Disability Leadership


The above photo, left to right, Bruce Bonyhady, Chair, Australian National Disability Insurance Agency, Andria Spindel, President and CEO, March of Dimes Canada, Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Canada – Sydney, March 2, 2017

Disability Leadership is many things, including personal empowerment for individuals who have a disability, sector innovation by service providers who keep abreast of or ahead of new ideas and challenges, and community or cohort leadership which engages a group of people with and without disabilities to help build greater capacity of those with lived experience and a society that values everyone and is inclusive of people who have a disability. So, I have been reflecting on how well March of Dimes, our team and I do in building “disability leadership” in all its manifestations.

During the week of February 27th  to March 4th, I had a unique opportunity to participate in the International Initiative on Disability Leadership (IIDL) in Sydney, Australia, and to see how people with lived experience took the initiative to build a national campaign for a nationally funded and delivered disability insurance scheme. I also heard from disability policy leaders in government, the NGO sector and the disability advocacy movement, about their various roles and relationships. It very much reminded me of the many ways in which March of Dimes Canada has contributed over many decades to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities in Canada.

From the earliest years in which we employed the highest proportion of people with lived experience, when at least one third of our board of directors were people with lived experience, we have continuously innovated to deliver new or improved services, and to have input from those with lived experience. I was reminded that March of Dimes was instrumental in getting people with disabilities included as a class or category for which human rights are guaranteed in our provincial and federal Human Rights Acts, also in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. March of Dimes was providing leadership training to people with lived experience when in 1981 we received a federal grant to go into schools across Ontario and talk about disability/ability and accessibility, and we hired 15 people to deliver this program. We reached over 600,000 students in 3 years. We funded and supported many self- help organizations, enabling them to build their capacity, to represent people with disabilities.

March of Dimes invests hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in staff development, helping to build a professional team dedicated to and leading in the delivery of quality community support services, always encouraging forward thinking, as well as creative and challenging developments for providing a quality of life to those who have a disability. Our cohort leaders include the many peer support chapters, the engineers and designers in DesignAbility chapters, the March of Dimes Canada Committee volunteers, the partners in collaboratives that we support that give rise to new programs.

I think history will tell that March of Dimes made a huge impact in disability leadership, and will continue to do so. I invite staff, consumers, volunteers, and other readers to comment.



Nothing About Us Without Us

Andria Spindel and Steven Christianson

Andria Spindel and Steven Christianson, March of Dimes Canada

“Nothing About Us Without Us”

This phrase is not new, but it is imbued with more power now than when I first heard it expressed in the 70s by people with disabilities who were advocating for inclusion.  In fact, by the mid-80s self-help and advocacy groups all over North America were demanding it.  I was there when the disability movement was founded.  I have often repeated that mantra when talking about policy development, services, research and support for people with disabilities (PWDs) by PWDs.  Sometimes I shudder that I’m at the helm of a very large NGO, and our credibility might be challenged because I’m a TAB (temporarily able-bodied) person.

Last week, I saw the political power of what’s become a worldwide movement, supported by the United Nations and States Parties from over 150 countries.  Along with two colleagues, I attended the 7th Session at the UN on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP), and the many side events organized by NGOs and various permanent country missions to the UN.  It was well coordinated, very colorful (by people and dress), intriguing and informative (in 7 spoken languages, several signed languages and simultaneous captioning).  It was my first visit to the UN, but not my last as March of Dimes Canada successfully applied for and was granted accreditation, enabling us to participate at future UN meetings on the CRDP.

To read about some of the important conference content, and a description of the process, I refer you to the UN site http://www.un.org/disabilities/index.asp  and to the upcoming issue of the Advocate, MODCs corporate e-zine on social policy and advocacy.  Our National Manager of Government Relations and Advocacy will publish this with photos shortly, so check back at www.marchofdimes.ca/EN/advocacy/Pages/Advocacy.aspx.

