Friday, October 7, 2011

Letting Go

There are times when it is difficult to let go. It is hard to let things go after holding onto them for a long time. When you finally do, it is as though a weight is being lifted off your shoulders.

Sometimes it takes a physical act to symbolize the letting go. It is important to step into a new stage of life, to leave the past behind in order to move forward into your future.


I want to be an efficient watchman.
I want to lift people up.
I want to know when people are hurting.
I want to hold people close.
I want to cover them.
I want to listen for the sounds around me.
I want to have my perception heightened.
I want to fight for for what I believe in.
I don't want to sit and watch my life pass me by.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fully Engaged

I desire to be fully engaged in all facets of my life. What does that mean to me you may ask? It means being fully connected to my surroundings; to my family and friends; to be fused together with my Heavenly Father and to gain my nourishment for my soul from His Word.

I become afraid when I become complacent.

I must realign myself and continually engage.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hiding Place

You are there in my weakness.
You shelter me.
You are my peace.
You are my refuge.
Your gentle hand heals me.
Wrapping Yourself around me, I hide in Your safety.

Cover Me

Cover me with Your grace.
Cover me with Your mercies, afresh each day.
Shield me from the filth of this world.
Protect me.
Help me attack the tasks of life with fervor and precision.
Help me be acutely aware of my surroundings.
Cover me with the warmth of a blanket.
Cover me with Your Spirit.


I am motivated to learn.
I am motivated to teach,
To give all of myself.
Why do people question me?
Why do they question my abilities?
I just want to assist people in achieving their goals and dreams.
I just want to be who I am supposed to be.
I just want to have my own relationships without any hindrances .
I just want to be who I am.
I don't understand it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hidden Treasures

Take in every moment.
Didn't let them pass you by.
Always puzzles to solve.
New treasures to discover.
There are times when you have to dig deep as you can.
Sometimes you have to cut away the rough edges to reveal hidden treasures inside.

In the Silence

In the silence, I hear Your whispers.
In the silence I hear the loud shouts.
In the silence I hear a beckoning,
Someone calling my name, directing my every move.
I listen carefully in the stillness.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Remove The Veil

Remove the veil from my eyes.
Allow me to see clearly.
Do not hinder my peripheral vision.
Allow me to hear Your voice loud and clear and help me not to be distracted by circumstance.
I pray for wisdom: Guide me, each step.
I can't take one step without You.
I ask You to refill me with Your Spirit each day.

At Your Alter

I come to Your alter, once again.
With all of my brokeness and pain.
I ask You to wash it all away and create something beautiful that pours out of me to others.
It's time for me to step into a new day.
I pray You would guide my footsteps.
Open my eyes to see.
Open my ears to hear.
I lay everything at Your altar.
Allow me to do as You will,
Giving off a fragrance to everyone I meet.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Still Believe

I still believe in the power of the cross.
I still believe in the power of Your resurrection.
I still believe in Your healing hand.
Breaking the bonds.
Stripping away all of my hurts.
I am naked and vulnerable before You.
Captivating Love.
Redeeming Love.
Here I am, use me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Suggestions for the Upcoming School Year

Published in the TRU Omega, August 2011

The beginning of a new semester is approaching fast yet again. It is hard to believe it is almost here.
Every time I write, my desire is to educate and inform my audience on any given subject. One of my values as an aspiring journalist is to empower my readers to make their own decisions. 

As we approach another school year, I encourage you to have an open mind to new perspectives. While you are sitting in the classroom, it is important to listen carefully.  It is imperative to absorb everything that you can in the classroom, however it is also important to think critically and take into account your own values and beliefs. You are not always going to agree with everything that you hear. Sometimes there are many more perspectives and you have to research them out for yourself. The overall process of researching and attending university allows students to grow into who they are.  

Another aspect of preparing for the beginning of the year is to mentally prepare yourself.  Sometimes when you look over the outline for the first time, it can be overwhelming.  At the beginning of every semester, I also get overwhelmed and I have to remind myself to take it one step at a time. I also write every assignment in my day timer and refer to it often to accomplish each task in order of priority. There are other students who work well under pressure and they can produce an assignment in one evening or one day and that works for them. You must find a technique that works best for you and give yourself an adequate amount of time to complete it.

