Monday, November 06, 2006

Scarlet Ball speech...

Below is a speech I gave on November 4th at the Scarlet Ball in Toronto, a gala for Westpark Healthcare Center, a hospital that funds a transition program I participated in so I could live on my own.

Hi, I’m *OCG*. Around the age of ten, my physiotherapist gave me some advice. “If you’re going to fall, try to plan your landing so that most of your body doesn’t suffer a large impact.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to apply this advice to other, less urgent situations.

I think we all reach that time near the end of our teenage years when we are itching to start building our lives. For me, this itch seemed more like a persistent rash. It only eased when I enrolled in university and began putting in place all of the pieces in order for me to live in residence.

As time drew nearer to moving out and starting university, I experienced a sick feeling in the pit of stomach. It wasn’t that I was scared of going to school; it was moving out and getting the right care that made me uneasy.

After spending one night in my residence room, I realized that I needed more care than attendants at the university could offer. Sadly, I had to move home and began a very long commute, taking two buses each way. The long hours of travel and trying to adjust to university took its toll on my energy. However, my failed attempt at independence took a bigger toll on my confidence. I wondered if I’d ever live independently. Having choices and control over my care and the ability to lead an active life wherever I lived was essential. I was unsure if my vision of independence could become reality.

Unwilling to let go of my plan for an independent life, I applied and quickly got accepted to the Gage Transition to Independent Living, an exclusive program run by West Park Healthcare Centre.

West Park’s Gage program is the only one of its kind in Toronto, helping young people with disabilities to gain the skills and confidence they need to live independently in the community. The program takes place in an actual apartment building in a great downtown neighbourhood. The Gage is one of few programs to highlight transition related issues in Ontario.

Looking around my apartment on that first night at the Gage, I could feel my life beginning. During my two years at the program, I realized that good care is a right, not a privilege. I was approached as an individual person, not a patient. I am a student, a daughter, a writer, a girlfriend, a sister and a friend. I realized that without consistent care, I could not be any of these things. Through my time at West Park’s Gage program, I learned to trust my instincts and myself.

I now live in my own apartment and am getting closer to finishing my degree. I have only made it this far because of the unconditional support of my parents. I also have a special person in my life named the *Observer* who has shown me that life is better when we’re together. Most of all, I have learned that I can count on myself, even when facing tremendous challenges. That, I owe to my experiences at West Park.

I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of the Gage program, where I truly learned what it means to be treated with respect and dignity. Never again will I doubt my dreams or my future.

West Park’s staff showed me that I am an ordinary girl blessed with extraordinary opportunity. I may have fallen, but I landed safely due to the many exceptional people who supported me. I am here tonight to say thank you.

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