Here are some of the highlights from my perspective:

Penny Hartin, President and CEO, World Blind Union and Andria Spindel, CEO, March of Dimes Canada

Penny Hartin, President and CEO, World Blind Union and Andria Spindel, CEO, March of Dimes Canada

The centrepiece of the General Assembly of States Parties includes only those governments that have ratified the CRDP.  Canada is included, but has not ratified all of the subsequent amendments, especially one on substitute decision-making Article 12(4) and Article 33(2) that relates to a federal role that would be hard for our federated country to implement.  On day one of the conference, six more countries were recognized as having recently ratified the Convention, for a total of 147 country ratifications and 158 signatories; on the optional protocol: 82 ratified and 92 signatories.

The primary purpose of the UN meeting was to receive reports and recommendations with regard to the implementation of CRPD, to hold national governments accountable by having them present their progress reports.  While filing of reports is mandatory; Canada was two years late in reporting.  Of course many countries fall short of meeting all aspects of the Convention, many lack the resources to do so.

The side events, all open to registered participants, included panels, key speakers, films and sponsored social events.  There was a feast of activities to choose from, so we three mostly split up to cover as much ground as possible.

Civil society is crucial in not only monitoring implementation, but in strongly advocating within each country, a role March of Dimes has played in Canada for many decades.  Civil society actively identifies problems, and generally also the solutions.  The parallel NGO conference emphasized collaboration among parties at all levels, especially the need to work with Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs).  The importance of collaboration was brilliantly explained in a session presenting research out of the US on the concept of “Collaboratory” relationships which test and develop models for change i.e. the “living lab”.  I personally loved the concept as I’ve often portrayed MODC as a potential living lab for faculty and students of colleges and universities.  We offer over a dozen unique programs; we develop, refine, redefine, evaluate, recreate services all the time, serving thousands of PWDs.  We can offer access to a test environment, be it as control group or to unique individuals. Researchers might partner with MODC on new initiatives to investigate their benefits.
photo 5Various sessions described the hardship and the horrors experienced by people with disabilities in various societies.  These included, but were not limited to, poor or no education and high unemployment, but also abuse, forced sex or forced marriage, neglect and lack of health services, abandonment and inappropriate institutionalization. Cruelty was described that was sickening.  But even where there is consideration of PWDs, the gap in resource allocation is significant.  The case was made that there must be an equitable allocation of resources to include PWDs even when resources are scarce.

The most marginalized people in the world are those who are most vulnerable, people with disabilities, women and children.  So a disabled woman in Zambia, Afghanistan or India might be forcibly raped, infected with HIV, abandoned by her family, left with a child or two to feed, be unskilled, unemployed and have no civil rights.  Eight percent (80%) of people with disabilities live in the developing countries.  Poverty often equates to disability.

I learned much more, but will digest the information and offer more in another blog.  My head is full of information, but my heart is heavy, and seeking to distill solutions.  Of one thing I’m very sure.  Canada, the USA and much of Europe have come a long way since the 70s and we can celebrate the achievements, but PWDs are still overly unemployed, less well educated, having lower incomes, compete for scarce resources, experience greater health problems, and are often discriminated against.  So I don’t think we’ve hit the finish line yet.

Something Very Special


Andria Spindel, Hon LLD, giving her convocation speech

Life is full of surprises and when they are good surprises, like birthday parties, new babies, chocolate gifts, kindness in unexpected places, or a bright day after days of rain, one really welcomes them and wants to share them. How do I share the wonderful surprise that awaited me when I returned from a vacation,  when it was a letter from the President of the University of Guelph, advising I had been nominated for an Honorary Doctorate of Law? All I could say was “Wow, really?”  I couldn’t even imagine where the nomination had come from nor why. I was to learn that a board member of Ontario March of Dimes Non Profit Housing Corporation had recommended my nomination, supported by several other people. I was invited to give the Convocation address at the graduation of the Business and Psychology students at Guelph Humber on June 17th and would I accept?