Setting goals for myself at the beginning of the semester helps me achieve what I need to. A small goal could be getting supplies for school and a larger goal could be completing a huge essay on time. 

It is still possible to eat a healthy, balanced diet on a student budget. Eating a nutritious diet is often beneficial to give energy to students for when it is most needed.  Having the adequate amount of sleep also helps keep one’s mind focused and clear.  The Wellness Center can help you find more information on how a healthy lifestyle can benefit your studies.

Preparing for school can be daunting, but also exciting at the same time.  I hope I have given you some useful suggestions on how to be successful in the upcoming year. I encourage you to find your own techniques to accomplish your educational goals.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a great school year. I hope I have given you some unique perspectives in my column. I would also like to thank the Omega for giving me the opportunity to write for them.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Time to Move

Lately I've been stagnant, unable to move.
But it's time to move.
There is no time to waste.
I must remind myself to put my armour on each day.
What is that sound I hear?
It's the sound of galloping hooves approaching.
The King is sitting atop His white horse,
He is radiant white.
I must prepare for Him.
Are you ready?

In My Brokenness

There is always a battle going on around me and sometimes I am more aware of it than others.
Sometimes I picture myself kneeling on the floor, my emotions overwhelming me.
Pieces of broken glass around me.
I say to myself there must be more.
I rise to my feet in the midst of my brokenness.
Standing there waiting for me, is the One whom I follow.
Lifting my chin, He wipes tears from my cheeks.
I lock eyes with His.
Taking His hands, I know He has everything under control.
He has much more to show me and teach me.
I want to follow His lead.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Turning Tide

There is an urgency in the air.
Change must come.
We want to see You.
We want to see people drawn to You.
We want to see miracles.
We need to feel Your presence once again.
It is like ice thawing after a long winter.
It is like a flower that blooms, its pedals opening towards the sun.
The urgency is like a whirlpool that rages.
At times, it is hard to bare.
You are the only one who can turn the tide.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Quiet Reflections

Published in the TRU Omega in July 2011
For me, summer is a time of contemplation and reflection. Many people may find this difficult. We are busy with school, work, families, hobbies and other responsibilities. There are a few advantages to being in a wheelchair. I believe that having time to contemplate and reflect is one of them.

Recently I had the privilege of travelling to Maui with a few of my family members. I had the opportunity to absorb the beautiful scenery. The rock formations are majestic and amazing. The calmness of the distant turquoise ocean contrasts the gigantic whitecaps crashing into shore. The gentle breeze brings a sense of relaxation and the warmth of the sun lifts my spirit.

I had the opportunity to experience being in the ocean one day. I loved how my body felt weightless, how the tightness of my muscles left me and how the sand felt between my toes.

I enjoyed watching my one year old nephew experience the ocean for the first time. It was comedic and a joy to watch him get sand everywhere and get gently pushed over by the waves.

One day when I was sitting in my wheelchair sun bathing, a couple of questions came to mind. What do people think when they see me sitting here? Do they feel sorry that I can’t do some of the things that they are doing? That I can’t splash around in the waves? Or are they looking at my body not knowing that I am whole and healthy on the inside?

There are some difficulties that can arise when it comes to travelling with a disability. My normal routine is interrupted and I don’t have access to the equipment I often need to go about my day. There are times when I have to accomplish tasks differently.

I attempt to take in every experience that I have been given. My family and I went on a boat trip to the islet of Molokini.  While they went snorkeling, I waited on the boat.  Some people may think I would be upset about this but I have learned to find happiness in every situation.  Don’t get me wrong it is not always easy. I struggle with this on a daily basis but this time I enjoyed mingling and interacting with the people coming on and off the boat. Once, a crewman was nice enough to rush me over to a window just in time to see a turtle poking his head out of the water. On two separate occasions, I witnessed beautiful rainbows spread across the sky, reminding me to be grateful for what I have and take in every moment.
I appreciate the time I have to reflect and being in a different environment reminded me to make the most of those times every day. I am encouraged anew to ponder the tough questions that sometimes run through my mind and not take anything for granted.

