The transition to post-secondary education and employment can be a challenge for youth with lifelong physical conditions such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and other chronic conditions. The evidence shows that students with physical disabilities have limited access to their communities and typical teenager lives, including social, work and volunteer experiences, due to barriers such as inaccessible environments, systemic and financial restraints, and lack of interagency collaboration.
Supporting youth in preparing for this important transition into adulthood is a team effort in YRDSB. The Board has partnered with Children's Treatment Network (CTN) of Simcoe-York and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (HBKRH), and works with families and other community organizations to provide students with education and experiential learning opportunities that help develop confidence, independence and self-advocacy skills. These partnerships are essential to supporting the success of students with physical disabilities.
The week-long "Get Ready and Go" summer program is designed for teens and is co-created with YRDSB occupational therapists, students and their families, and developed in partnership with CTN. This past summer, students took trips on public transit into Toronto, stayed overnight in a Seneca College student residence, participated in community excursions and enjoyed a sailing trip with Queen's Quay Disabled Sailing Program.
During these experiences, they formed strong interpersonal relationships, motivating and encouraging each other while learning and problem solving. Through this new social network, they continue to connect and support each other beyond the program.
The students also reported improved self-confidence, enhanced self-advocacy, planning and time management skills. Furthermore, they learned how to use public transit and budget their money. As they gained new skills, they felt more confident and independent using them in their daily lives.
Over the years, this program has collaborated with community agencies, such as public transit organizations, Seneca College, York University, Queen's Quay Disabled Sailing Program and March of Dimes Canada.
The Me and My Community program is a three-year program that was developed in partnership with HBKRH. The goal of this program is to provide secondary school youth and their families with more opportunities over an extended timeframe, to gain community experiences, social networking, self-advocacy and pre-vocational skills. Greater knowledge and skill development in this area better prepares youth for a successful transition into adult life at post-secondary and/or in the workplace.
Similar to the summer program, students are engaged in education and experiential learning that supports them to meet the personal goals they have set for themselves, and to develop confidence and independence. This program includes participating in PA day and weekend activities, such as volunteering, social experiences, using public transit and leadership opportunities. Engaging students in community involvement and volunteering in supportive settings further develops their awareness and understanding of civic responsibility and the contributions they can make in supporting and strengthening their communities.
Families play a key role in the program, and the program facilitators (occupational therapists at YRDSB and HBKRH) continue to encourage students and their families to connect and share their personal goals with their in-school support network, which in many cases, includes their special education resource teachers, guidance counsellors and/or co-op teachers. This collaboration strengthens the important relationship between school, community and home. It is inspiring to see everyone working together to provide students with supports and opportunities that will equip them with the skills they need to be successful in the future.
These two programs and the ongoing support provided to students are further supporting students with physical disabilities with the tools they need to successfully transition into adulthood with confidence.