“Action T4” (German: Aktion T4) is likely not a familiar term to most Canadians, but to those of us in the disability/rehabilitation sector it should be, and it should remind us that ignorance and evil dealt enormous cruelty upon people with disabilities as part of the Nazi-era agenda. Our purpose must always be to recognize and support the dignity, equality and humanity of our fellow human beings, including those with disabilities.

The Holocaust that resulted in the death of 6,000,000 Jews, included an official government sponsored program from September 1939-August 1941 that led to the extermination of 70,173 people with mental and physical disabilities, followed by an ensuing, less official, elimination of another 200,000+ people with disabilities.

Treigartenstabe 4, the address of a villa in Berlin, in the borough of Treigarten, was the headquarters of a supposed care institution, that really served as the headquarters for Adolf Hitler’s private physician and henchmen who directed part of a eugenics program aimed at “cleansing racial enemies,” including people with disabilities or mental health issues, from the German body politic.

Why must we remember January 27, 1945 and continue to memorialize those murdered and celebrate  this day? Because on that day, the Soviet Red Army liberated one of the most notorious, sickening and inhuman death camps, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp which included both labour and extermination camps, where at least 1.1 million people died. The place? Oswiecim, Poland.

Of those killed, “90% were Jews, but there were 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, thousands of homosexuals, and tens of thousands of other people of diverse backgrounds. Those who did not die in the gas chambers, died of starvation, forced labour, infectious diseases, individual executions and medical experiments. “ (Wikipedia) The latter practice was part of the treatment of people with disabilities under Action T4.

On November 11th each year, we in Canada, commemorate the end of World War II; Remembrance Day  is a day to honour our own fallen soldiers. Lest we forget, millions of people died, for no reason other than their difference,  their “otherness”, their “distinctiveness”, whether in dress, beliefs, customs, language, physical appearance, mental state, or sexual preference. We honour their memory on January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a UN sponsored commemorative day which should remind us that human beings can be extremely inhuman, that “NEVER AGAIN” MUST MEAN  NEVER AGAIN, and that all human life has meaning, all human beings have value. Arising from the ashes of the crematoriums were several significant outcomes: The United Nations itself was created to help the world end hatred, end anti-Semitism, and end war. Has it been successful?

The State of Israel was established by the UN, to provide a permanent home for the Jewish people, allowing Jews to return to their ancestral home, should they wish. The concepts of equality, freedom, tolerance, inclusion, diversity, became part of our lexicon and our common values  post WWII. It didn’t all happen at once. In Canada, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees rights to all citizens, but its taken specific legislation like Ontario’s AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) to cover full inclusion for people with disabilities, and other institutional frameworks have also evolved to support these values. At the UN, we have an international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, endorsed by Canada and may other countries, setting a standard on human dignity for people with disabilities.

For March of Dimes, and every disability/rehabilitation organization, our legacy must include knowledge that the horror of Action T4 is the antithesis of our values, and that our vision is always to strive for a society inclusive of all people with disabilities. We have a moral obligation to remember the past and to create a better future; loving and valuing the vulnerable, and those with disabilities among us.

Remembering a Friend or Loved One

Reuters/REUTERS - A woman places a poppy on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Reuters/REUTERS – A woman places a poppy on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

It’s the time of year, as Remembrance Day approaches, that many Canadians think back on lost or injured loved ones who fought for Canada in the last great War, or more recently in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, or in a number of support missions that engaged Canadian troops. What mostly comes up for me is the recollection that my father shared about his service in Canada’s air force during WWII, while stationed in England. He only once spoke of the horrors, saying he had held a friend who was hit by an enemy attack over England and died in his arms, but my father was part of the service and support, not one who flew in a fighter craft. My father, like so many of his generation,  preferred this his daughters never know of the real horrors of war, and that peace would be our lot in life, and the world would never again witness such trauma and destruction as war, especially the war that eliminated 6,000,000 Jews, as well as dealt death to people with disabilities, to Roma, to gays and lesbians and to other minorities that got in the way of Hitler’s vision of an Aryan race dominated world.