Relaxation of Summer with a Twist

Published in the TRU Omega in June 2011
Summer is finally here. We have made it through another year of studying, assignments and lectures. Those of you who are reading this are likely in the midst of taking summer school. I took this summer off, but I will be in the same position as you next year.

Sometimes we have to do things we may not want to do to benefit our future. There are a few pros to taking summer school: First, you can convince your professors to conduct your classes outside and enjoy the beautiful summer weather. Secondly, you can achieve your goal of obtaining your degree faster, or reducing your course load in the upcoming semesters. Thirdly, the semester feels like it goes by quickly because the course material is condensed.

Let’s get back to summer vacation and relaxing. There are endless recreational possibilities to explore in the Kamloops area. Camping, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, waterfall exploring, horseback riding, boating, visiting beaches and swimming are just a few of the adventures that you can enjoy. 
There is also Music in the Park at Riverside every night at 7:00 from July 1st to August 31st and the Kamloopa Pow Wow on July 29-31st.  
 Don’t forget to join the Canada Day celebration at Riverside Park on July 1st.  

 If you don’t mind traveling a bit farther, British Columbia offers beautiful scenery including mountains, lakes and rivers. If you would like more information on some of these activities, visit: or .

Summer is a time for rest and relaxation, but it is also important to keep your mind active. Why not participate in an activity relating to your field? Perhaps you could gain employment or get a volunteer position that contributes experience and knowledge to your educational and future career goals. For myself, I have found that reading and writing throughout the summer helps keep me mentally sharp.

In the summer, you have the chance to do things that you always wanted to do but couldn’t because you were in school.  Personally, I have already had the opportunity to experience a few adventures: I had the chance to do a photo shoot with one of my fellow journalism classmates just for fun. I have also continued to write for the Omega, and other various newsletters. One of my passions is to create awareness and advocate for people with disabilities. I had the privilege to write and co-present a speech for the proclamation to city council for “Disability Awareness Week.”

For the relaxation part of my summer, I will be traveling to Maui for the first time to experience a Luau, a Hawaiian theatre production, a boat ride to the crater of an old volcano and of course the tropical sunshine!

This summer, I hope that you also have the opportunity to combine work and school with fun and relaxation.

Once Again

Intercession is rising.
Roaring from within me.
There is a deep, guttural cry that comes from within my soul.
We need you.
Come Lord Jesus, come.
Show Yourself strong.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Honouring Opportunity

I humbly lay down before You.
My eyes and my heart are wide open.
My heart is filled with gratitude,
Spilling over.
I am thankful for every opportunity that is given to me.
I am overwhelmed with emotions.
You're so wonderful.
I love You so much.

Friday, June 3, 2011

How Far I've Come

I can't believe how far I've come from where I began to where I am today. There are continual waves of mercy and grace washing over me. I used to be a person afraid of what people might think or say. I've learned how to gain my voice and make decisions for myself. Of course, life is a learning process.

Lately I've felt stopped in my tracks. I am ready to jump in again with both feet. I realize that I have much more to learn. I feel as though I am a confident and mature butterfly that has emerged from its cocoon.

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Affectionate Touch

An affectionate touch can be:
The fingers of a small child gently brushing against my arm.
Someone placing their arms around my neck.
When a person walks by and lovingly rubs my arm.
Someone wrapping their arms fully around me and embracing me.
A sweet little kiss from one of my nieces or nephews .
When they begin climbing up onto my lap, with the warmth of their bodies against mine.

Friday, May 20, 2011

All of Creation Sings

I enjoy being outside with the warmth of the sun beaming down upon me, warming me from the inside out. All of the colours and textures of creation surround me. Vibrant greens, crisp yellows and deep rich purples, are just a few of the colours that accent creation.Soft white and pink blossoms begin blooming, small round cotton balls that resemble fluffy clouds. Take a moment and breathe in all of the fragrances and sights of creation.

All of creation sings.

