Last November, CBC News launched the See My Ability campaign which gave a broader platform for disability awareness, thrusting disability discourse from the margins to the centre. It trended on Instagram and Twitter under the hashtag #seemyability and showcased the voices and experiences of disabled people who fight for inclusion and opportunity in a society that so often renders them invisible.
The campaign resonated with Sault Ste. Marie's Lori Harrison, program manager at the local Adult Enrichment Centre where people with a range of developmental disabilities are afforded new opportunities – and a sense of community that helps them grow.
“A big part of our program is physical fitness,” she says. “When people feel better, they gain the confidence they need to thrive. We talk a lot about serotonin here and how exercise triggers that reaction in the brain.”
There are even competitors from Special Olympics Ontario who participate. While the four-year old centres – one on Second Line West and one at the YMCA - are privately run, most participants are able to afford the services through passport funding. This funding program runs through the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services to support adults with developmental disabilities, which can range from Autism Spectrum disorder to cerebral palsy to down’s syndrome.
Each individual receives a different amount, depending on the number of services needed, but the minimum passport funding threshold is $5,000. That said, Harrison recommends people to apply at age 16. “There’s a waiting list and it does take a while to get approved, so it’s best to apply early so the money is there by the time individuals hit their 18th year.”
With activities customized to meet the needs and desires of participants, general activities in the program include learning the use of gym equipment, playing basketball or working on physical therapy. Life skills are a huge component of the program too. Learning how to budget, use the computer, and count and spending money help clients gain confidence and thrive independently.
“While fitness, stretching, and exercise take up a huge component of the program, volunteering for other members of the community also gives participants the opportunity to give back,” says Harrison. Adult Enrichment Centre members volunteer at the Soup Kitchen, the Bon Soo Winter Carnival, and the Sault Ste. Marie Humane Society. “We’ve even helped two individuals here go to college,” gushes Harrison, who explained that they provided the personal supports for people to complete the Culinary Skills Program and Esthetician Program at Sault College.
“It’s really up to the individual client to determine their wants and needs,” says Harrison. “We are here to support them with their personal goals – whether that’s finding paid employment in the city or just coming to make friends, get fit, or receive physical therapy.” Resume building and mock interviews are part of the program for those who need it. One thing is certain – “seeing people’s ability” is at the core of the program.