The recognition was exquisite, making me feel very honoured indeed. The task of addressing 500 students was awesome and challenging. How does one add inspiration to an event that is generally inspiring in its ceremony, in the presence of many gowned elite and educated, exceptional individuals and how does one speak to the graduands of 2013? I think the fact I was asked to do this was the honour itself, for it assumed I have something important or significant to share. I wanted this to be very special, for them, as much as for me. I suddenly felt I had been granted a unique opportunity, and hoped I could make a difference in the day, and in the memory of the day for the students who would be in attendance on June 17th at 1:00pm. I knew there would be a week of convocation exercises, and those assigned this time slot were to be my special audience and I there special guest.

I pondered many topics and listened to other speeches by notables like J.K. Rowland who addressed the class of 2013 at Harvard. I reflected on what had impressed me at my BA graduation in 1968 when Maurice Strong addressed U of C grads at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary. I had been impressed then, though today I don’t remember his precise words, but I remember sitting in the audience, his name being called and his address, inflection, his very presence causing me pause, and making me think about my future. I went to Africa shortly thereafter, and I wonder how much he moved me to think about serving others.

So, whether my words will be remembered, or whether I am expressing too much ego, I will provide a link here to my written address and a link to the video excerpt of my presenting it at the convocation, when they are available, then you may consider if my message says something of value to you.

I wish everyone a very special day when you too feel appreciated, even made to feel like royalty. It was truly a wonderful experience.  Since I acknowledge my children in my message, let me add another lesson they taught me and it is that  “everyone is special.”

Click here to watch my speech, or read the transcript here: Andria Spindel Convocation Speech Transcript

Time flies when one is having a good time!

Since December, I have not written in my blog but I have been capturing stories and giving a lot of thought to what I would like to share. To start I want to tell everyone about my amazing volunteer experience, taken during my vacation in the month of January, when I packed medical supplies along with 28 other volunteers, aged 17-82, from 6 countries. We know the supplies will be used not only to keep the country’s nationals alive if injured, but will also be used around the world to help people affected by natural disasters and emergency situations. We were given valuable lessons in teamwork and fellowship, as well as culture and military roles and responsibilities, international affairs, and local politics.

In February, I returned to a full schedule of events and activities, including budget preparation, completion of a Five-Year Strategic Plan, planning a March break weekend for kids in Nova Scotia featuring Conductive Education, participating at the Voluntary Sector Reporting Awards Luncheon, and a meeting of the Canada California Business Council. This was followed in March by the Celebrity Golf Tournament in Palm Springs, California, selection of the 2012 Jonas Salk Award recipients, and planning for the 2013 Ability and Beyond Gala, as well as implementing the March Break camp in Nova Scotia, working with students from George  Brown College who conducted a research project on a business concept for March of Dimes, planning and executing the March Board of Directors Meeting, and planning more events for both fundraising and programs. In April, 2013, we launched a new transitions program for young people with disabilities who are seeking support from the adult service sector as they navigate their way to greater independence.

In March, we began a conversation with Holland Bloorview Childrens’ Rehab Centre on a model of supportive housing for long term residents who are youth aged 18-30, needing to move to a community-based setting. The solution was possible through a new partnership that March of Dimes has with Reena, a community agency serving people with intellectual disabilities. Reena has developed a gorgeous new, fully accessible, rent geared to income, apartment building in the town of Richmond Hill. March of Dimes has arranged to serve people with physical disabilities in the building who require attendant care.  Also in March, we hosted a delegation from Gansu Disabled Persons’ Federation, representing the entire province of Gansu in China, who came to us to discuss programs and policies that facilitate independence for people with disabilities. I also put in my six-hour shift at our booth at the annual National Home Show in Toronto and spent a day in London, Ontario speaking at a conference we delivered called “Living With a Disability”,  followed that evening by Rock for Dimes London, a signature battle of the bands fundraising event. The latter was a great success.

All to say that a month in my position carries with it great opportunities to work in all aspects of the organization, from coast-to-coast, in fundraising, programs, governance, administration, public relations, and more.

The lessons learned and results achieved over these few first months of 2013 include:

Volunteering at any age is a great way to see the world, and make a difference. My volunteering in the Israel Defence Force confirmed that this army serves many humanitarian causes world wide, and shares its medical knowledge and conviction that human life is sacred.

