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.

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Evan

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

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.

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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!

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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

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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.