’s Assistive Devices Program for the remaining $2,700.

March of Dimes Canada was able to fund the remaining amount to help Megan purchase the wheelchair, and she is amazed at the difference it has made. Megan has become more mobile and much more comfortable.

Sraddha, Ryan, Jessica and Evan demonstrating tilting wheelchairs

It’s a godsend,” says Megan of her chair. “It’s very helpful. For years I’ve had massive swelling in my legs and since I’ve gotten my chair I now have knee caps and shape to my legs… I feel very blessed to have been able to access this resource.”

Megan is very grateful to all the generous donors who contributed to her power wheelchair.

Thanks to your support over the last year, we have been able to provide 282 assistive devices to 119 consumers just in the Ottawa region alone! We were able to turn every dollar donated into $5.44 worth of equipment – purchasing in total $204,231 worth of assistive devices.

You are making a difference in your community!

You can now be part of our Door-to-door campaign without having to leave the couch! Sign up as an online canvasser and use the power of the Internet to help raise money to support Canadians with disabilities: http://bit.ly/D2DOnline


LIFE Toronto reviews Apple Store’s iPad Workshop

Written by Amy Kostash

Last Friday, the LIFE Toronto group did a social outing to the Apple Store at the Eaton Centre for an iPad workshop. The experience was fantastic! The employees of the Apple Store were wonderful, they clapped us into the store, ensured there were no obstacles in our way, and really made an effort to get to know each and every person attending.


Amy and Tyler snapping a pic on the iPad

Prior to the workshop, the Apple Store staff checked in with us to find out what it was we were interested in learning. They catered the workshop entirely to our needs and interests! First, we learned about some accessibility features the iPad has, and everyone got to try it on their own. There were enough staff to assist if anyone needed it. Next, we learned about the different ways to take photos and videos like square, panoramas, and time-lapse videos. Sraddha’s personal favourite was when we learned about airdrop! It was so easy to send photos to the other iPads in the workshop, and it was especially fun to see the expressions on their faces when they received our silly photos. Tyler was particularly interested in learning how to print photos from his iPad at home. The staff were eager to explain and demonstrate airprint for him.


Jess was very impressed with the Apple Store employees and appreciated how they spoke directly to her, rather than only speaking with the LIFE Toronto staff. She says, “they were very accommodating of our needs.” After the workshop, Jess wanted to make a purchase and more than one of the Apple employees was eager to help her out, even bringing the items right to her so she didn’t need to fight the crowds!


Danielle and Jess taking a selfie with the iPad!

All in all, out LIFE Toronto group left the Apple Store with a collection of funny photos, new information regarding accessibility features of the iPad, and Apple USB bracelets!

The LIFE Toronto group encourages everyone to check out workshops at the Apple Store! They have a variety of topics, and they are very helpful and accommodating. The LIFE Toronto group is looking forward to going back for an iMovie workshop when they reach the editing stage of a project they’ve been working on.

LIFE weighs in on recent TTC “Stay Focused. Stay Safe.” awareness campaign

written by Amy Kostash and Danielle Hepburn

One component of our Learning Independence for Future Empowerment (LIFE) Toronto program is transit training. This allows participants to get one-on-one assistance using the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to get to a destination of their choice; usually back home from our national office. During our transit training sessions, we cover everything there is to know about the TTC from safe use procedures to its accessibility and planning our route. For the individuals in the LIFE Toronto program, this transit training provides an alternative to Wheel Trans should they feel comfortable enough taking it on their own.

Recently, the TTC published a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of focus in order to stay safe. These posters can be seen on subway platforms, subway trains, and buses. We asked the participants of our LIFE Toronto program their thoughts on these new posters.

Stay Focused Graphics

The first poster shows a woman in a wheelchair using the deployed ramp of a bus while a pedestrian is running past, unaware of the ramp. The message this poster aims to spread is that pedestrians need to be more aware of ramps and the potential they could be deployed at any time, and may cause a tripping hazard. The second poster shows a gentleman in a power wheelchair waiting for the bus while pedestrians hurry past him. The message this poster aims to send is that persons with a disability and/or mobility devices are to be the first to board the bus and the last to disembark.

First, we asked the LIFE Toronto group if any of them had experienced being cut off by pedestrians while waiting for, or getting on their Wheel Trans rides. 4 of the 5 participants say they have been cut off while the ramp of their Wheel Trans ride was deployed. Tyler says “these signs are necessary because people cut us off and don’t know that I have the right of way when getting on a bus.” Jess added that “these posters may not work, the buses already beep and drivers will yell at people, so I’m not sure that a visual poster will necessarily help.”

