Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital is a leader in childhood disability and rehabilitation. Kids come to Holland Bloorview from different paths. Some of our clients will have been typically developing until they experienced a brain injury or other acquired condition. Others will come to us as inpatients recovering from complex surgery. Many of our clients will have been diagnosed with a disability early on in life, some shortly after birth.
Our vision is to help all the kids and youth we serve reach their fullest potential by creating a world of possibilities. This isn’t just about providing quality care, although that is always job one for the close to 600 inpatients and 7,000 outpatients we serve each year. It is also about ensuring we provide tools and opportunities for kids with disabilities to participate fully in life and become advocates for their futures.
When I think of an advocate, I think of Jillian, a spirited six year old who receives care from Holland Bloorview physicians and therapists for her cerebral palsy and is a recent graduate of the integrated kindergarten program at the onsite Bloorview School. I met Jillian during my first week as president and CEO back in January 2015 and was immediately struck by how she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and express her opinions and ideas.
I wasn’t surprised when I learned she and her older sister Lauren are among the founding members of the hospital’s Children’s Advisory Council. The council, similar to our youth and family councils, is a formal program for our young clients (and their siblings) to help shape and improve the services and research that directly impact their care and their futures. The council provides opportunities for members like Jillian and Lauren to hone their advocacy and leadership skills, which will help them throughout their lives as they navigate the health-care system and a society that isn’t always inclusive.
Helping kids reach their fullest potential also means developing technologies to help them overcome barriers they face every day. Technologies like the Hummer device. Developed by Dr. Tom Chau, our VP of Research and Director of the Bloorview Research Institute, and his team, the technology enables a person without the ability to speak to transform the vibrations of his or her vocal cords into text on a computer screen. It can also be used to control wheelchairs or computers, making it easier for kids with disabilities to get around and communicate their needs and wants. Imagine how this type of technology might reduce social isolation – something many kids and youth with disabilities face.
Through participation and inclusion programs, kids and youth can develop to their greatest potential for independence, a rich life and satisfying future. When youth engage in programs that help them learn calculated risk-taking and life skills, they can move through life more confidently and independently. When we provide opportunities for youth to gain work experience, like through our Youth@Work program, we not only help them them build critical employment skills, but also help break down negative stereotypes about people with disabilities in the workforce.
An important part of creating a world of possibilities for kids and youth with disabilities is advocating beyond our walls. As a leader in childhood disability, this means that we have a role in changing hearts and minds and helping to amplify the voices of the clients and families we serve. It means helping to shift our collective thinking about what is “normal” and bringing awareness to the limits our society imposes on kids and youth with disabilities and the adults they become.
When kids and youth with disabilities and their families have tools and opportunities to partner fully in their care, participate fully in their life and advocate for their future, they have infinite possibilities to maximize their own unique potential.