I slept well, but I still need to deposit more in the sleep bank before I can pay off my energy debts I ran yesterday. I wasn’t far from Montreal—we were staying just to the northwest by about 50km, or 30km as the crow flies. We had an event in the eastern area of the city at noon. I hustled through suburbia, frequently stopping to check my map application on my phone. The roads were bumpy, and as I left Laval and crossed the bridge into Montreal, I hit the inevitable Montreal construction. I was a little late to the event, but I made it in the traffic and construction in decent time.
I arrived at the Centre de réadaptation Marie-Enfant in the east end of Montreal. They were waiting for us. I beat the two other vehicles in our party to the event, so I was the first person there. We did some quick photos, including a photo with the centre’s security guard. Just as the photos were being snapped, my mom arrived. Kerr, Mia, and my dad were still somewhere out there. Christine Valiquette, who was a primary organizer of the event, escorted my mom and I rapidly through the hospital-like building to the lawn on the opposite side of the building from the entrance. It felt bizarre to power walk my bike through this building, dressed in full bike gear.
When we arrived on the back lawn, there was a generous welcome of clapping…and the theme music from Indiana Jones was playing. A shyness-inducing number of people were gathered around the picnic tables in the shaded area of the back of the Centre de réadaptation Marie-Enfant. There was a sound system set up, and a tent with fruit and beverages laid out on a long table.
Olivier, age 15, was at the front with us. He interviewed us in French (which was translated for us), and we replied in English (which was translated for the audience). Olivier had a robotic arm attached to his wheelchair which he controlled using switches on the side of his headrest. He used this robotic arm to control where the microphone was. Olivier has speech; however he still uses AAC technology in his everyday life (an iPad with a communication app) to help him write. His asked us what the funds raised would go towards and what the motivation for the campaign was and how it came together. He also asked us to share some of the stories and memorable moments of the journey.
I shared several stories, one of them about a fellow I met in Calgary—Duncan Johnson. If you were following the blog back when I was in Calgary, this may sound familiar. Duncan is now a teenager. When he was much younger, he received his first communication device. Robert Munsch was (and maybe still is) one of Duncan’s favourite authors. When Duncan got his communication device, one of the first things he wanted to do was to write a story. Duncan’s story told the tale of a deviant Duncan—a Duncan who would go really fast in his power wheelchair and get speeding tickets from a police officer. (You can read his story at: http://kilometresforcommunication.com/stories/duncan-johnson/.)
He sent it to Robert Munsch. Robert Munsch got the story, read it and loved it so much that he came to Duncan’s school and read it out loud to the whole school.
I was telling this audience in Montreal about Duncan’s story. Due to the language barrier, I would say one or two sentences, then I would stop, and one of my saviours would translate what I said into French. I said: “Duncan’s story was about a young boy who got pulled over for going too fast in his electric wheelchair”. The sentence was said in French. A young boy in the crowd, Zachary, started laughing. He loved it. Zachary just got a power wheelchair.
Then it was time for some other people to share their stories. Our friends in Montreal had arranged a contest for people who speak with AAC. The writings were about how important and essential communication is. (You can read the stories: http://kilometresforcommunication.com/stories/.) The story contest was organised by CSCOÉ-Québec (centre de suppléance à la communication orale et écrite du Québec, www.cscoe.com). Marie Julien, President of CSCOÉ-Québec and speech therapist at Institut de réadaptation Gingras-Lindsay de Montreal, gave the cheques to the winners.
We had a relaxed lunch in the shade. Then it was off to event number two! Still dressed in my bike gear, I piled into Christine’s car with occupational therapist Elizabeth Clark and my mom (and obviously Christine!), and we sped off to downtown Montreal. This event took place at CSSS Jeanne Mance, where a number of people were gathered. Many of them spoke in alternative ways. The event was organised by Brigitte Bolduc, psychologist, and Alexandra Méthot, social worker, at Centre d’hébergement Centre-Ville de Montréal.
The story contest was also a part of the second event. Michel Chamberland and Jean-Eudes Bourque were awarded their prizes, and their stories were read aloud.
At both events we talked about our motivation for starting Kilometres for Communication. At the second event we discussed with the audience what we thought the next steps were to improving the lives of Canadians who have disabilities. There was a man who interested me. He had speech, but was in a wheelchair. He was passionate about our discussion, so much so that he was getting carried away with his words to the point that what he was saying was abusive and threatening towards policy makers and government officials. I don’t believe that we are born angry. Horrible and frustrating experiences are the pent-up gases that ignite anger when a painful topic arises.
I know there are people who work in the government who are compassionate and want to improve the lives of people who have disabilities. I’m also sure there are many who lack that compassion. I know there are some people in positions of power who do understand the issues regarding disability, but nonetheless, there is still a lot of misunderstanding and there are a lot of policies at different levels of government across Canada which are based on misunderstanding. These policies are barriers to so many.
I can understand how someone could get as angry as the man in front of me today did. Years of being misunderstood, discriminating policies, and experiencing a feeling of helplessness about changing the situation would do the same to me. I don’t know what else is going on in this man’s life, so it may seem like I’m assuming a lot. However, I know that based on what we were talking about when his anger was roused – and his passion on the topic – this was a painful subject for him.
There’s a man by the name of Robert Jean who I did not get to meet. He speaks with AAC. He wasn’t able to make it to Montreal during the time that we were there, so he had arranged for us to get to know him as best as we could without meeting him. Marie Julien, president of CSCOE (Quebec’s AAC committee), gave us a gift bag which Robert wanted us to have. In this bag there was a book he had written and a DVD of his sky diving experience (I probably won’t get to watch the DVD until I’m back in Toronto when this trip is done). Marie Julien also had a photo album with many moments from Robert’s life. We didn’t get to keep this. There was everything from black and white photos from Robert’s childhood to a large colour photo of him sky diving. I want to meet him more than I did before I opened the album. Perhaps one day our paths will cross, Robert. Thank you for sharing parts of your life with me. I’ll have to do the same.
To everyone in Montreal: thanks for the memorable day. Your efforts to organize the events are greatly appreciated. I hope local people who speak with AAC will meet more often and develop a strong network. Elizabeth, Christine, Marie, Brigitte, Alexandra and everyone else who worked to organize the events in Montreal (and our stay)—we won’t forget your hospitality, kindness, and enthusiasm.