Friday, May 13, 2011

You are always there

You are always there, no matter what I am doing.
I feel Your gravitational pull, pulling me to the center.
Whether I am in the midst of giving a presentation,
Whether I am visiting with friends,
Whether I am speaking to city council,
Whether I am reading the Bible, or even another book, and am inspired to write,
Whether I am alone in my room pondering,
Whatever I am doing,
You are always there.


Images are powerful, they tell a story.  They capture the emotions and facial expressions of the moment.  There is an intimacy that forms between the photographer and his subject.  It is as if the photographer is unwrapping a gift each time he takes a picture, revealing the different characteristics and colourful personality of that individual.  They radiate from the images and an untold story is told.

Friday, April 15, 2011

International Days

Published in TRU Omega April, 2011

International Days are upon us again. The celebrations on campus are the perfect distraction from studying and writing papers, a time to take in the cultural events and rejuvenate.
With International Days in full swing, I’ve been reminiscing about my own Italian roots. My Nonna lives in the small town of Crotone, in Southern Italy. In many cultures, families gather together around the dinner table, to eat and celebrate. In Italy, the afternoon meal is the largest of the day.   When most people think of Italy, they typically think of large platters of pasta and trays of lasagna doused in tomato sauce, but surprisingly those foods are not the ones I normally think of. Usually, when I think of meals at Nonna’s house, I think of all the appetizers that she serves: Plates of hot cappicollo, mortadella, roasted red peppers, provolone, mozzarella and asiago cheeses; sweet, buttery, finely-sliced pickles that jiggle like jello, with ridges resembling lines drawn on a sandy beach; Cheeses with strong aromas; Stoned-wheat crackers, piled high with pieces of tomato, tuna, and olives in half-moon shapes. I remember the many tastes and textures and vibrant colors.

One of my favorite dishes is Nonna’s meatballs - large and tender, a mixture of spiced beef, fine bread crumbs and diced onions, lovingly prepared in the early morning hours by Nonna and Auntie slaving together in the kitchen.
Nonna, a short woman with dark, tightly-set curls, always wears black linen dresses. She’s been wearing them for as long as I can remember, as my Nonno passed away when I was ten and she’s been in a permanent state of dramatic mourning ever since.

I can picture Nonna hastily but unapologetically wiping rouge-red sauce stains from her lips with the corner of an embroidered cotton-white table cloth.
“Mangia! Mangia! You’re TOO SKINNY!!!” Nonna would insist.

When I protest, Nonna traipses over, leans into me and affectionately pinches my cheeks between her long, wrinkled fingers. She squeezes so hard my head nods vigorously up and down.

After our afternoon meals, we usually go for a walk to burn off the extra calories consumed. While we stroll down the cobblestone streets, we pass a local pizzeria.  I can smell the aroma of fresh pizza bubbling in the oven, light-brown and crisp with tomato sauce dripping over the sides.

During International Days, I hope you will all take some time away from your busy schedules to explore the various cultures and sample some of the many authentic dishes that will be prepared.

For more information on the various foods and activities, pick up one of the many guides available around campus, or visit

I hope you enjoyed travelling to my Nonna’s house in Italy with me and that it brought back memories of your own families. If you don’t know a lot about your own heritage and culture, I hope this week’s festivities will spark your curiosity. Or perhaps my Nonna could adopt you. She always needs more mouths to feed!

A Mosaic of Voices

Published in TRU Journalism student magazine "12 Tales from the Edge" in April 2011

Imagine that you have almost no control over your own body. Neither your hands nor your feet do what they’re supposed to do. You’re smart, but you can’t hold a pencil to write your thoughts, and when you speak, others have difficulty understanding you. You’re often underestimated. You’re in a wheelchair and you can’t walk over to someone and strike up a conversation. You have to wait for others to come to you, but they often don’t. Would you give up? Many do.

Often, I find myself lying in bed, drifting off to sleep as the darkness of my room envelops me. My arms can suddenly feel as though a boa constrictor is tightly coiled around them and at times it takes over my whole body. I attempt to move every which way to relieve the pain but my brain is unable to tell my body to relax. As I’m straining and stretching, I want to escape. I’m caught in a straight jacket that pulls my arms in tightly. Sometimes I call out to Mom for her to come. She has to use all her strength to relax my arms. Tears trickle from my eyes out of a combination of frustration and pain, like a tap left dripping, a continual flow of water droplets.