The Annual budget and Five-Year Strategic Plan rededicates March of Dimes to the “Lifespan of Community Living for People with Physical Disabilities”. The Plan was adopted by the Board and will now be shared across the organization with all staff, and a summary will be produced and posted for all readers and supporters. Budget 2013-14 is the first year of the Plan. Check back  later to read the Five-Year plan.

March of Dimes Canada won the Voluntary Sector Reporting Award for financial transparency for a large Canadian organization, headquartered in Ontario. Read the story.

The Canada California Business Council organized its third annual Celebrity Golf Tournament. March of Dimes Canada, through our American affiliate was one of the designated charity beneficiaries. We were partnered this year with procon.org which is a unique American charity that teaches critical thinking on major issues of the day. This new tri-partnership means we will also benefit from a new tournament to be held in Los Angeles on October 21st, 2013. Read about the 2nd annual CCBC Celebrity Golf Tournament.

March Break Conductive Education Camp was a huge success for the nine kids who attended and a unique photo publication was produced documenting the activities of the kids. Parents and funders are all excited about the program and it is expected to be repeated and perhaps replicated in other communities.

Two award recipients were chosen this year for the Jonas Salk Award for Scientific Excellence, and both will be celebrated at the upcoming Ability and Beyond Gala Dinner, June 13, 2013, at the InterContinental Centre. Tickets are available online and are already 50% sold. The event is sponsored by Bell Canada and features comedian, actor and author, Alan Thicke. For more information go to www.marchofdimes.ca/gala

The business feasibility study completed by George Brown College students will not result in a new business but in an ongoing relationship with the College which expects to place more students with us this fall as we actively pursue other revenue generating ideas. The Centre for Business is interested in our entrepreneurial spirit.

The new transitions program in Toronto, called L.I.F.E. was successfully launched with private funding from TD Bank. It embraces a new formal relationship with Outward Bound and March of Dimes. Follow this link for more information or to register.

A partnership with Reena and Bloorview Kids Rehab, along with support from two Local Health Integration Networks, the Community Care Access Center and West Park Hospital, has resulted in a plan to move at least three long-term severely disabled young people to a new home in the community where we anticipate they will enjoy living outside the hospital environment, using community services, making new friends, and learning new skills. We will continue to work in this collaboration as we consider other models of care for people who have more complex needs. Watch for more stories when we move tenants to this residence.

Our dialogue with Gansu Federation representatives was lively and enlightening. The problems that a very populous country faces which is just beginning to grapple with disability as a social construct, as an area for social policy, as a reason to design new environments and to use new technologies, is awesome. We were thrilled to learn of the eagerness of the local and regional, government supported Federation to address issues, in this otherwise, poorly resourced part of the country. You can see photos of our new Chinese friends on our Gansu Disabled Persons’ Federation Visit Facebook photo album.

Our booth at the annual National Home Show in Toronto was sponsored by our partner, HME Mobility Services and featured many wonderful pieces of equipment that they can provide to make a home accessible. Organized by our Marketing and Communications Department, the 10 day event brings out many head office staff and a few volunteers to speak with a large public gathering interested in home design, appliances, gadgets and home improvement programs. Among others, we feature our Home and Vehicle Modification Program. See images of the show on our MODC National Home Show Facebook photo album.

Living with a Disability Day is now a modular program that we can bring to any community in Canada, and have done so in Peterborough, Calgary, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Fredericton, and Moncton to name a few. There will be many more this calendar year so visit our Events page often for updates. If you or someone you know was recently disabled, consider registering for the event when we come to your city. Learn about resources available, ways to cope, government benefits and entitlements, groups to join and much more. These seminars are sponsored by local companies and feature local “stars”. If you wish to sponsor one, contact Gemma Woticky, Education and Health Promoter, March of Dimes Canada, at gwoticky@marchofdimes.ca.

Last, but not least, we held a very financially successful, and fun Rock for Dimes London, and photos can be seen on our Pennzoil Presents Rock for Dimes London Facebook Photo Album. This event is presented nationally by Pennzoil and co-sponsored by Long and McQuade and AMG Medical. Local sponsors are being sought for upcoming Rock for Dimes events already scheduled, so for the one nearest you, go to www.rockfordimes.ca.