That wish, for perfect peace, has never been fulfilled.  Much of the world has experienced various horrors related to wars, but events of the past week have awakened Canadians to what could be, what must never be, a war at home.

We were all aghast at the murder of two Canadian soldiers in two separate terror attacks, shocked by the senseless violence, by the probable association with an ideology that attempts to trump all others, as did Nazism, Communism, Fascism. We are all afraid to speak of it, afraid of being labelled, but that does not improve anything. An ideology is not a person or a people, it is a belief system and in this case, one that is attempting to impose its will on other people, and to eliminate those who disagree. But I write not to debate any religion, belief system, political ideology, but to point out the humanity of individual Canadians and how that binds us.

As the shots rang out in Ottawa, one of the five people that ran towards the Canadian War Memorial to assist the fallen soldier, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, was Barbara Winters, a former Canadian naval reservist who had served as a medical assistant, and now a lawyer in the government, who recounted her story on CBC radio. Not only did Ms Winters and the others perform CPR and other procedures in an attempt to save Corporal Cirillo’s life, but she did a most heroic, kind and caring act. She began telling him how much he was  loved and how proud everyone was of him.

“I kept telling him repeatedly that he was loved, that he was a brave man,” said Winters through tears. “I said look at what you were doing — you were guarding the dead. You were standing at the cenotaph. I said we’re all so proud of you, your parents are so proud of you, I said your family loves you, everybody here that’s working on you loves you.”

This selfless, simple act, was so profound, so deeply felt, so amazing. Her spontaneous response, to speak of love, brought me to tears just listening to the newscast. I heard Barbara Winters, in tears herself, recounting what came to her mind and why she did this. She spoke of two things: sharing such a message of love when she sat by the bedside of one of her beloved parents, even knowing the person was already in a coma, she still sent messages of love, believing she was heard, and secondly, she spoke of her conviction that everyone is loved, by someone or even many people. Love, is a message that one should take unto one’s death. She did not want our innocent Canadian soldier to feel alone, to feel only his pain, to die without being reassured of his being loved.
Of course, we have come to know how very much Corporal Cirillo was loved, and of the love he has earned from across the spectrum of Canadians, young and old, coast to coast.

So, now think, have you reminded all the people in your life how much you love them? Are you remembering friends, family, fallen or forgotten allies whom you love or loved? Sometimes, we have to give ourselves the love we might not have received, that we can attribute to someone who maybe did not know how to show it, be it a parent, a child, a spouse. As Barbara Winters said, no one should be without love and no one should die lonely, alienated, feeling unloved.

As we approach Remembrance Day, may we all find peace and love, and think of our Canadian troops who sacrifice all for the security of our country, for peace in the world, and so that we may freely express our love for one another.

From My Window—I See Canada

photo 3The view from Emmashill Cottage in Woody Point, Newfoundland (where I spent the past week) is as dramatic as a Lawren Harris painting. Harris has always been my favourite of the Group of Seven. The mountains of Gros Moran National Park (really mountain roots I’ve learned) are like living, breathing creatures, gigantic sleeping dogs. They appear solid, warm, protective. Unlike the majestic Rockies of my childhood (I grew up in Alberta), they tell a different story, and harbour a unique Canadian people. No cowboys or ranchers here.


Newfoundlanders are hearty survivors, most from small towns and villages like Woody Point, Norris Point, Trout River, Rocky Harbour or the many now extinct out ports which they recall with pain after being forced to relocate by government fiat. Here is how resettlement is explained in Wikipedia:


photo 2Resettlement in Newfoundland and Labrador terms was an organized approach to centralize the population into growth areas. Three attempts of resettlement were initiated by the Government between 1954 and 1975 which resulted in the abandonment of 300 communities and nearly 30,000 people moved. Government’s attempt of resettlement has been viewed as one of the most controversial government programs of the post-Confederation Newfoundland and Labrador.