My room, usually a bright, refreshing place, quickly becomes a darker place where I am sucked down into a deep, dark hole. A war begins between my body and my mind. My body will not respond. Loneliness grabs a hold of me. I can’t see anything, like I’m walking into a deep, dark forest and don’t know where to turn or what to do. Clawing and scrambling and not getting anywhere. The pain is excruciating; a continual surge of electrical shock courses through my body. I attempt to fight the battle inside my head, to relax myself, but it elevates and takes over whenever “it” feels like. Mom puts her head down upon me until my body relaxes and I fall asleep.

I have various strategies that help me cope, but I have always wondered how others cope or what they experience. I made the decision to head out on a journey to discover not only how people with disabilities get through difficult times, but also the various perspectives of caregivers and educators.

Robin DeWolf’s home is warm and inviting. A collage of black and white photographs of her family hangs in the entrance way.

DeWolf works as a caregiver, providing room and board in her home for women with disabilities. You see them out and about, shopping and participating in as many social activities as possible. They have become a part of her family.

DeWolf has a bubbly and vibrant personality; always upbeat, she loves taking care of people. She has been a caregiver since 1998, but her experience working with people with disabilities began back in 1973 when she worked as a secretary for the Canadian Paraplegic Association. This is where she met her future husband, Scot DeWolf. Scot was injured in a 1966 car accident that left him a paraplegic. Together the couple eventually relocated to Kamloops, when Scot became a counsellor for the B.C. Paraplegic Association.

“He loved being able to help people when help was needed,” Robin said, and he liked to stand up for people with disabilities, acting as an unofficial spokesman. Scot has since passed away from cancer, but Robin continues to work with people with disabilities and to advocate on their behalf. She believes it’s important to “be on the ball” when caring for others; to her it is not “just a job.”

“We are helping,” DeWolf said. “We must treat them with the utmost respect that they deserve.” She feels many people may get into the caregiving profession for the wrong reasons. “To be honest, for the people who just look at them as anything less—you need to look for another profession.”

DeWolf says it is important for people to focus on significant events like celebrating birthdays and special holidays, especially when working with people who are initially told they “won’t make it,” because of the severity of their disabilities.

She also said she feels strongly that it’s important to get input from family members and previous caregivers when working with new clients to ensure she knows what each person needs. “They are full of knowledge . . . we need to respect that.”

DeWolf recalls Scot often becoming frustrated with people who did not know him well enough to respect his personal space. They might pat him on the head and touch him, as if he were a child. Scot handled it well, she said, but she would hear all about it once they got home.

Trisha-Lee Rhode, a 3rd year Social Work student at Thompson Rivers University, is passionate about making a difference. Rhode injured her spinal cord in a fall from a balcony 11 years ago. She became a paraplegic and at first she was overwhelmed, feeling worthless. Once she recognized that she could contribute to her own care and recovery she gradually became more independent and confident.

After her accident, Rhode needed to rediscover who she was. One time in particular, Rhode had fallen from her wheelchair to the floor and needed her Mom’s assistance getting back into her chair. Being of small stature, Trisha’s Mom struggled to lift her off the floor. Both of them became frustrated and at a particularly intense moment of arguing, her Mom blurted out “Trish, I need your help.”

Those words transformed her. “I can contribute, I can do something. It was an awakening for me, I was needed,” Rhode said.

From then on, her Mom gradually allowed Rhode to become more independent by slowly encouraging her to try to do more on her own. In this process, Rhode began to realize that she had more control over her independence and that she could accomplish more and more tasks. She said her Mom’s support and encouragement “helped to build on my self-worth, helped me to feel more capable.”

Rhode believes that we are all different and have different sets of abilities and skills. “We’re all different and we’re all similar, it’s just to a varying degree.” For example, Rhode says, she has become “quite inventive” at accomplishing various tasks. “I have a set of skills other people don’t have.” In the beginning, she focused on being “dis-abled.” She believed initially that her disability left her unable to do anything. “I was very much in the disability,” she said.

