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Too Independent?

A couple of years ago my mom asked me if my parents pushed me too hard to be independent when I was growing up. Without hesitation, I said "no."

The reason why I was so quick to say no was because my independence is something I've always valued, especially as an adult.

Growing up, I was encouraged to be as independent as possible, not only by my family but also by occupational therapists and physiotherapists. If I could do it on my own I would do it.

Getting on the school bus in elementary school
Getting on my school bus in elementary school

I have memories crawling up and down the stairs and crawling all around the house as young as three years-old. By five, I was given access to our microwave so I could heat up my food if I wanted to, which led to a nasty burn on my knee and subsequent scar that I still have today. This mishap didn't deter me from doing things independently. I just learned to not put hot plates on my (paralysed) legs.

As I got older, my physical independence hit a few snags after a couple of surgeries, mainly an operation at 13 years-old to fix my scoliosis, which left me less mobile than I was before. I am no longer able to get in and out of my wheelchair by myself or crawl around the floor like a used to. At this point I'm totally reliant on my wheelchair, which I'm okay with because still I'm mobile in some form.

A group picture in front of the Science Centre
A group picture at the Science Centre when I participated in the Indepence Program in 2001

By the end of high school, my focus was on college and figuring out what the next phase of my life would entail. A friend of mine told me about an independence program geared toward teens and young adults with disabilities wanting to learn how to live on their own. We both joined the three-week program, which took place at a residence at the University of Toronto. We learned everything from navigating through the city to directing personal support workers to assist us with our daily living needs. It was the first time in my life where I got a glimpse of what it is like to live independently when you have a physical disability. Before participating in the program, I had no idea what services were available to me. Even though I knew that I wasn't close to being ready to live on my own I learned that it was possible.

I continued to live with my parents throughout most of college. As graduation got closer, I realized that the best chance of me getting a job in the journalism field would be if I lived in Toronto rather than Brampton, the suburb I grew up in. Knowing that the process could take awhile, I applied to the Gage Transition to Independent Living. Even though I assumed I would be on the waitlist for at least a year, I ended up getting accepted about four months after my initial interview, much to the dislike of my parents, who were not ready for me to move out. Like the independence program I participated in high school, the Gage is designed to teach people with physical disabilities how to live on their own with the help of personal support workers, occupational therapists and a nurse. Since it was a transitional program, I only lived there for two and a half years before moving into a permanent apartment with 24-hour personal care support services.

It has taken me many years to understand that it's okay to ask for help once in awhile. At this point in my life, I try to have a balance between doing what I can physically do and asking for assistance when I need it, but there are still times when I hesitate because I don't want to be a burden on anyone. I just have to always remind myself that being assertive and making sure my needs are met doesn't mean I'm a bitch.

I'm grateful that I was encouraged to be independent when I was little because it has helped me achieve many things I don't think I could have otherwise.

Sitting in my first wheelchair
Me in kindergarten sitting in my first wheelchair


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