Another concern that the group had was the use of the selected images on the posters. Both depict the wrong way of doing things! Instead, our group thinks it would be much more effective if the posters showed pedestrians correctly using the TTC and allowing persons with disabilities the right of way. If people don’t take the time to read the message on the poster, there is a chance they could just end up adopting the wrong behaviour after all.

These posters allowed for some interesting discussion in our LIFE Toronto workshops. The group came to the conclusion that it is too early to tell if these ads are working. It will be interesting to see if the attitudes of people change based on the presence of these posters. Also, the group thought it might be interesting to create a poster or image with the same message but from the perspective of an individual in a wheelchair that shows the implications of pedestrians failing to give them the right of way.

L.I.F.E. Toronto Teams Up with Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund

The L.I.F.E. Toronto group at March of Dimes Canada has teamed up with Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund to add an exciting new component to L.I.F.E. program.  Jess explained that she has always LOVED music however she never had the opportunity to participate in music in school.  She was nervous for the first day of music therapy but that quickly changed to excitement and laughter.

The entire group agrees that Rebecca, the music therapist, is so much fun to be around and incredibly encouraging.  She is always telling us how well we played instruments and compliments us when we sing along with the song.  We play a variety of different instruments such as drums, tambourines and shakers along to some of our favourite songs. When we sang Firework by Katy Perry, Rebecca had us choose colours that we wanted to incorporate into the song. All of the colours were written on cards.  This made it really easy to point at which colour we wanted to sing about.  For other songs like Stompa by Serena Ryder, Rebecca had us take turns choosing a sound or movement to incorporate into the song.  Jess loves music therapy because she finds it helps relieve some of the stress she experiences in a day.  Evan enjoys the opportunity to practice using his hands and arms while playing the instruments and Sraddha finds that it helps with communication. This spring the L.I.F.E. group is extremely excited to make a song of their own in Music Therapy and to share it with all of you when it is complete!

L.I.F.E. Toronto program continues with the support of United Way TorontoTD Canada TrustToronto Community Foundation, and Royal Bank.

L.I.F.E. Toronto: Money Matters Workshops with ABC Life Literacy Canada and TD Bank Volunteers

The L.I.F.E. Toronto program had the amazing opportunity to participate in two Money Matters workshops. Volunteers from TD Bank came into our classroom to teach us all about financial literacy.  The volunteers helped us learn how to take better care of our money and be more responsible with it. We learned how to write cheques and how to use ATMs.  We set up a mini store to practice buying items such as chips, chocolate, coffee, milk, apple, a case of pop, a hat and a package of gum with fake money and coins. We would like to thank the volunteers from TD Bank for their support,  encouragement and enthusiasm. It was great working with them.  We learned a lot and had fun doing so.

L.I.F.E. Toronto program continues with the support of United Way TorontoTD Canada TrustToronto Community Foundation, and Royal Bank.

L.I.F.E. Toronto: Meet Usman

The L.I.F.E .Toronto program is pleased to introduce you to Usman. Last year Usman finished high school and was excited to begin the next chapter of his life but was sad to be leaving friends behind and wondered what to do next. When he heard about the pilot program offered at March of Dimes, Usman was excited to give it a try and has been back every session since. When Usman is asked what keeps him coming back to L.I.F.E. Toronto he answers “Because it is so fun!  And the social outings give me the opportunity to get out of his house and meet up with new and old friends.”  Usman loves being active and thrives during the recreational outings, especially when we play baseball!

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Usman has seen his role in the program grow as he works towards being a mentor.  He always goes out of his way to make new participants feel welcome.  He gladly gives others tours of the sites he is familiar with and helps them find their way around. Usman is a whiz with computers and has helped others learn how to use applications like Wheel-Trans online.  During recreational outings Usman has let his leadership skills shine through as he leads a game of baseball and then shows off what an amazing team player he is as he cheers on his team mates.

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It is in Conductive Education® that Usman shows his determination and strength. When he first joined L.I.F.E. Toronto, Usman did not get out of his chair very often, not because he couldn’t, but because he did not realize how capable he was. Walking more independently was a goal Usman had and with help and guidance from the conductors in Conductive Education®, this goal has come to fruition and continues to grow as Usman now works towards taking steps up and down more independently. Conductive Education® showed Usman some skills he did not know he had and he practices these during other components of the program.  When Usman stands during baseball, he gets out of his chair and walks the bases.  Over the next week Usman will be working hard in Conductive Education® and he can hardly wait to go to the Rogers Centre to watch the baseball game.

