There was torrential rain when we woke. It was quite the sight, but it didn’t last long. Rather than dressing in full water-proof cycling gear as I usually would, I decided to wear jeans and a dress shirt. I also put on my leather dress shoes rather than my clip-in bike shoes. Seriously; I’m not kidding you.
We drove to the Deer Lodge Centre—where I had cycled yesterday from Portage la Prairie. No, I wasn’t going to bike dressed like that—as you may have guessed. Ben Adaman, the co-ordinator of the Communication Devices Program at Deer Lodge Centre, had organized an event for us. Gail and I presented Kilometres for Communication and moments from our journey to a room full of people—speech language pathologists, people who speak with AAC, communication assistants and other professionals affiliated with the Assistive Technology program at Deer Lodge.
Almost every time I speak in public, I get to a point when I talk about my motivation for Kilometres for Communication. Always, I talk about how I am frustrated when people talk around my brother, Kerr, by asking me questions that should be addressed to Kerr. Almost always, when I talk about this, I get an emotional reaction from someone in the audience who speaks with AAC. Clearly, inability is often assumed when it
shouldn’t be. On this day, it was Janine who had the reaction.
It was nice to meet Janine; she had written to us earlier in the year. As we’ve been meeting people who speak with AAC across the country, we’ve been asking them what they want to share, what they feel needs to change, and what they find some of the greatest barriers are. Janine brought up a question. “What about after high school?” Now, Janine is not in high school, she is older. What she is referring to is the lack of support for transition from high school. There are many barriers which can make it difficult for someone who speaks in alternative ways to carry the momentum from one stage to the next. Janine’s story is on our website, so please, if you’re interested, do check that out.
I met a young woman by the name of Dorian at Deer Lodge. She can speak, but often it is not clear, so she needs a communication device for when she interacts with strangers or in circumstances such as using the phone. She told me one of the most absurd stories that I’ve heard so far on this trip. Dorian is originally from Brantford, Ontario. She went to a school where she was integrated. One day, they took her communication device away. They locked it in a closet. They didn’t want it to get broken. Yeah right. A similar thing happened to Kerr. A teacher once took away the switch that activates his communication device because she found the computer-generated voice annoying. Yes, these things happen, in Canada. It’s appalling. It’s shocking. It’s the equivalent to a teacher going up to any one of the students—even a good student who rarely talks—and saying: “I don’t like your voice, and I don’t really care for what you have to say, or what you think and feel, so I’m going to put this piece of duct tape over your mouth. You can take it off at the end of the day.” Dorian had other stories too. I hope they’ll be up on the Kilometres website sometime in the near future.
After the official event, several of us sat around talking. It was quite nice, but I was beginning to get anxious about the time. It was 3:30pm and I still needed to get on the road to pedal. We said our good byes, and I dressed up in my bike gear, and set off from the Deer Lodge Centre parking lot around 4pm. Winnipeg is not a bike friendly city to begin with. I didn’t see any bike lanes. The roads are bumpy and cracked. The motorists aren’t used to cyclists, so there is very little space left between the curb and vehicle, and people don’t check their blind spots. To make it worse, I was heading out in the rain, in rush hour. I’ve biked in the rain through the downtown core of Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto. None of those came close to matching the agony of pedaling through Winnipeg that afternoon. Eventually, I made it out to the country. On this day, I officially left the Prairies. No more fields. No, there were deciduous forests; a welcome change in scenery. It was also nice to have the shelter from the wind. We ended up camping at the side of the road, literally in the middle of nowhere. We were tired, and that’s where we managed to get on that busy, rainy day.