This blog is about communication. It’s about a special kind of communication called AAC. (I personally struggle with this term; it stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, which is too much of a mouthful for me. AAC is simply an alternative way to communicate when someone has limited or no speech.) This blog is about disability, and navigation of disability in a society which orients itself towards people who are able-bodied. But this blog is also about ability, diversity, capability, possibility, hope. It is about our humanity, and about our connection–one person to another. It is about community and inclusion, and about how wrong it is for any of us to exclude and to make the decision that someone does not belong because he or she is different. So this blog is also about the importance of accessibility, because accessibility is a key to inclusion, belonging and community.
Kilometres for Communication was inspired by my son Kerr (pronounced “Care”), who is an artist, educator, social activist, writer, story teller, gardener, community facilitator. He happens to travel in a wheelchair and communicate with AAC. About two years ago Kerr and I had come back from the ICE conference (which stands for Independence, Community, and Empowerment), where he and I had given a presentation called: “Earth to Dark Clouds: Where are those Silver Linings?” The ICE Conference (which is now called “Breaking the ICE”) is a special experience because it is centred around people who speak in alternative ways. I was one of the few presenters who didn’t speak with AAC. Kerr and I arrived home after an inspirational weekend to meet Kerr’s younger brother, Skye, who was in a thoughtful mood.
Skye was 17 at the time, a senior at North Toronto Collegiate, who was planning on taking a year off before resuming his education at the University of Waterloo.
“I want my year off to be profound,” Skye said.
I was a little taken aback, but curious. “What do you mean?”
That’s when Skye first talked about his idea to cycle across Canada, and when our whole family—Kerr, Skye, Burns (Kerr’s and Skye’s dad) and I first discussed the idea of raising awareness about the many issues—yes, the many struggles—there are for people who communicate in diverse ways. Over time the idea evolved. Skye would cycle across the country. The rest of us would accompany him in a support vehicle. When safe and possible, Kerr would travel in a bike trailer. We would meet with people who speak in creative and diverse ways, and with the help of the media, introduce them to Canadians so that never again could they equate not being able to speak with not having anything to say. We would invite people to wheel, walk, run and cycle with us, and we would invite organizations, small groups of people and individuals to host events across Canada to raise public awareness and funds to empower voices and to make accessibility and inclusion a national priority for the more than 3 million Canadians with disabilities.
Kilometres for Communication was hatched, inspired by Kerr, conceptualized by Skye, and nurtured by Burns and myself. Later we found our charitable organizational partner, ISAAC Canada. It’s the Canadian Chapter of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
On May 19th, 2011, Skye will dip his bike into the Pacific Ocean at Port Renfrew, British Columbia, and Kilometres for Communication will be officially launched. It’s grassroots and an adventure. After more than 5000 hours of our planning and hard work, we’re not sure exactly what to expect, since it’s all volunteer. There are many people involved, many to thank (which we will try to do over the next little while), and it is our goal that by August 4th when our trip ends in St. John’s, Newfoundland, that voice, accessibility and inclusion will be on the minds of Canadians in a different way. We are raising money for AAC services, supports and technology, as well as for projects, opportunities and education that will enliven and empower the voices and lives of people who communicate in alternative ways. We will be advocating for changes in provincial policies so that AAC services, supports and technology are readily available to anyone who needs them. We are dedicated to the belief that everyone deserves a voice.
Facebook: Kilometres for Communication