LIFE Toronto program continues with the support of United Way TorontoTD Canada TrustToronto Community Foundation, and Royal Bank.

Jessie presents TD Bank Group with the Jonas Salk Circle of Friends Award at the Ability & Beyond Gala 2014

My name is Jessie. I’m 28 years old and I’m from Toronto.  I live at home but one day I hope to reach the milestone of eventually moving out.  I have cerebral palsy which affects my arms and legs, my hand coordination, my learning, and my speech.  I use many methods of communication, however my main method is my speech generating device, called a DynaVox.

The LIFE Toronto program teaches young adults independence needed to fulfill a meaningful and productive life. During my first session in March 2013, I was ecstatic that I was going to be involved with a program.  Since graduating from school, I’ve had a tough time transitioning from being a student and being involved in camps and programs to becoming an adult and seeing my active life shutting down before my eyes.  Since joining LIFE I’ve became happier, more active and I started to have meaning in my life again.  I was very fortunate that I was asked to be a mentor for the next two sessions I attended.  As a mentor, I set a positive role model to the other participants. I encourage them to try new things and be amazing individuals.

(L to R) Rosemarie Owens-Tunney, Associate Vice President of TD Bank Group receiving the Jonas Salk Circle of Friends Award; Jessie Weber, mentor & participant of MODC / LIFE Program; and Andria Spindel President & CEO of MODC

I recently had the honour to represent LIFE Toronto at the Ability and Beyond gala on June 12, 2014.  TD Bank is March of Dimes best financial supporter and they have given much of their own time and effort to give to March of Dimes.  I was given the privilege to present an award to TD Bank, as they very kindly donated just over $1 million to March of Dimes Canada.  These funds contributed to the LIFE Toronto program. When I learned this, I was very grateful as this magnificent donation will only help LIFE Toronto program improve and grow. Knowing TD is supporting March of Dimes Canada LIFE Toronto program.

LIFE Toronto is an amazing program which combines fun and learning experiences. My favourite parts of the programs would have to be the camp out days with Outward Bound Canada, the TD Money Matters workshops and the Conductive Education sessions.  Thinking back to these parts, all of them have contributed to my personal growth during LIFE.  The Outward Bound programming showed me that anything is possible if I put my mind to it.  During the day camp out I worked as a team to put up a tent without staff’s assistance for the first time and I also reached the milestone of swinging on a regular swing.  I always look forward to each session and I enjoy seeing what I accomplish next!

Jessie puts up a tent


Jessie swings on a regular swing
Jessie swinging on a regular swing

To learn more about LIFE Toronto Program please click here.

ABC Money Matters Workshop

A large component of the LIFE Toronto program are workshops. They cover a variety of topics including healthy eating, stress management, healthy relationships, and goal setting, just to name a few. Another very important topic we cover is financial literacy and we were excited to have an opportunity to participate in Money Matters Workshop, which was made possible by ABC Life Literacy Canada and LIFE Toronto program sponsor TD Bank Group. The workshop was facilitated by amazing TD Bank volunteers; Shawn, Luz and Carissa.

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Our two Money Matters sessions were packed with important and practical information.  We had an opportunity to learn numeracy and financial skills; the difference between a chequing account and a saving account, how to make a budget and how to write a cheque.  We also received information on education savings opportunities available from the Government of Canada.  Ryan was thrilled to learn how to calculate how much money he spends every month. Evan learned how to set a goal to get better at managing his budget and during the workshop he also learned ways in which he could save money and not spend unnecessarily. Usman’s favourite part was using a calculator to do the math.  A favourite activity for all of us was the store activity.  Everyone took turns being the cashier at our imaginary store and had to tell other participants the total price of their goods and count out the change to be given after the purchase was made.

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Here at LIFE Toronto we know that improving our knowledge about financial responsibility and practicing the skills we learn leads to greater independence and we want to thank Carissa, Luz, and Shawn for their help! They were kind, respectful and most importantly friendly. Thank you for making financial learning fun.

Money Matters April 7, 2014 Group


LIFE Toronto program continues with the support of United Way TorontoTD Canada Trust, Toronto Community Foundationand Royal Bank.