The Rock for Dimes fundraisers, along with Walk ‘n’ Roll, Ability & Beyond Gala, and many more activities help support our vital and innovative programs for people with disabilities. We are always available to speak about new ideas and to partner with established organizations or corporations that want to add value to their events.

The list of initiatives and activities for the next few months is as long as the above, so I will defer writing any more for now, and wish you all a  Happy Spring.


President’s Remarks to AGM

Once a year I have the distinct pleasure of sharing a story with employees, volunteers, award recipients, and supporters of March of Dimes. You are among the people we consider family. It is because of you that our organization is strong, innovative, and effective.

Like all families, we may have our internal struggles, but we also have our celebrations. You will see that we Homes for Sale Vancouver entitled our Annual Report, Dime And Jubilee, as we were still celebrating our 60th anniversary when we entered this fiscal year, April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012. Many here today share our history and know our traditions, many of you know of past tribulations, and have shared our worries, our hopes and dreams, our failings and our successes. We are together in mutual support because we share a vision, a vision of Canada as a truly inclusive society for all people, regardless of disability; and regardless of ethnicity, race, creed, sexual orientation or other differences. We view Canada as a family too.

This year we saw an expansion in Independent Living Services, programs for stroke survivors in BC and Alberta in partnership with local organizations, new pre-school activity for Conductive Education®, the opening of a new nyc apartment rentals Congregate Care Home in Sudbury for people with Acquired Brain Injuries, successful fundraising events in four provinces outside Ontario, new relationships with several provincial governments, new uses of social media, and a continuing display of our vast capacity for creativity and perseverance.

June 2011, saw the second Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology successfully carried off in Toronto under the auspices of March of Dimes Canada and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. We can celebrate the success of six concurrent conferences that brought together over 1100 participants from over 32 countries, and involved over 150 volunteers. The conference delivered on its promise to touch all aspects of Living Longer, Living Better, with a cross section of many disciplines and a strong consumer presence.

We have many plans in the works for our next Five-Year Strategic Plan which has the working title, Lifespan and Community Living. This theme has been woven into the planning of all departments and programs and a new plan will emerge in March, 2013. Our new plan will touch on increased diversity, national expansion, greater uses of technology for staff and clients, standardized quality measures, national charters for our two major companies, coast to coast government relations, francophone services and communication, and significant expansions in some services and piloting of other services.

Canadian society will continue to increase in diversity and we believe it will also be more inclusive, and March of Dimes will continue to be a leader in ensuring this is so. There are many anticipated deliverables and the great news is that we have developed excellent monitoring and reporting tools that keep us on track and accountable. We can therefore ensure we meet our goals.

I am eagerly looking forward to this year’s activities, to concluding on our priorities and building alignment to achieve them. I thank the members of March of Dimes’ Board of Directors and our various subsidiaries that have been very active this past year, and I thank all the wonderful staff who collaborate every day in so many ways to fulfill our vision, of a society that is truly inclusive.


The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal

The QueenI am one of 60,000 Canadians to be honoured this year with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for service to Canada. Over 2000 Ontarians were presented with their medals at a ceremony on June 18th at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, followed by fabulous entertainment by some of Canada’s greatest performers.

The celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee featured video clips about our Queen and her life story, a story of more than 60 years of dedicated service. The Queen actually began volunteering at the age of 14. “The 14-year-old princess, showing her calm and firm personality, told Britain’s children in a radio address that ‘in the end, all will be well for God will care for us and give us victory and peace.’ Appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards by her father, Elizabeth made her first public appearance inspecting the troops in 1942. She also began to accompany her parents on official visits within Great Britain. In 1945, Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service to help in the war effort. She trained side-by-side with other British women to be an expert driver and mechanic. While her volunteer work only lasted a few months, it offered Elizabeth a glimpse into a different, non-royal world.”