People moved, bag and baggage, even towing their small colourful wooden homes across a bay to a new location. Their hearts, their memories, their buried loved ones were left behind. But the sturdy folk of Newfoundland and Labrador carried their heritage, and continued to create art, music, and a culture of humour, warmth and humility. They kept alive the happy and the sad memories in songs which I heard everywhere throughout a Summer music week festival.


photo 4I’ve experienced Canada from the tip of the West Coast, traveling to Victoria and Prince Rupert, BC, to the East coast in Charlottetown, PEI, and to the North where I lived and worked in Igloolik, NWT (now Nunavat) for a year. I have travelled the entire TCH (TransCanada Highway), including now on the island of Newfoundland, and its remarkable what binds us as Canadians. It the friendliness and good cheer, the acceptance of diversity and change while still honouring the historic and our early British, French and native peoples’ heritages that laid the foundation for our values and culture. Many people have had “travail” and experienced loss of some magnitude, but it seems to have made us stronger. Hopefully we are bonded by a love of this country—its vastness, openness, hardiness, and its challenges.


Canada still has to do much more to create equity for all people, to provide better health, security and opportunity for our aboriginal people, and to incorporate at all levels of society those who have disabilities, but it’s a country that has such opportunities, values and humanity, that this is all possible.


Let’s all celebrate our good fortune that we live in Canada.

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.

What is a Skate Horse?

Andria on skate horse (1)Ever wondered how an adult would learn to skate, especially a non athletic type? Or how a new immigrant to Canada from a warm climate might feel on skates? Or what of the person who developed a fear of falling after a crash on the ice, or the fear and lack of balance for someone post stroke or with some physical disability?

I imagine that most people assume an individual with a disability is simply not going to skate, and either there are other easier physical pursuits or precautionary positions, ie don’t take a risk because you can hurt yourself! Indeed, falling on the ice is not fun after about age 10 when one is out of a cushy bum warming snowsuit.

Well, should those among us who want to learn to skate, but are afraid, or a young child with mild Cerebral Palsy, give up all thoughts of skating or, should one consider using a device developed specifically to give confidence and balance on the ice? Imagine what it might mean to a small child to hold onto a safe and secure device, and still slide easily on the ice, enjoying a familiar Canadian past time, joining with family and friends, giggling with delight and being assured of no miserable mishaps. I guess if Paralympians can add artificial limbs that look like skis and blind skiers can have personal guides, a young child can fairly use a Skate Horse, and participate fully in the simple recreational activity.

DSC_0213 (1)Developed by DesignAbility Coordinator, Elaine Darling of  March of Dimes Canada, the Skate Horse testing was completed last year and this year over 20 have been acquired by the City of Toronto Recreation Department and on March 10, 2014, MARCH OF DIMES DAY,  it was launched. This simple tubular device, light weight and durable, with adjustable seat and handle bars, acts like a sliding walker, allowing the user to hold fast, sit back and rest when necessary, maintain equalibrium with one’s legs. and to stop on ice easily without hitting ground.  The device is available in two sizes for now, and can be adjusted, and in the photos below you can see the enormous thrill and delight on Lilly Sonnefeld’s face as she heads around the ice rink at Leaside Memorial Arena with two skate companions. Yours truly tested an adult size Skate Horse and found it to be great fun, and possibly  a way to keep skating in my own older years, as I have never been all that good at it.

I donned my trusty but rusty grade 9 skates, and enthusiastically called out every head office employee to celebrate the launch of the Skate Horse, as well as the annual March of Dimes campaign. We headed over to the gorgeous, newly opened accessible arena in our neighborhood. How great our Neighborhood rink has a ramped entrance to the ice, accessible change rooms, washrooms and viewing area, giving us another excuse to party!