Rhode believes that the same rules should apply to people with disabilities as to those without disabilities, such as respecting personal space and asking before assisting a person. If you use a wheelchair as your mode of transportation, the chair becomes part of your body: “The wheelchair’s simply an appendage, like an arm or a leg.”

When asked what it’s like living with a disability and not letting it define her, Rhode said she believes the public should try to focus on the “person” rather than the “disability.” She has also learned to take her own advice.

Rhode faces challenges daily. Getting in and out of buildings can be frustrating, especially when elevators are not working or when there are no curb cuts or ramps. It’s often hard to see over a business counter. And since Rhode relies on public transit, it can be a challenge at times because often she is unable to arrive at her destination on time. Her schedule has to be arranged around transit schedules.

It seems impossible to have a spontaneous lifestyle, she said. Rhode refers to what she calls “systemic discrimination or systemic obstacles” that she described as “built-in rules and regulations that we cannot meet because of our disabilities.” She went on to say that these obstacles make her “feel disabled.” She added: “I do not blame the individual, I blame the situation and the system.”

Not only does Rhode believe the public should avoid making assumptions about people with disabilities, she also believes it is important for those who are disabled not to assume those who assist them always know what they need. It’s important to let others know what you need in order for them to assist you, she said. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Rhode overcomes challenges by being an advocate for others and working for needed changes. “I speak up,” she said. “I make a stink.” She’s determined and urges everyone with a disability to get involved and advocate for progress.

On the wall in my bedroom hangs a framed painting of a deep purple flower with hints of green and a bright yellow centre. At first, Adria Tillen, a graduate of the Human Service Worker program at TRU, had difficulties sharing her story. The flower, with its bold colours, is in full bloom. Tillen is now opening herself up and becoming more comfortable sharing her story. When I look at this painting she gave to me years ago as a Christmas gift, I am reminded of how far she’s come.

When Tillen feels inspired, she’ll find a comfortable, quiet space, kick up her feet and lie back with sunlight beaming in through the window. She waits to put brush to canvas until she has a definite picture in her mind. Although she uses bold colours in her paintings, watching her paint you can see her brush strokes are careful and precise. Sunshine yellow, earthy browns and royal purple—all colours that reflect her bold and brave personality.

Her hair is done up in long, blond dreadlocks and braids, and her easy-going nature makes you want to know her better. You’d certainly never guess that 11 years ago she was diagnosed with a “mild case” of paranoid schizophrenia. As a result of her illness, she finds it difficult to control her thoughts, which often, she feels, are not her own.

“The thoughts that come as a result of this illness are not ones that I can change, and so to respond as if they are mine is a battle that can’t be won.”

Tillen realizes that she can take some responsibility for her attitudes and judgments but she finds it difficult and often frustrating to live with these challenges. She has come a long way, however, since her diagnosis. For instance, although one of her major challenges is making decisions, she’s getting better at it over time. By having a strong faith, seeking support from family and friends, taking her medication regularly to ease the severity of her symptoms and gradually becoming more comfortable sharing her story, Tillen has found ways to deal with the difficulties she faces. She does not let her illness define her.

While she is not involved in any support groups specifically for those who have schizophrenia, she does have a strong faith and gains most of her support from that. She realizes that it is important to be heard in order for others to understand what she experiences and says she has learned much from the people around her. “I feel like people in some cases may be able to teach me something about not giving up on my dreams or living a life without borders and having a voice that cannot be silenced. I think we all need each other.”

But Tillen feels most empowered when she’s sharing her story with others because she was initially afraid to do so, fearing the label “mentally ill.” When her uncontrolled thoughts are less intense and when she can remember small details such as someone’s name, phone number or address, she also gains a sense of empowerment.

Tillen can often feel frustrated, however, because she tends to set certain standards for herself and others, such as “confidence to learn and adapt” and the skills needed “for crisis intervention and problem solving,” but she is often unable to meet these standards herself. She used to be concerned with how others would perceive her, but by sharing her story she has come to realize that people are generally supportive.