The Queen who is 86 years old,  continues to serve with grace and gracefulness. Queen Elizabeth handles roughly 430 engagements each year from www.thevancouverrealestate.ca and supports more than 600 charitable organizations and programs. She is only the second British Monarch to celebrate 60 years, the first being Queen Victoria. Queen Elizabeth is famous for many things, but one statement she made years ago stood out at the celebration. On her coronation she said, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

The evening was hosted by Lt Governor David C. Onley and Her Excellency, Ruth Ann Onley and special guests were The Governor General, David Johnson and his wife, Her Excellency, Sharon Johnson. The emcee for the evening was Peter Mansbridge and there were magnificent performances by celebrities such as Ben Heppner, Molly Johnson, Gordon Lightfoot, and Susan Aglukark , a short talk by Marc and Craig Keilburger on the values of volunteering and taking action to end injustices, as well as musical performances by a military band made up of representatives of all the services, and a Children’s Choir which sang the Vice Regal salute, as well as a native group which provided drum music, song and dance.

Andria and CommanderI was presented my medal by Rex Harrington, a star of the National Ballet Company, who also received a medal. He was attended by a Commander from the armed forces who actually pinned on the medal as shown in the attached photo. I felt quite privileged to be among the “cast” of Canadians who were acknowledged, but even more privileged to be able to continue to serve as President of March of Dimes.

One Humanity

It has been my desire to write regularly and build a community of interest in my writing and in March of Dimes Canada. I don’t mind admitting that this is harder than I thought. Not because writing is hard for me, but because narrowing down a topic to what I consider of universal interest is challenging, and because it is tempting to just write about all the wonderful things that March of Dimes does, in providing services to people, in advocacy, in communication about  the needs and aspirations of people with disabilities. I write when I am moved by something that to me is big, like the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) we set for our organization. “BHAG” is a concept from the book, Built to Last by James Collins and Jerry Porras, which served as an inspiration to March of Dimes’ management a decade ago. Now we, senior management, are reading Collins’ latest, Great by Choice, in anticipation of preparing our next five year strategic plan. We benefit a great deal from reading management studies and from looking at the environment around us, the research on consumers and on business innovation,  as well as in the not for profit sector and from our personal experience. In a future blog I will talk about various aspects of the development of our Strategic Plan.

What is “big” for me now and which I think must find its way into our multifaceted five year plan are both evidence-based practice and love of humanity. I think both drive this organization forward, and since most readers might not want to read research data in a blog, I am going to focus on the latter here and share a link to  a BBC video circulating on youtube  that came to me from an 80 year old friend. This must be shared.  I am pasting it here  and inviting all readers to view it and share  your comments, and pass this link on to your friends, family, and associates.   http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=2HiUMlOz4UQ&vq=large

While there are many excellent, National Geographic-like photo perfect moments that are on youtube if you have not seen this video I hope that seeing it now will move you,  or  if you have another favourite that also expresses our shared humanity, please also share it.  I provide this one because we so need to remember that all of humanity belongs to one family! Whether of different races, religions, biological genders or gender orientations, whether able-bodied or physically challenged, whether on this continent or another, the word “human” applies to all of us. How then do people make war, threaten each other, bully on school grounds, intimidate with words, discriminate with actions? It should be incomprehensible to all of us that  people in far away lands are battling for their right of free expression, or to vote, or the right to live a safe and secure life. It should be unfathomable that people live without pure water, that people with mental illness on this continent are living on the streets, and that in Northern Canada that there are people without sufficient affordable and safe housing. All of these unmentionables contribute to disability, to soul destroying limitations on life.

So, look at this video and imagine that  though humans struggle to survive in many regions of the world, the struggle is all of ours. We can be enriched by the actions of others and we can contribute to the fabric of humanity by our own creative, loving action. Imagine a more perfect world, where every human interaction is one of  kindness, where learning and love are abundant, where war abates and peace surrounds us. Imagine a world where there is more than sustenance for some and plenty for others. Imagine a world where life is valued by every culture and creed. Imagine that we can each “repair the world” with our deeds today, and ensure the future for your kids and mine tomorrow.