While not that many employees ventured onto the ice, those who did experienced a new way to celebrate our annual staff campaign in support of March of a Dimes. All, viewers and skaters, enjoyed hit chocolate and treats supplied by a local business. All, watched with enthusiasm as four youngsters from our Conductive Education program took the adventurous challenge to don skates and ride the Skate Horse. All succeeded, standing tall, gliding easily, comfortable and secure on the newest device to emanate from our creative volunteer DesignAbility program. Congratulations to Lilly, Jack, Keenan and Jaiden. Thanks to staff and volunteers and to parents who out their trust in a March of Dimes. A thrill for all.


Winter’s Inaccessible Sidewalks

photo 1

“Snow-weary Ontarians woke up to another winter blast Tuesday, which likely pushed Toronto’s total snowfall level beyond what the region saw all last winter.” Toronto Star, February 18, 2014

Shoveling snow—again! Its no longer about shoveling every day, but now several times a day as the  white powder continues to blanket the greater part of Southern and all of Northern Ontario. The city of Toronto, and probably most municipalities, require residents to clean off their sidewalks, and for personal safety, everyone should have clean steps and walkways. If you have a driveway, it can become a very onerous task, but not shoveling may mean the car remains blanketed and boxed in for a few days.

Why do I care to comment on snow and shoveling? Its not about lamenting the long winter, but about my concern for those who can’t physically shovel their own property, about people who mistakenly do and injure themselves, and about people like me who buy a house with steps and driveways they figure they can manage, before considering that it’s a challenge as one ages and one’s body begins to respond poorly to such challenges. I deserve a rousing criticism for purchasing a home with 13 steps to the front door, a retainer wall too high to throw snow over, and a driveway with no side yard into which to toss the fluffy white stuff.  So, my workouts this winter have been frequent and my arms are getting stronger while my back screams stop!!

Here are some solutions I am gathering, some from friends, from radio and from experience:

  1. Ask your young adult son to shovel.  My response: Ever experience overpriced help?
  2. Hire a neighbor’s kid. My response:  What if the closest neighbors have kids under 10?
  3. Lay down a foundation of salt. My response: Have you seen what salt does to the garden and the wooden steps?
  4. Install sidewalk heaters. My response: Before or after you spend money to rebuild the steps and walks?
  5. Hire a snow removal contractor. My response:  What if you need a shovel not a front end loader?
  6. Ask your healthy neighbor or her husband. My response: Do I plead decrepitude this year or next?
  7. Sell the house and move. My response: Am I really ready for the condo market, or can I hold out yet for a few years?

photo 2I think it’s imperative that everyone who can clean their shared sidewalks, do their utmost to keep them snow and ice free, for the safety of all—small kids, frail elderly,  or people with  disabilities, as well as those pushing or pulling carts, strollers, suitcases etc. But it might be a great service to check with your neighbors who are struggling to clean off their own property, and could use a hand..or should I say, a strong back, to move the season’s umpteenth snowfall to create passage from their home.  I can’t thank my neighbors enough for having cleared my walk recently and here is the photo of what I faced when returning home from a business trip. Beautiful but daunting.

photo 3

Admitting to Not Being Technical

How many middle-aged women does it take to install Netflix?

On Christmas Day at my home, it took 3 women using 4 clickers and one iPad, and at midnight we shouted with glee at our accomplishment. Let “us” not be called the techno-idiot generation, thought I, who was the least helpful in the process.

I still laugh at the fact that twenty years ago I thought receiving faxes placed unnecessary stress on people,  and installing a fax machine at the office was not going to move me to respond to any message faster than the usual 5 day turn around time we experienced with Canada Post. Yet this month we welcome in a new era, absent Canada Post. Like the Government of Canada, March of Dimes has already almost entirely ceased mailing out cheques, but whatever will we do about soliciting donations from our 30,000 strong donor base, and honouring our commitment to sending out receipts and thank you letters?