Grant Larson has been a Social Work professor at TRU for a number of years. He easily engages his students and is confident in his teaching style. Larson has a unique ability to make dry, boring class material interesting. He also makes difficult topics easier to comprehend. In his classes, Larson is inclusive and ensures all students have the equal opportunity to express their views. He is passionate about his job. You would never know that at one time he feared he would be unable to continue his profession.

At about age 40, he began to experience hearing loss, and over time the loss gradually became more profound. He first noticed that he was losing his hearing when he was unable to hear certain sounds. “I didn’t hear birds sing at all,” he said. “And I couldn’t hear any high-pitched sounds. Our BBQ would make this screeching noise … my family would come running out and say ‘Turn it off!’—and I couldn’t hear any of it.” This began to affect him in social situations and he gradually withdrew.

Larson experienced one incident years ago that made him realize he hadn’t heard most of what had happened in his class. “I actually for a moment thought ‘I can’t teach anymore because I can’t hear and how can I teach if I can’t hear?” Since then he has found ways to avoid these kinds of situations, such as asking students to sit near the front of the room. Reflecting back to that day, Larson admits “that was sort of a bad moment . . . a frustrating moment. I don’t have a lot of those.”

Larson does not want to be viewed as “disabled,” though for many years he himself struggled with this view. Being established both professionally and personally helped him see past his disability: “In some ways I defined myself before I had a disability. I already knew who I was and I was confident in that, I’d been educated and had a career.”

Since his disability is non-visible, Larson feels that people tend to forget that he has a hearing impairment. They can at times make assumptions about what he can or can’t hear, he says. “There’s no natural tendency to accommodate that.” At times, Larson feels others may think he has “selective hearing” instead of a hearing impairment.

He says he derives his personal strength from his family, close friends and his strong sense of self. He is not “a hard of hearing person,” and says “I’ve become someone who has a different set of abilities.” Larson was surprised to discover that he acquired a new ability because of his hearing impairment. On a visit to his audiologist he learned he had gained the ability to hear words by lip-reading. He found it fascinating to learn that his brain could “re-create sound.”

Over time, Larson has become more comfortable with his disability and now feels ready to share his story openly with others. He uses a hearing aid, which has helped to empower him to continue doing what he loves to do.

Jeanette Robertson’s passion for working in the disability field began when she was growing up in the late 60s and early 70s. “At an early time I realized that I had some passion and some compassion,” she said. A childhood friend of Robertson’s had a sister with cerebral palsy and through this friendship Robertson noticed that society was not very inclusive: “She wasn’t included in society very much.” A Social Work educator at TRU, Robertson teaches an introduction to disability course. She focused her post-secondary education on disability and gained many years of experience working with people living with disabilities. Robertson feels that a key factor in becoming a social worker is having an open mind and the right attitude.

It is important to avoid making assumptions regarding people with disabilities, Robertson says. “They are citizens, they have a basic right to be entitled to services and treatment of respect by others … It’s a human right, it’s not a charity right.”

Robertson says that many new students are often unaware that most of the time it is not an individual’s disability that creates challenges. “The disability is not the worst thing in that person’s life,” she said. “It’s the attitudes, the barriers, the exclusion.” She emphasizes that “people with disabilities are not a homogenous group.” Each individual’s experience is different and “there is such diversity within disability, and that is something that has to be emphasized.”

When it comes to public perceptions about disabilities, there appear to be two extremes: victim and hero. “Perceptions can be quite limiting,” Robertson said, adding that many people are “educated through popular media,” and because of this, there is a misperception of “the hero and the victim, living this horrible existence.”

She believes “there needs to be more of an in-between kind of perception, for people to see more of a normative sense and see a person with a disability as a person, without (seeing) the disability first.”

Throughout my journey, I discovered that people were open and candid and I felt privileged and honoured that they were comfortable sharing their lives with me. I found some common threads that ran throughout the stories shared: these people do not allow their disabilities to define them.

Often the public can make assumptions, but everyone wants to be treated as a person first. I also recognized the diversity within their stories. Although I have worked on many different projects, I believe still more needs to be done to share these stories and I hope to continue to do this work. During my interviews, I learned a fair amount from these individuals. It was an enriching experience and they inspire me to pursue my goals.

I hope they feel the same way.