A Festival of Learning, Sharing and Building Bridges

Staying healthy, lively, and independent; isn’t that what we want for ourselves and our loved ones? And when we consider that the people whom we are here to serve, people with physical disabilities, are now living longer, we want to help them live well and into their old age. Having grown up with a disabled mother, injured from a fall down the basement stairs (while recovering from a brain tumour operation) leaving her permanently disabled, I can remember the angst I experienced all of my youth, the fear that my Mom would die young, missing great parts of my life. People with spinal cord injuries were not expected to survive the normal life expectancy. When I began work in the disability field in 1977, the oldest then living quad was a great guy in BC, who was 64!!

Today, with modern health care, miracles of medicine and science, and rehabilitation, family support, and healthy lifestyles, people are growing old with a disability, while in our aging population there is a growing segment that is aging into disability. Oddly, the treatment and support of older people has been through a parallel system to that of people with  disabilities. I believe that is because the people we helped 20 or 30 years ago in the disability sector were young, and were opposed to being lumped in with older people and the frailty of age was not considered a disability. So, two social services, health care, housing, transportation and legal/advocacy streams of knowledge and interventions developed.

At the Festival of international Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology, co-Hosted by March of Dimes Canada and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, June 5-8th, 2011, we explored all the dimensions of the nexus between the two systems: the latest and greatest technology, the advances in neuroscience keeping people alive and active, the contributions of biological and medical  engineers, and the lastest on universal design which benefits everyone, as well as the issues of Caregivers in the 21st century. While the program was massive and interesting, the exchanges at a personal level were extraordinarily satisfying. People from 42 countries were present, many presenting in one or more  of the 6 concurrent conferences, and post conference symposium, or exhibiting at one of 93 booths which were packed with information. Many presentations were via poster, many in plenary or panel, and some in workshops. This cornucopia of expert knowledge was actively being transferred to practitioners, policy makers, consumers and advocates for seniors and people with disabilities.

What is the sum total of 1100 delegates, exhibitors and sponsors exchanging information and socializing? At the Festival Opening Reception, I spoke about increasing the relationships we need to address current realities, projected problems, and the extensive opportunities for collaboration. Building friendships, cross culturally, cross disciplinary, cross sectorally goes a long way to getting solutions on the table, and actions on the road. Building knowledge, building trust, building a common research agenda, new practice models and new policy paradigms is what we look forward to as outcomes of FICCDAT 2011.

In the next few weeks  we will survey delegates to provide feedback on FICCDAT, and will post hundreds of photos. Please visit the site www.ficcdat.ca . Feel free to review the posted program and contact us to add your name to the ongoing e-mail list for future updates. And most importantly, build the bridges to better help people, “living longer, living better.”

Please accept my thanks if you were among our donors, sponsors, volunteers, Steering Committee, Program Committees or any of our Operational Committees, our exhibitors or presenters or our amazingly talented performers. Congrats to all who contributed to this wonderful Festival!

About modcpresident
I grew up in Calgary, where I completed a BA at the University of Calgary, then travelled and taught in Kenya and the Canadian Arctic during the heyday of Trudeaumania, hippie travel and social experimentation. I settled in Vancouver to complete a Master of Social Work degree at the University of British Columbia, and stayed another 8 years. After graduating I was a Social Planner and eventually became the Executive Director of the Social Planning and Research Council of BC. Ontario March of Dimes recruited me in 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons and the 30th anniversary of the agency. It has grown from a budget of $5m in '81 to $100m in 2010. Services have expanded drafmatically. We incorporated a non profit housing corporation in 1992 and a national charity in 2001, and since 2006 the latter has operated as March of Dimes Canada. We own and operate several properties that provide accommodation and independent living services to 77 people in 4 municipalities and will add another property this year. Two other exciting non profit entities have been incorporated in my 30 years (yes, it has been 30 years!) and we expect to hold our first fundraiser in the US this year and to initiate our first service south of the border also. My role as President and CEO continues to be that of creating a vision, fulfilling the mission and developing strategic plans to meet an increasing demand for services from people with disabilities and their caregivers. This is achieved through direct service, advocacy and peer programs. On a personal note, I live with my 17 year old daughter and two cats, and enjoy their company a lot. My two adult sons are doing interesting exploration in their own lives and I am intrigued with how they are progressing. In my spare time, I have various volunteer roles on several non profit boards and committees, and enjoy creating programs for building awareness of diversity and disability. I think it has become true for me that youth is, while not "wasted on the young," something that I appreciate more with age. Adventures are physically more challenging for me now, so they have to occur in new dimensions.

2 Responses to A Festival of Learning, Sharing and Building Bridges

  1. Lynda says:

    I am a person living with a disabilty who attended FICCDAT. I also learned a great deal from the presentations over the three days but I cherished the comfort I got from speaking with other delegates from other countries. I have had my disabilty for 41 years as of today, June 28, 1970, I spent the first four of those years in a rehabilitation hospital trying to convince my parents I could survive outside of the hospital. Today, I like to believe I am living proof that you can age gracefully with a disabilty and still enjoy what life has to offer.

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