Does any reader remember the beauty of a hand written letter? Not only were letter writers careful to choose their words, but also their stationery, and penmanship mattered. Cursive writing was an art form. Receiving letters was a gift, treasured, remembered, oft reread, stored, scrap-booked, sometimes read aloud and shared. I personally practiced writing small neat letters on blue aerograms, tissue paper thin, foldable forms that eliminated the need for an envelope, and kept the cost down for overseas letters. How else could I have sent home 115 letters over a one year period while teaching in Kenya? How else could I find among my mother’s treasured momentoes one shoebox holding 115 letters, recalling my adventuresome first year away from home?

Technology brings me movies at my finger tips, but electronic Christmas cards, text messages, Facebook photos, and online bills don’t elicit any emotion, no anticipation or desire to hold on to a moment. It’s delete, delete, delete. I have no electronic scrapbooks. Photo albums thus created are not hauled out to share, nor laboriously matched to stories of personal adventures. There are few unique photos; google holds more wonders than any personal photos of a trip can manifest. Technology does allow me to blog, edit, self correct, and a search engine like  google will even suggest words.

But letter writing for me represents not just a bygone past time, nor curious art, but style, grace in communication, with interludes of waiting, contemplating, imagining. I am reminded of the importance placed on such communication, especially by waiting loved ones. I have read letters my father wrote his parents during WWII when he served in the RCAF in London, letters my newly wed mother wrote her parents when she settled in the small backwater town of Trail BC, letters my love sent to me from Igloolik, NWT, as I waited patiently, and not so patiently, to be invited to join him.

Once upon a time I rushed home to get the mail, whether I lived in Calgary, Vancouver or Toronto, but now the poor letter carrier has only junk mail, donor solicitations,  notices from elected political folks, and unwanted magazines. So, to the Post people whom we’ll miss and to the institution of mail service, and the creativity of generations of letter communicators, I salute you. I will try harder to appreciate the intel chip, memory cards, electronic dashboards, and the wonders that greet me every day when I flash on my screen. And, I’ll be most pleased to receive personal letters, in any form, in which my loved ones wish to send them.

I’m 65 and I’m Alive!

Seems like an odd heading for a party invitation, but that is exactly what my Mother’s 65th birthday bash invitation said in 1989 when she celebrated by inviting over 100 people to a hotel luncheon. She had survived beyond expectation, having experienced a brain tumour at age 28 and then a broken neck from falling down our basement stairs while still recovering from brain surgery. My Mother was a walking quad, a highly energetic, socially-minded, volunteer-oriented, beautiful woman, who survived in style and humour until age 83. She fell because she insisted on doing laundry herself and on maintaining normalcy in adversity.

reunion, mom, deb and me

Andria, Mother, Sister Deborah 2005

In October I turned 65 and celebrated this in a small town in Calabria, Southern Italy, with total strangers who became good friends over the period of a ten day tour that included Sicily. My life at 65 is still full of long work days, three young adult (but dependent) children, hours of weekly volunteer activities,  and a bevy of funny, interesting and loving friends. My life is very much dedicated to my Mother, who despite many physical and emotional hardships never gave in to “kvetching” (excessive complaining), though she dined out on medical stories and inventions. She became somewhat of a “go to person” amongst those who wanted cheap medical advice as over the years she racked up experience with multiple surgeries, innovative drugs for pain, and laborious experiences with physio, hypnosis, acupuncture, and every other modality aimed at overcoming her limitations and her agony. Had she had a total spinal cord lesion, she would have had no pain and though she occasionally contemplated having her spinal cord totally severed, she generally, laughed at the idea, and said, ”Its only my pain that tells me I’m alive.”

I can hardly believe that arriving at 65 is so easy; it came so fast. My Mother never looked old; she aged beautifully, and had few lines on her face, uncalloused hands and feet, thick white hair, and sparkling clear blue eyes. She cared almost too much about how she looked, but then vanity is a medical marvel also. She wanted to always look beautiful, so she hid the neck braces behind scarves, painted her canes to match her outfits, and refused most of the time to stay home, use a wheelchair or let others do her errands.  She would have worked but for her disability; in 1954 when she was diagnosed, the prognosis wasn’t good.

