People with disabilities have long faced barriers, including inaccessible spaces as well as a lack of community support programs. This is something that Kailey knows all too well.
The mother of two-year-old Jude, has been living with Chronic Progressive External Ophthalmoplegia (CPEO+), a rare mitochondrial disease, since being diagnosed at the age of 20. Despite enduring bouts of chronic fatigue and major muscle weakness, she doesn’t let CPEO+ inhibit her from experiencing the joys of parenthood. Accessibility, however, remains a challenge; insufficient accommodation coupled with an absence of understanding around disability impact Kailey’s ability to participate in activities with Jude. “Sometimes when I go to [child and family] programs (or just to other places in the community) I have problems with accessibility,” explains Kailey. “It’s a lot harder to find support as a parent with a disability. It’s like parents with disabilities don’t exist in our society.”
But when she first came to the Ajax Ontario Early Years YMCA Centre (OEYC) — a YMCA-run program supporting the development of healthy children and families — two years ago, Kailey soon realized that she had finally found an inclusive space for her and Jude. The efforts made by the Ajax OEYC team to create an accessible environment have meant a lot to her. “They made it so comfortable to be there,” said Kailey as she recalls her initial visit to the Toddler Tunes program. “One of the staff went and got me a chair, and they were asking what they could do to support me so we could participate fully in the program.”
For Kailey and Jude, the Ajax OEYC has become more than a place for mother and son to bond. The centre provides a network of support where Kailey is able to connect with other parents, and the knowledgeable Y staff can offer guidance on the journey of parenthood with helpful resources and tips. But for Jude, the opportunities that he’s had to interact positively with both children and adults as well as engage in activities that foster his social and physical skills will lay the foundation for healthy development into adulthood.