Self-Advocacy – A Personal Story

The Ontario school system says when you are a disabled student, you age out when you turn 21 regardless of what you have accomplished. I had other ideas because back in high school my goal was to get my High School Diploma. By the time, I had turned 21 I already had several credits and I had also passed the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test which at first I didn't know if I could do and some people in the community around me were doubtful. This is a requirement for the High School Diploma so I knew I had to at least try. Luckily my teacher at the time as well as other school employees made sure we were well-prepared and the whole class was writing it [the literacy test] so I was given the opportunity.   

After this was accomplished, I knew I was capable of earning my diploma, but a lot of people around me including teachers were giving me reasons as to why (in their opinion) this would not be possible.  At that point I made it my goal to prove them wrong. This is where the tool of Self-Advocacy proved to be very useful. I knew this was going to be a big goal and realistically I wasn't going to be able to achieve it alone. My Dad also believed that this goal was achievable for me. Originally he asked me how I would feel getting the equivalent of credits and I didn't want to do that because firstly equivalents are only recognized in the Learning Institution where they are earned, Secondly, I strongly believed I was capable of earning the actual credits. My Dad ended up seeing my point of view and agreeing with me. 

When self-advocating it can help to have somebody who knows what you're capable of to go through the process with you so they can back you up if necessary. Someone with a background in law (which we had) can also be useful in case there is need for legal assistance and/or [legal] advice. With my Dad's help, I wrote a letter to the former Premier Dalton McGuinty to explain the situation; the Premier then put me in touch with one of his assistants who is now my MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament John Fraser. Mr. Fraser helped to arrange a meeting with the superintendent of the school board  We went to the meeting along with our law expert, explained the situation, the superintendent understood and he suggested I register at Adult High School. I would have gladly done that, the problem was the facility wasn't fully accessible and I would need a full-time Educational Assistant (EA) to assist me with both academic needs and personal care. After lots of phone calls, meetings and advocating I thought my wish finally came true because: a bathroom was renovated to be more wheelchair-friendly and the full-time EA was hired. Unfortunately there was one additional obstacle that no one originally anticipated.  

Unfortunately, it ended up that we [the EA and I] didn't work together very well at all. It got to the point where I was asked if I wanted to get a medical certificate from the doctor so I could graduate with a diploma but I would not have to finish the actual schooling. I immediately decided to stay the course because: A) I'm not a quitter; B) I've worked too hard and too long, I'm not going to give up now; C) The assistant and I met with the principal to help develop a plan so that it was easier for us to get along; D) I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could; and, E) I wanted to inspire those around me to not give up even when there are obvious challenges. 

In the end I know I made the right decision because not only did I graduate (back in 2009) with an actual High School Diploma but also as one of the top high school students in Ontario also known as an Ontario Scholar. From there I went off to college and earned a certificate in Introduction to Music Industry Arts and a diploma in General Arts and Science. I also lived in residence for three academic years. It was a great experience. 

When it comes to Self-Advocacy, I encourage you to not give up, be courageous, be persistent, believe in your cause and make sure your goal is sensible and obtainable. Even if the outcome is not what you expect if you stay on the journey you'll eventually reach the destination.

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