My Mother was different. She wasn’t like other Mothers because she used a cane, could not get on a bus, never drove a car, could not lift or carry groceries, never picked up her daughters for a hug, because she physically couldn’t. She couldn’t turn her head sideways, step backwards, or wear high heeled shoes. She did try to look elegant and she never missed a party if invited, but she had to sit out the dances, much to my Father’s pleasure I think as he was much more the introvert.

My Mother was an inspiration. Her friends and family heralded her achievements in just surviving multiple surgeries, and not despairing. They referred to her strength as if she had a PhD in survivorship. She drove her children crazy because of her difference, but she became a role model for taking life as  it comes, feeling blessed about being alive, seeing the obstacles as mere challenges to be overcome, and expressing humour and zest for living and loving others. She was always there for me.

So, as I move through this momentus year of 65, I think often of my Mother, Dinah Spindel. December 25th will be the 6th anniversary of her death, and I will think a great deal about her and the wonderful path she set for me. She set expectations, she sowed ideas of commitment, persistence, generosity and above all, caring for others. I hope at 83, I can look back on a life well lived, as she did.

A Year of Firsts

In June I had an opportunity to conduct my first celebrity interview. Alan Thicke, Canadian icon who sings, acts, writes, moderates shows and performs on many stages, was the featured celebrity at this year’s Ability and Beyond Gala, and I was invited to interview him prior to his performance. This took place after several professional interviews with external media so I wondered if Alan would still want to respond to questions, and developed some that might not have been asked.

Alan Thicke is a warm, kind and generous man who speaks lovingly of his sons and extended family. He’s still grateful for his early years in Elliot Lake, Ontario. He believes the private business sector must partner with charitable organizations and government to care for people with special needs.  He spoke of the  many ways in which collaboration take place, and this plus his funny, witty portrayal of caregiving, was the substance of his presentation at the 350 person Gala on June 13th.

I invite you to look at photos and listen to my first ever recorded interview, and enjoy a few minutes with Alan Thicke, http://bit.ly/16JnlYb

This interview is now chalked up for me as a first, along with the following that I’ve participated in since December 2012: my bat mitzvah, volunteering with the IDF, giving a Convocation speech, going on a five day bike trip, and soon going on a three day canoe trip. As I approach another milestone birthday I’ve decided to keep creating firsts for myself . I would also hope to  continue  to create firsts for March of Dimes.

On May 8, 2013 Ontario March of a Dimes actually ceased to exist as the name of our non profit corporation, and we officially became March of Dimes Canada. Much more will be said about this historic change in the months to come. Suffice it to say that we met all the legal requirements to continue under the new Canada Non Profit Corporations Act and are now registered federally. This allows the consolidation of all programs and services, administration and fundraising, under one brand, March of Dimes Canada.

This past year we inaugurated our first transportation service, MODMobility, launched Peers Fostering Hope for stroke survivors, raised funds through our US affiliate, Rehabilitation Foundation for Disabled Persons  US in partnership with the Canada California Business Council, became a founding member of BADIN, the Bridging Aging and Disability International Network, and developed an important national partnership with Pennzoil, sponsor of our 13 Rock for Dimes battle of the bands events across Canada.  March of Dimes Canada experienced its most successful financial year ever in fiscal 2012-13 and completed many milestones, including adoption of a new 5 year Strategic Plan, Lifespan Community Living.

These results and more will be told in our annual report which will be online the end of September.  I invite readers of this blog to visit our website again after our AGM on September 27th to read the report, www.marchofdimes.ca  In the meantime, I invite you to think about Firsts in your life, and never stop creating them. It’s wonderful to try novel things, to experience new places, activities and relationships. Make every year a Year of Firsts.

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