If I sound like a child of the 60s, it is because I am, but as a non profit “corporate” executive today, my feelings remain true to that era which is described in the statement below, and I hope that some of that idealism is  yet achievable, grounded as I am now in pragmatism after six decades of experience. Here is who we were in the 60’s according to one essayist on the web (author unknown):

“Teenagers were living dangerously and breaking away from the ideals that their parents held. In the process they created their own society (Burns 1990). They were young and had the nerve to believe that they could change the world. Their leaders had lofty goals as well. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had dreams of a truly equal America. John F. Kennedy dreamed of a young vigorous nation that would put a man on the moon. The youth wanted to live in a state of love, peace, and freedom (Gitlin 1987).”

We can still dream of change, of equality, of love, peace and freedom. We need only do nothing and the world will remain the same.

Richard Kall Remembered

June was Pride Month in Toronto, a time to celebrate the rights gained by gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual people, to celebrate the achievements of Queer people, and to acknowledge and restate the ongoing struggles they still experience in various aspects of society and in many (too many) countries. The Pride Parade on July 3rd, brought out a million celebrants, either marching or watching, all joyfully celebrating, and I was glad to be among the marchers.

On the May long weekend in 2000, I lost a wonderful friend and colleague who did not feel secure enough to “come out of the closet” to his friends and family. Richard Kall was an outstanding member of the executive team at Ontario March of Dimes. Our Chief Operating Officer, Richard had worked for CNIB for 17 years and had been with our agency for 7, overseeing all our regionally delivered programs, and our infrastructure departments. He was a big man with a big smile, a wonderful quirky sense of humour, a sharp intellect, and a generous huggable spirit. His choices in his closeted life were surprisingly unwise given his overall intelligence. One night, he took home a drug-using ex-con who robbed and killed him. He left so many people bereft. He left me wondering why he never trusted anyone with “his secret”. I promised myself that it should never happen again and that I work with Queers and their allies to end the need for anyone to ever keep one’s gender or sexual preferences a secret. Had Richard been openly and comfortably able to express his preference, I can imagine him in a life commitment to a loving man, maybe even raising children, entertaining his friends in his generous style and travelling widely, which he loved to do. His death was horrible and a big loss for March of Dimes and his family. That sentence is too repetitive.

Since that loss hit me hard, I have striven to recognize and support others who want to express their preference. Some members of the queer community still struggle accepting themselves, or suffer the consequence of informing others. March of Dimes like many organizations and institutions in the country employs many people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, even if they may not even know it. It should not matter in gaining and keeping employment.  At March of Dimes we had a young man a few years ago who was openly gay, and still uncomfortable that people might judge or ridicule him.  This came from his personal experiences. The number of senior people and staff at all levels who are LGBTQ is not known, but they have been significant in every area of our organization including finance, operations, fundraising, and services. We have benefitted from these competent and dedicated employees, and gender or sexual preference has nothing to do with it.

And what of our clients? Richard would have wanted to ensure that everyone was treated equitably and generously, with humanity at all times. He was sensitive and kind, always professional and instilled the same of others. Richard might be pleased that, several years after his death, March of Dimes entered a float in the Pride Parade, helping people with disabilities who are queer to participate and express themselves on our “accessibility” float. Does society acknowledge that people with disabilities might also be queer? I expect not; another frontier to cross. So many people, and most institutions don’t acknowledge people who have a disability or the elderly in their care as being sexual at all!

I write now to suggest we talk about it and recognize inherent discrimination exists in services and supports for older LGBTQ folks. Where are the welcoming seniors housing and nursing homes? Are there group homes for people with disabilities that also accept their being gay, lesbian or transgendered? Do we segregate people at an elderly stage of life who might have lived amicably in the community and now face discrimination in a supportive housing project or nursing home, due to ignorance or bias of workers, managers, and/or funders? Will faith based services show openness?

Walking in Pride is about walking with pride and I was proud to be an ally and join thousands of LGBTQ folks who are free to be in this society. I am greatly saddened by the prejudices that still persist in our society and in dozens of Middle Eastern, African and other countries that have yet to understand that all people–disabled, male, female, gay, lesbian or transgendered, albino, HIV infected, mentally ill, and of all colours—are people. No matter what God one believes in, she or he made us the way we are.

Every Opportunity Has Two Sides


Listening to a CBC radio interview one day recently I heard the following quote which struck me as speaking to the philosophy we promote at March of Dimes. Attributed to Winston Churchill, it was “With every opportunity there are difficulties, and with every difficulty, there are opportunities.” At March of Dimes Canada we have excelled at taking advantage of opportunities to do more for people with disabilities, even in challenging times and with limited resources or other difficulties, and with every change in the political landscape.


Colleagues are often amazed at the growth in operating budget and services that we provide. How when there have been recessions and economic downturns, government cutbacks, competition in fundraising and a shrinking donor base, has this agency grown? With the exception of two years in the last 30, and last year being one of them, we have exceeded all benchmark comparators. Since 1981, our 30th anniversary to 2011, our 60th year we have had 1950% growth.  Not accounting for inflation and a compounding effect, this is still extraordinary as over 1650 staff deliver services (we were 183 staff in 1981) to an ever increasing number of consumers with a growing range of programs.


The answer I believe is that we stay focused on our mission and vision and  practice “Planned Opportunism.” We are values based but not ideologically driven. We always work from both a 5 year Strategic Plan and an annual operating plan that aims to fulfill the 5 year plan. When other needs  or opportunities are presented, we incorporate them into the dynamic 5 year plan after careful consideration of their fit with our key goals and directions. We use every opportunity that is presented to fulfill the plan, such as partnerships, new funding  programs, volunteer initiatives, “adoption” of other programs, and a host of creative, innovative tactics. We do this because the needs of the constituents we serve, people with physical disabilities, are not static either. Demographics are changing and more people are surviving with severe disabilities. More people are living longer and acquiring disabilities at different stages of life. Chronic complex issues are arising. Those receiving our services often need increased service and need to access multiple services in the community. Thus, we are becoming increasingly, One Stop: Solutions forIndependence.


Research on quality of life factors generally support the notion of family and community being significant contributors to well being, not withstanding good medical care. We are here to develop family support, peer support, community supports and complement the other home and community supports available.


I am hoping to hear from  consumers and others who can tell me how they have benefitted from accessing services in the community from March of Dimes.


Best regards,


What might each of us give up?

What are we willing to give up, in order to have a safer community,  to make improvements in the lives of others less fortunate, or to ensure clean drinking water for years to come, or  maybe to ensure our cultural values as Canadians remain entrenched or enshrined? These are some of the questions Canadians might ask  because everything is not affordable or achievable with a tick of a ballot. Having just voted federally and with  an Ontario election in the offing this year, do people really think that a vote will bring about all the solutions? My contention is that no one party has all the answers, and no one party is all right or all wrong. We are all, citizens and residents alike, building a society. Everyone’s contribution counts, and sometimes it means giving up something in order to get something. On a societal scale, it might be time to consider what we really need or want and how much we will “give up” to get it, rather than how hard we will demand it.

At March of Dimes Canada we value all manifestations of accessibility for people with disabilities and equitable opportunity. We place value on  people, regardless of their individual abilities. It sometimes means we have to rethink how things are to be done to ensure access, choosing only physical locations that do not have barriers, revamping material to be more accessible for  some readers, being very courteous to assist others, giving people more time to complete a task, redesigning activities for those less physically capable. Our work always includes asking questions about how things might be done by someone with a disability. Thus we were involved in the Toronto municipal elections last year when the City tested voting machines that enable people with disabilities to place a vote independently. We provided an accessible polling station and material to help educate first time voters on the process.

Thinking through our priorities as individuals, as communities, as a total society is essential. Can we come to recognizable commonalities of purpose and a vision of our society? None of us have all the answers so I recommend taking the time to discuss questions with all of one’s colleagues, family, friends about what one wants and what one will give up to achieve it. For March of Dimes it is somewhat simple. We want people to create inclusiveness and that sometimes means changing plans, going slowly, listening differently, making accommodations. However, it always means valuing all people, seeing the “ability” and not the “disability.”